After years of development, the idea behind Expio finally came to fruition when Ben Mears found himself back in London due to the pandemic. While initially concentrating on outerwear, Expio has plans to expand their product range and become a comprehensive brand. With a strong commitment to modern, sustainable fashion, Expio aims to create exceptional menswear using eco-friendly materials and methods that will stand the test of time.
What’s the motivation
The motivation for Expio was born of frustration at an industry that hasn’t changed in decades. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work for several large fashion houses. However, with experience and insight comes a realisation of how the seasonal commercial structure is detached from our world. Unrelenting sales, numerous drops, overproduction, waste and poor-quality products have long been an accepted reality. In the last decade, I began to look more towards sustainable materials and development. Despite my efforts, I felt that instead of being part of the solution, I quietly realised I was part of the problem; just creating and exclaiming ‘greener’ products to sell more is counterintuitive.
The issue for me now is that great products should not be founded on sustainable virtues alone; it's about a triangle of balance. It's about how much we value style and garment performance and understanding our garments' impact on the world. Expio was born to be an open, uncompromising alternative, a brand that embraces innovation in pursuit of better and considers all corners of the triangle.
What’s your background?
I fell into fashion; part of me wanted to be a painter, but the lure of fashion in the late 1990s drew me in. I studied fashion at Kingston – a brilliant few years alongside some outstanding peers and friends who have shaped my direction to this day.
My father, now retired, was a mechanical engineer, and my mother, a creative spirit; I probably sit somewhere in the middle if it's possible to balance the two opposing mindsets. And so, when I began work after college as a junior tailoring designer at YSL, the formulaic result of applying fabrics and patternations to calculated silhouettes was cathartic in its linear and creative processes. In the years after that, with years spent in Paris with Emanuel Ungaro, Amsterdam with Tommy Hilfiger and Italy with North Sails, I’ve bent left and right on the creative / engineering spectrum. I’ve always focused on the whole garment's sum, not just the creative or the materials and production that go into its makeup; it's about a cumulative result.
Why is Expio special?
Expio offers a refined, sustainably minded antidote to the fast fashion mass market. The materials we work with and the production methods we use provide a compelling alternative to the problems of petrochemical usage in the development of 99% of the sportswear on our high street today. Expio showcases how things can and should be done differently!
By utilising groundbreaking materials such as bio-nylon – derived from castor beans, Optim Performance wool developed with The Woolmark(™), and never used before manufacturing processes, including revolutionary stitchless Stealth(™) welding, we can decrease our ecological impact and enhance our clothing's durability and performance.
We don’t have to use the same processes as older established businesses; we don’t have engrained supply chains that clip our innovative and creative desires to work differently so we can move freely to explore meaningful innovations and progression in the apparel industry.
This freedom to use innovative development processes allows us to create the LIGHTEST, WARMEST, most DURABLE and WATERPROOF styles ever whilst eschewing petrochemical materials and inferior production methods, and that’s rather special.
We qualify our processes by evaluating Style X Performance and Sustainability, and we call it the Expio Equation. We post all our values and methodology online to help our customers understand our focus, receive feedback, and engage in meaningful conversations that challenge us and keep us moving forward positively. It's by no means a perfect or a definitive equation – but it's essential to have clear parameters and standards that we work by; we’re always looking to improve.
“EXPIO garments are crafted with a conscious understanding of the importance of sustainability while also being able to withstand the elements at the highest level”.
How did you start your sustainability conscious journey?
How did you start your sustainability conscious journey?
I spent some years working at Jaeger during the naughties, riding the wave of Britishness and nostalgia. It was an excellent time for the brand. During this period, I dug into the history of the businesses. Dr Jaeger had written a book in 1878. In it, Jaeger advanced his theory that clothes made from animal fibres were much more advantageous to the body's general health, and those made from artificial fibres were harmful to health. Now, a lot of the book made no sense at all, but the idea to choose natural fibres (or indeed those not derived from petrochemicals) struck a chord; at the time, there was immense pressure to use polyester yarns as they were considerably cheaper, but beyond the price, I felt the inclusion of environmentally harmful plastic a regressive step, especially for a brand with a rarefied raison d'etre. The seed was sewn.
But it wasn’t until some years later, at North Sails in Italy, that I began to question materials and their environmental impact further. North Sails is, at heart, a sailing brand. So it was impossible to conscionably develop various styles of nylon and polyester whilst, upon the brand’s playground, oceans amassed indefensible amounts of plastic pollution. Then, I began to look at recycled, circular and less harmful materials and production methods; the more I understood, the more concerned I was, and the greater responsibility I felt to enact meaningful change.
Looking back, the pandemic was a timely intervention that enabled me to return to my home in London and hit the reset button. It gave me the perspective and time needed to reflect upon my work. During this period, I studied Business Sustainability Management online short course at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL); it was an eye-opening course where I was fortunate to connect with others from varied industries, from technology, agriculture to finance, all seeking and aligning on a common desire to understand and implement better sustainable practices. The course’s short nature belays its long-standing impact and network; ultimately, it was the catalyst for starting Expio. After looking behind the curtain of sustainable issues, returning to a large corporation was impossible.
“We use Fulgar’s EVO bio-nylon, a yarn derived not from petrochemicals but from castor beans”.
How is Expio produced?
We’ve partnered with Stealth Welding – a pioneering Chinese factory. Despite some recent bad press around Chinese manufacturing and policies, China is very dynamic regarding new technology and innovation.
We’ve been developing and honing our stitch-less welded garments with Stealth for three years; it's a pretty revolutionary and remarkable technology that sets new benchmarks in performance.
We weld our bio-nylon styles edge-to-edge and tape the seams without any external heat or toxic adhesives, as well as being a sustainably conscious route. The results are stronger and more durable than traditional stitched methods. Our seams are 50% thinner than all others, and as we don’t use glue, our seams will never delaminate. The performance industry has yet to embrace it – we’re proud to be at the forefront of this advancement.
And whilst we discuss possible partnerships with Eastern European manufacturers, we recognise that development expertise is paramount to us and the consumer, so, despite a desire to near-shore, we won’t do so if it compromises the integrity of our styles.
When is the launching?
We’re launching a limited-edition range of bio-nylon styles online this October. There will also be some pre-order options for performance wool styles on the site simultaneously. We’ve various development projects underway, from refined wool sweatshirts to some innovative soft tailoring in the pipeline; we won’t be beholden to seasonal launches, so watch this space!