Club Nine – normalising sustainable fashion

Elena McCrory chats to David Barton, founder of the everyday sustainable clothing brand Club Nine

“Starting a business is like putting out fires” is how Technological University, Dublin (TUD) student David Barton described founding and running Club Nine, a sustainable clothing brand that uses materials like 100% organic cotton and recycled polyester. Primarily an online brand but now stocked in Diffneys, Blanchardstown, Barton founded and runs the brand alongside business partner and long-time friend Samuel (Sam) Harney. The two Irish students set up Club Nine in 2020 at the height of the pandemic lockdown, in an attempt to “take the first step away from fast fashion”.

Barton admits to not having as much time to spend on expanding the business, with work and college taking priority. Barton and Harney hire photographers and models to take shoots of their collection, but the day-to-day running of the business — orders, packaging, PR, and social media — is all done by themselves. “You finish one thing but then there is always something else to attend to… We’ve got a steady foundation now, I feel, so we are ready to take off this year”. Indeed they have. Being stocked in Diffney is a huge accomplishment for two past and current students, still so young. Barton studies accounting and finance, and Harney is a graduate of digital marketing.

“‘We’re not trying to create the new Prada, we are just trying to make sustainable clothing a common thing for people to wear’”

Sustainable brands over the past five years have risen in popularity. Although buying from them often costs more than fast fashion, people are becoming more conscious of where they shop and the effect it has on the environment. With this in mind, it is more difficult to enter the market, because of the competition that now exists. Barton points out; “we’re not trying to create the new Prada, we are just trying to make sustainable clothing a common thing for people to wear. It’s a wider goal, rather than taking a piece of pie for ourselves.” The aspect of normalisation is big for the pair, and evidently the better path to go down. With trends and clothing being fads that “flop” each month within fashion, their idea of the constant and solid certainly shines through in their main collection, a blend of fresh and plain leisure pieces, which are ostensibly ready-to-wear. 

Barton discusses how himself and Harney have learned so much they didn’t know before. They always had an interest in fashion but were debating the sustainability aspect. They could have just set up a regular clothing brand, but concluded it was the smartest and most ethical business decision to go sustainable. “It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one garment, along with countless amounts of pesticides and chemicals. Our garments take 24 litres of water to produce, so we are contributing to less than 1% of the water intake to make a regular t-shirt”, explained David. 

Their supply chain is as sustainable as it gets, their fabric is made with 100% cotton, they package with plastic-free parcel mailers, and their office — an outhouse converted to studio space with WiFi and shelves for storage — is powered through solar panels. The cotton is organic, hand-picked and pesticide free, certified through the stamps on their website. It is sourced from India and turned into garments with recycled plastic bottles sourced from China, the biggest consumers of plastic bottles in the world. The cotton pickers’ organisation is fair trade certified, which was important in ensuring ethical suppliers for their brand goal. The factory that stitches and physically creates their garments are based in the Netherlands, and they are sent to Ireland where Club Nine’s designs are printed — thought of by Sam, credited as the artistic one. 

If anything, the time that the global pandemic allowed our modern working population only benefitted Club Nine. While online shopping became a staple, their e-commerce store was very successful, and it allowed them to establish the brand, without the pressure of fitting in everything like work, live lectures and social commitments. However gruelling lockdown was, it allowed Barton and Harney to build a foundation for their main collection in their own time.

“Club Nine have some interesting collaborations like Club Nine X Why-Axis”

Club Nine have some interesting collaborations like Club Nine X Why-Axis. On creatives associating with their collection, Barton said that “it gives Irish musicians a chance to connect with their fans, and there are a lot of Irish musicians who can’t afford their own merchandise, so they can collaborate with us, and say that they have their own clothing line.” With many unreliable creatives in the public eye with big followings on social media, there is a lot to compete with for the likes of musicians, bands, and new artists. Collaborating with a brand like Club Nine, with their strong emphasis on environmental low impact and ethical production, only serves someone with a forward-looking image and offers a new fan-base. 

In terms of the quality of products, we discussed the nitty gritty. Many brands claim to be sustainable and even if they are, they charge extremely high prices for the quality that you receive in the post. “The price at the start wasn’t really our choice. It’s expensive to buy in with small stock levels,” added Barton. To give an example, their hoodies in weight are the same as most Tommy Hilfiger hoodies and they charge around €70 for one in their CLASSICS collection, which compared to the Hilfiger website, is significantly lower. Hilfiger charges around €100 for their “sustainable style” regular hoodies, excluding shipping and added customs rates. Barton expressed how he wants customers to understand the longevity of their products. The last thing he wishes is for a customer to regret their purchase. He deems it an investment into a product that will last and not deplete in excellence; “we are not trying to cut corners.” Barton continued that, “we immediately put loads of products in the wash when we received our first batch of garments, we spun and spun them, to ensure nothing would run and to ensure nothing would diminish.” 

“Their designs are tasteful without compromising everyday wearability, and their athleisure style makes them all the more enticing.”

Both creators have been lucky in a way, to create something so progressive that they genuinely enjoy out of the depths of lockdown, but the highs and lows of running a business never truly end. Club Nine’s four collections follow their brand goals. Besides their commitment to the environment and their ethical minded production line, their clothes are easy to wear with other pieces and would genuinely suit any wardrobe. Their designs are tasteful without compromising everyday wearability, and their athleisure style makes them all the more enticing.