Sometimes, new businesses are born from moments of frustration. Pioneering biodegradable tights brand Billi London, co-founded by Sophie Billi-Hardwick, is one example.
“Back in November 2018, I was super late for work putting a pair of tights on and they ripped. My one-year-old daughter looked at me as I shouted and put them in the bin,” says Sophie (pictured above right with co-founder Marie Bouhier, left).
“That’s when I had this realisation that millions of women were also doing what I’d just done. What was the impact of this behaviour? I had robotically accepted that tights were items you could use maybe twice or three times before binning them and never thought about the impact on the environment.”
Sophie, 33, spent two years researching and developing biodegradable tights. She launched Billi London with Marie Bouhier in May 2020 with a crowdfunding campaign. The tights are sold through their website and in Seven Dials, London, where they opened their first boutique in September 2021. Also in Paris and Marseille. The co-founders use Starling to manage their business finances.
Creating biodegradable tights
“When tights end up in landfill, as most do, they can take up to 100 years to decompose,” says Sophie. “You can’t recycle a pair of tights into new ones because there is no existing technology that separates nylon and elastane, which are the yarns used for most tights. But you can upcycle tights into many things such as hair bands and insulation padding.”
Billi London tights are made from a modified form of nylon and elastane and take around five years to break down in landfill. “Our tights find all their magic in anaerobic conditions, specific to controlled landfills, which is what we have in Europe,” she says.
“Both our yarns have enhanced biodegradable properties and we have obtained all the official trademarks.” Billi London also makes and sells biodegradable socks and leggings, made of the same biodegradable nylon and elastane. More styles of tights and leggings will be launched this year.
“We will never say that our tights are unbreakable, but we use one of the most durable yarns on the market. We recommend that you look after your tights in the same way as you would look after something made of silk or cashmere,” she says.
“Wash them by hand or if that’s not possible, put the tights in a mesh bag or pillowcase and put them on a 30 degree wash.”
Finding the right co-founder
Before setting up Billi London, Sophie worked for an experiential agency, which is how she met Marie. “I was already working on Billi London on the side when I met Marie. I knew that she had done a masters in sustainable fashion and research on biodegradability, so I invited her for coffee,” says Sophie. The co-founders have worked on the business full-time since August 2021.
Greener banking with Starling
Sophie signed up to Starling in March 2020, following a recommendation from people in her accelerator programme, run by Escape the City.
“Everything is easy. Customer service is great and I just love the interface of the app. All the information I need is to hand. Making payments is simple and I like the way your spending is categorised.”
In the Starling app, all outgoings are automatically categorised so that business owners can see exactly where their money is going each month. Starling debit cards are made from recycled plastic and we run our three UK offices on renewable energy. “I love Starling, I never thought I would say that about a bank but I do.”