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Is This the Perfect White Tee?

Paynter Jacket Co. founders, Huw and Becky, talk us through the first of their Paynter Experiments

Interview by Will Halbert

The search for the perfect white tee is kafkaesque at best. It’s a dizzying series of winding roads that lead to little more than frustration. Sure, you’ve nailed the fit, but the fabric sure is flimsy. Yeah, that cotton is soft, but what’s with that sag in the collar? Why is it so wide of shoulder? So short of length? Why-oh-why so wispy? So drapey? Then of course there’s the ol’ shrinkage sneak attack to contend with, the one that sees your oh-so-perfect tee enter the washing machine only to emerge a less-than-perfect, ‘80s-style, crop top. We’ve all been there.

That’s partly because the perfect white tee simply does not exist. It probably won’t for some time, either. But that doesn’t take meaning away from the search itself. And that, dear reader, is the beauty of Paynter Jacket Co.’s latest experiment: the Six Mile Tee.

Paynter’s stab at an ethical white tee is less about the (unsurprisingly excellent) product and more about the (surprisingly rare) promise that comes with it. Behind the Six Mile Tee is a promise to do better, to strive for iterative improvement. A promise to keep asking questions, to keep shifting paradigms, and to continue raising standards. Six miles, it seems, is quite the ride after all.

Tell us a little about the Paynter Experiments. How did the idea come about? What’s the philosophy behind them?
Paynter started out as a side project while we both had full-time jobs. We spent every evening and weekend trying to find new ways of doing things in our industry, treating it as an experiment. 15 months of obsession later, it turned into our full-time thing. Making space for something new. Which got us thinking. What if Paynter had its own side project? A side project that could test out new ways of doing things. It started with internal design briefs with souvenirs of each story. Sometimes we’ll share those souvenirs as products. Sometimes we’ll only share the learnings.

Side projects within companies can produce amazing things. Google Maps, Gmail, Twitter, and Slack were all side projects started within companies. So we decided to start a Paynter side project, Paynter Experiments. And the only goal for this side project is to ask ‘What if?’ and share what we’ve learned.

The perfect white tee is the ever-elusive Moby Dick of menswear. But what does the idea of ‘perfect’ mean to you guys personally? What sets a good white tee apart, in your eyes?
‘The perfect white tee is the ever-elusive Moby Dick of menswear.’ Amen to that. I’ve tried so many white T-shirts over the last 10 years. British ones, German ones, Japanese ones, American ones, luxury ones, cheap ones, slim fits, boxy fits, tight weaves, loose weaves, pure whites, off whites, the list goes on. But none have been quite right. They weren’t heavy enough, soft enough, or boxy enough. They’d shrink or lose shape after one wash. Some have come very close, but none have ticked all the boxes.

Seeing how hard this seemingly simple task was proving to be, we decided to find out more about how a T-shirt is made. From beginning to end. Last February, we headed to Amsterdam to visit Fashion For Good, to learn about the journey of your average white T-shirt. We learned about the resources used. The time taken. The miles traveled. It takes 8,700 miles to make a single tee. 

That’s when we realised the perfect white tee we’d been looking for was only skin deep. It was mainly based on the fit. Don’t get me wrong, fit is super important, but it’s not even half the story. That’s when we decided that the white tee would be our first Paynter Experiment. Deciding to work on the fit later, we started by looking at where we could make the biggest impact to make a more sustainable T-shirt: the mileage. What if you could cut that mileage in half? After months of researching, we’ve found a way to get the miles right down. After sourcing organic cotton from a farm in Turkey, from milling onwards, it is spun into yarn, dyed, knitted into a beautiful heavyweight fabric which is then cut and sewn into a t-shirt within six miles in Northern Portugal. Yup. Six miles. It turns out that it also takes 6 miles of yarn to make one t-shirt. After months of fittings, wear testing, and importantly, no shrinking, we released the Six Mile Tee.

So is this the perfect white tee?
To us, the perfect tee uses as few resources and leaves as small a trace as possible on our planet. We couldn’t be more proud of this tee, but we know that mileage only counts for a fraction of the T-shirt’s environmental impact. 

We’re taking the journey to the perfect white tee one step at a time. And with each Batch of tees we make, we’ll iterate on our goal of a tee with the smallest impact. The limited batches will map the iterations and improvements as we learn. So this is not the perfect white tee. But it’s the start of our journey towards getting there.

People don’t immediately recognise tees as investment pieces; what steps have you taken to make sure the Six Mile Tee goes the distance?
People probably don’t see them as investment pieces because the majority of tees won’t last that long. The biggest problem with T-shirts that we’ve found is that they shrink or warp, so they become unwearable or you add them to your ever-growing pile of DIY only Tees. Or just as bad is the fabric is so thin that with one snag, it’s torn. 

When it’s common for technology or clothing to fail after a few wears, or it becomes outdated and unfixable after only a few years of usage, longevity becomes a luxury. If it will last a long time, then it becomes an investment piece. 

So, when we were designing ours, we wanted to try and avoid anything that could shorten the lifespan of the T-shirt. We invested a lot in the fabric, making it heavy enough to hold its shape, with a tight enough weave that you could beat the hell out of it and it wouldn’t show – while using organic cotton so it was super soft too. And then we pre-washed it to take out the shrinkage. It’s not rocket science, but this combination of small changes to the design will make it a longer-lasting tee. 

We want to see things change over time, but the size and quality of your t-shirt isn’t one of them.

Are you guys precious about your whites? Or do you think a few scuffs and marks add character?
Personally, the only thing that looks great a bit worn out or with scuff marks are jeans, jackets, and leather products. White tees should stay white. To that end, white tees should never be worn whilst cooking/eating bolognese, ramen, soup, or a bacon and egg sandwich with a runny yolk. I don’t take the risk. There’s nothing better than putting on a clean white tee that’s still a bit crisp after it’s just been ironed.

Are we going to see more Paynter tees in the future?
The Six Mile tee is just the beginning. It’s the first iteration into our journey of making a sustainable white tee. We don’t have a date for when the next iteration will be out, but as soon as we’ve made significant progress and we’re happy with what we’ve made, it will become available once again. 

And without spilling the beans on any secrets, do you have any other Paynter Experiments lined up?
We’ll just have to wait and see. Follow on @paynterjacket, or sign up to our newsletter to hear before anyone else.

Check out more from Paynter Jacket Co. here.