Based on a deep-rooted love of nature and the outdoors, That Gorilla Brand is a premium conservation lifestyle brand. It encompasses apparel, adventures and film, with a collective vision to do well by doing good. Their goal is to promote the preservation of the endangered mountain gorilla and the empowerment of the human populations who live nearby.
Just over 1000 mountain gorillas are left in the wild, and they all reside in the mountainous forests of neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Donations from sales of products and fundraising from Adventures For A Cause all go to The Gorilla Organization to aid their ongoing community-led conservation projects and other That Gorilla Brand-led initiatives.
We spoke to the founders, Leo and Casey Gripari, to learn more about their story.
You created a fashion brand with no previous experience. How did it all start?
Leo: That Gorilla Brand is a lifestyle conservation brand that creates premium apparel with meaning. The idea came to us on a family holiday in 2018 – almost out of nowhere. I’d been having a sleepless night and was thinking about business ideas that could make a meaningful impact in support of the conservation of endangered animals.
This led to the idea of creating an apparel brand to help the endangered mountain gorilla and the human communities that surround their habitats. We met Jillian Millar, the Executive Director of our primary charity partner, The Gorilla Organization, in 2020, who has been working for over two decades to save the mountain gorilla from extinction. Our partnership with Jillian has been fundamental to our impact journey – we donate a portion of all our sales to The Gorilla Organization to help them implement community-led initiatives in the areas closest to the gorilla’s habitat.
What have you learnt so far?
Casey: Where do we begin?! One of our major learnings has been that doing things right for the planet and the people on it is more important than fast profits, and that is why we have been extremely conscious about the origin and lifespan of our clothing range.
However, we also learnt that in order to make a bigger impact on the causes we are most passionate about, we need to grow the business. Managing this balance has been one of the biggest learning curves for us and something that we are still navigating in the early stages of our business.
Most importantly, Leo and I have learnt that through empathy, communication, and compromise, we can effectively work together to balance our family life with the priorities of our growing global business. We are so proud of what we have achieved with That Gorilla Brand so far and are excited about what lies ahead.
What makes That Gorilla Brand different?
Leo: We are so much more than your average apparel brand. We have always wanted to use our voice to educate our audiences about the threat to the endangered mountain gorilla and empower the people around these mountain gorillas to live a safe and thriving existence. We donate an amount from every sale to The Gorilla Organization – and for some select T-shirts, we donate 100% of the profits. The other side of our impact ethos that makes us different is our Adventures for a Cause. These are a series of global challenges that raise awareness and funds for our own community-led initiatives.
I wanted to push myself to my absolute limit, completing over 3,500km in my challenges and training to date, including a solo marathon in Iceland, the Grand Canyon’s 100km Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim challenge, completing the Mardi Himal trek in Nepal, running Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert Marathon and our very own Lake Mutanda’s ultra-marathon in Uganda, with members of the local community. The funds raised from these challenges are going towards our Bwindi Community Water Projects, which provide the human communities that neighbour gorilla habitats with easily accessible and clean drinking water.
Through donations from our clothing ranges and fundraising from Adventures for a Cause, we are now the second largest donor to The Gorilla Organization after the EU.
Casey: Another way in which we’re different is that we have always wanted to have a hands-on approach to our impact, so we’ve made a point of visiting the areas we work in to understand how we can help them overcome their challenges. What we’ve found is fascinating. We know that only one-quarter of communities near the mountain gorilla have easy access to safe drinking water. When waters run dry, people don’t have enough water to drink, wash or feed crops, leading to economic decline. The result is that people often have no choice but to take resources from the gorilla’s habitat. This encroachment can lead to accidental human and gorilla deaths, which we’re trying to combat through our projects.
Tell us about the socially and environmentally responsible clothing range you produce.
Casey: We sell premium lifestyle apparel – from hoodies and joggers to t-shirts and swimwear – for men, women, and children.
The manufacturing process in the fashion industry is so often hidden from customers, so showcasing this is really important to us. That is why we are transparent about the process, creating a short film that gives insight into the garment journey. Our products are produced under socially and environmentally responsible conditions by our manufacturer RTG in Portugal. RTG uses energy that is 70% from renewable sources, and it plans to install solar panels in the next year to generate 30% of its power. They do not emit harmful GHGs, and all the waste from RTG is recycled from recycled certified companies. RTG also reuses waste fabric by transforming the cutting waste into new recycled yarns.
Just as importantly for us, RTG safeguards its workforce’s physical and mental health, sense of belonging, security and safety, and has medical visits by external companies to test noise, light, and temperature levels to make sure their employees have the best working conditions at all times.
What are the best-selling products on the website, and why?
Leo: Our best seller has to be our Bwindi Goldcrown Gorilla T-shirt, which is part of our 2020 collaboration with artist James Goldcrown. We think this product’s uniqueness makes it so enticing with the colourful hearts and the big bold gorilla. This collection did so well that it completely sold out and led to a larger collaboration with James – which feature in our recently launched MAJI collection.
How did you expand internationally in retail in Europe, Asia, Africa, the US, and Canada?
Casey: We know that the more customers we can reach, the bigger the impact we can have on the communities and the mountain gorillas we want to protect.
Leo: We have increased our reach online by securing partnerships with key global players, including Zalando and Wolf & Badger. We also have a strong physical presence globally and are stocked in hotels, boutiques, and spas in Europe, Asia, Africa, the US, and Canada and Wolf & Badger’s stores in London, New York and LA.
Tell us about the troop approach and how this is helping the endangered mountain gorilla troop.
Leo: Gorillas live in groups containing between 10 and 30 members living together called troops. They are social animals and non-territorial, where the dominant adult silverbacks defend their group rather than their territory. Through our work with The Gorilla Organization, I have been fortunate enough to see these animals in the wild, and their strength and beauty never fail to amaze me.
We like to see That Gorilla Brand’s community of customers, adventure seekers, explorers and filmmakers as our ‘troop’. Everyone in our troop can make a difference, from buying products you believe in, watching one of our films or inspiring people to take action by running for one of our causes. The troop approach is all about working together to further our impact.
What is the future of sustainable fashion?
Casey: I think that more companies are increasingly looking at how they can give back to causes that make an impact in the world, in addition to working to ensure greater supply chain transparency and longevity of their products.
As more consumers are awakened to sustainable fashion’s benefits on the world, I would love to see a further shift in consumer spending habits towards companies with ESG and CSR-related initiatives woven into the framework of their business models.
What is next for That Gorilla Brand?
Leo: In November, we will complete our 7th Adventure for a Cause, the Navarino Challenge. This challenge aims to unite people of all ages and abilities by running or walking together in our home country, Greece.
We invite anyone and everyone to join us, no matter their ability or background, welcoming our community to donate or fundraise for our next cause, phase 2 of our Bwindi Community Water Projects. In this phase, we will be focusing on hygiene and sanitation within schools.
Casey: At the end of the year, we also have the release of our debut feature-length documentary, MAJI, which documents the world water crisis through the lens of Leo’s Adventure for a Cause challenges to date. With less than 1% of all water on Earth safe for consumption, MAJI gives us an eye-opening perspective into this powerful yet limited resource, hoping to change our outlook on something we take for granted every day.