A UNIQUE COLLABORATION BETWEEN DHL AND A “SLOW FASHION” BRAND WILL APPEAL TO BOTH FASHIONISTAS AND ECO-FRIENDLY SHOPPERS ALIKE. AND IT WAS ALL BORN OUT OF A DESIRE TO MAKE E-COMMERCE MORE SUSTAINABLE…
Norwegian brand Varsity Headwear has partnered with DHL to produce a unique baseball cap. It’s not the first time DHL has merged with the world of fashion – in 2014, Vetements sent models down the runway at Paris Fashion Week in DHL-branded garments. But in contrast to those bold and loud designs, the Varsity Headwear x DHL collaboration is a little more considered. What looks, at first, like a plain black baseball cap has, in fact, much deeper meaning behind it. Every component of this special-edition cap, including the logistics and transportation, has been carefully contemplated to minimize its carbon footprint. It’s fashion with a conscience, and it’s got a story to tell...
Varsity Headwear was founded by brothers Alex and Sebastian Adams. Like all great entrepreneurial stories, the idea for the business grew out of a genuine passion – in this case, a love of baseball caps. When they couldn’t find the quality of product they were looking for on the market, they decided to make their own – with a particular provision: “We didn’t want to wear a big logo all over our forehead. That’s the foundation,” says Sebastian. Instead, the focus of the brand is on the craftsmanship, using the finest materials, and ensuring a premium fit.
This quality-first approach quickly became Varsity Headwear’s USP. “We’re a slow fashion brand; we do old-fashioned business. We take the long view, by investing in our products for the future,” explains Alex.
“Over the years, we’ve learned that the central part of sustainability is to make quality products that last longer,” adds Sebastian.
The brothers began by selling their caps to friends and family before opening stores in Oslo and St. Tropez. The brand began to make waves, but it wasn’t all plain sailing – particularly when launching its own website. “The biggest challenge with e-commerce is people think it’s easy,” explains Sebastian. “But there are no shortcuts. Opening an online store randomly and expecting people to find you is difficult with so much competition.”
His advice is to keep the customer experience at the heart of the business. “Work hard to get customers to your website but work even harder to deliver to those who come. Repeat custom is so important to our brand so we must deliver on every part of the customer experience.” This includes the delivery, something which Sebastian says other businesses often overlook.
“We pack and ship everything from our own warehouse as we believe the physical experience starts with the delivery, so we really invest in that.” This includes adding a personalized note to each order – an important touch for a small business looking to build a loyal customer base.
The strategy is working: the brothers share anecdotes of many of their customers who have become keen collectors of their caps. And, there’s a new one set to join their collections soon…
Varsity Headwear is based in Norway, Europe, a Scandinavian country known for its stunning landscape of mountains, glaciers and fjords. With a population of just over 5 million, Alex and Sebastian knew from the beginning that they would have to implement a global strategy to thrive.
“A conscious part of our strategy is to offer free shipping,” says Sebastian. “It may initially impact margins but has long-term benefits: we know if we can get customers to buy one cap, they’ll be happy, buy more, and tell friends.”
Today, 50% of Varsity Headwear’s business is based outside of Norway. Partnering with DHL has helped the brand find new markets around the world – and guarantee fast shipping to these customers. But for a business so conscious of its environmental impact, how has it been able to remain true to its values whilst growing internationally?
In 2020, the business carried out a full carbon emissions review of its operations. “We saw a substantial part of our emissions came from logistics and transportation,” says Sebastian. “We wanted to face this issue, not hide from it, so jumped on the opportunity to work with DHL to learn from each other and improve.”
“We’re carbon neutral through offsetting, and are now working towards insetting. It’s been interesting to learn more about DHL’s GoGreen initiative and SAF project for insetting emissions from aircraft.” The latter is a landmark deal signed between DHL Express, BP and Neste in 2022, to supply the logistics leader with more than 800 million liters of Sustainable Aviation Fuel until 2026 – a move expected to save over two million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the aviation fuel lifecycle.
Another part of the solution lies in reducing Varsity Headwear’s returns rate. Its e-commerce website encourages customers to check their head size before purchasing a cap by ordering a free measuring tape – or even better, by visiting one of the brand’s physical stores to try a cap on in person. “This involves the customer in our sustainability journey; inviting them to think about their impact too,” explains Alex.
Continuing on this successful partnership, the idea came to develop a product concept challenge: combining DHL and Varsity Headwear’s individual specialisms to create the most sustainable cap possible.
“This isn’t a typical collaboration where you just slap a logo on a new product,” says Alex. “Our motivation for the project was both to challenge ourselves and improve our processes.” That involved analyzing every step of the production journey – from manufacture and materials to transportation and logistics – and then pushing boundaries to find better ways of doing things.
The finished cap is a sleek black design with just a brief nod to DHL by way of a red and yellow striped, adjustable strap at the back. “The sum of all the components that have gone into it is the interesting story,” explains Alex.
Indeed, every detail of the cap has been conscientiously designed. 67% of the product is made from recycled plastic waste, including Seaqual, an innovative material upcycled from plastic cleared from the oceans. Production was moved to Estonia to reduce the distance from Portugal, where the fabric is sourced – a decision that has helped the business to reduce its transportation emissions by 80.5%.
The soft shape of the caps allow them to be packed into smaller shipping boxes, saving space during transportation, whilst each one is accompanied by a hard, reusable case to protect it and lengthen its lifespan. Only 200 of these unique caps have been produced, but their legacy is much bigger – a symbol of what can be achieved when fashion “slows down”.
“Our primary goal was to develop and grow as a business, but we also hope we can be a positive influence on other brands and consumers on sustainability,” Alex says.
Sebastian agrees, adding some final words on his personal goals: “To be proud of the brand and our products, stay true to our own values, and be a part of the solution.” With DHL, Varsity Headwear is succeeding in doing just that.