You asked, we answer - Supply Chain
Being a green consumer today is no easy task - we are bombarded with messages of “sustainable this and fair trade that", from every direction as companies desperately vye to capitalise on trends that, quite frankly, shouldn't be trends, but should just be the way things are done. The label of a sustainable and fair trade brand should not exist, it should be the norm.
It is easy to understand why, in the midst of all this noise and countless sad (and infuriating) stories of greenwashing and sweatshops, that we as consumers are more confused and disillusioned than ever. We are left having to sort through the mountains of data and claims to try and best piece together a version of reality that we think (and hope) is closest to the truth [more on greenwashing here].
So rather than open this blogpost by labelling ourselves as a sustainable brand, we will instead give you as honest and transparent a perspective into what we think we are doing well and what we are working on improving. You can (and very much should!) then make up your own minds, based on all you have learnt and encountered on your own consumer journey to decide where we sit in the sustainability spectrum. We think it is important that our customers are constantly pushing and questioning every company that they purchase from (including us!) in the same way that we encourage them to push and question their own purchasing decisions and responsibilities as consumers - It is only through rigorous interrogation both outward to companies and inward to ourselves as consumers, that we have a hope to move the dial toward redefining our relationship with consumption.
For our part, our commitment to help you to do this, is to always give you a direct line to us where you can ask any questions knowing we will answer them to the best of our ability with those values in mind. We won't always have the perfect answer but we will always give you an honest one.
There is a point regarding sustainability that is always a good start to any conversation regarding this industry: “Can a business be, indeed 100% sustainable?”. The short answer (at least for now) appears to be 'no'. As sustainability evolves and gains new meanings, it is increasingly easy for brands to become selective in adopting what parts of sustainability they take on board and which they discard, as they shape a sometimes all too convenient mould of what the term means to them. It is then up to each of us as consumers to decide whether their values align with ours and if not, support and encourage them to do better.
Sustainability isn’t an easy topic to tackle - the concept of sustainability itself is elusive and we quickly realise (including from our own journey as a brand) that taking a perfect theory and translating it into practice is a challenging and fraught exercise. This should never be used to justify taking a convenient interpretation and retrofitting it into our own practices nor on the flip-side should we use the to be paralysed by perfection and woke to the point where we only contribute to the conversation but do little to action. There is danger that lies in focussing all our energy in trying to frame the perfect narrative. With the best of intentions, our energy should instead be focussed on constructive interrogation and constant refinement and improvement. Striving toward perfection but not letting the impossibility of it, cut short our journey.
When I started GNGR Bees I had one goal : rescuing waste - in the most sustainable, safe, supportive and empowering way - to make activewear. That meant interrogating every part of our value chain - from textiles to shipping to labelling to postage and then marrying them with the values we have: finding opportunities for small communities and finding manufacturers that prioritise their workers. Making products from pre-disposed materials minimising the use of new resources quickly became the core of the business and now permeates through every aspect of GNGR Bees.
Although we have only been around for under a year, in that time much has changed as we have found ways to improve on short-comings we already knew we had and found new challenges we are working to fix in the future. We are constantly looking at what we do and how we can do it better. And for us better doesn't mean cheaper or bigger margins, it means doing things in ways that are cleaner, kinder and more empowering.
Saying everything we do is perfect would be a lie - and in fact, any business that makes or skates close to making this claim should certainly raise a flag.
In the time it took to develop this brand, I can confidently say I am most proud of the relationship I have developed with my partners - from the people that make the clothes to the community groups that upcycle and hand-make our packaging. Together we support each other in many ways and we are never afraid of exploring each other’s ideas. Their support has been crucial for GNGR Bees and whenever possible, we raise awareness and support them further - you may have seen some of the campaigns we have ran to support our community partners and the many other weekly announcements that are put on our Instagram to talk about our supply chain - just like you, they also have a direct line to us and we constantly discuss our progress and how to further work together.
YOU ASKED, WE ANSWER:
- “How do you responsibly take care of your products at their “end-of-life”?
Excellent question. Our intention and hope, is that anything we produce will last a lifetime. Unlike many others, our products are based on slow fashion and made to last - creating a product thinking it will one day be disposed sets us up for exactly what we are trying to avoid - after all we have rescued the materials to make sure they themselves don’t end up in landfill in the first place.
We, however, understand accidents can happen and may damage the clothing. Thinking forward to avoid unnecessary disposal, we have introduced the Econobee - our own “circular economy” where waste becomes a product (activewear) and then if ever returned and unable of being fixed, further recycled into another product with minimal to zero waste - this means re-utilising the textile fibres to make new textile when possible (which is extremely rare) or creating filaments from un-recycled textile.
2. Please tell us about the factory: where is it?
Finding a responsible manufacturer to work with was difficult but through a lot of research we found a company we are confident to have as our partners. Our manufacturers are located in China and we have a strong work relationship at every level of the team.
The factory we work with has a total of 45 workers and worker’s safety and rights are put in place working on the basis of fair wage and remuneration (more exciting news on this to follow as we launch our new collection this summer!) as well as suitable working conditions.
The role of certification:
Our production manufacturers have BSCI certification (which stands for Business Social Compliance Initiative - a leading supply chain management system that supports companies to drive social compliance and improvements within the factories in their supply chains. It unites more than 900 companies around a development-oriented system) and together we have researched the requirements for them to achieve further certifications such as an SA8000 (which stands for a social management certification - an auditable certification standard that encourages organisations to develop, maintain, and apply socially acceptable practices in the workplace).
The reality is that the cost of certifications such as SA8000 are extremely high, making it difficult for smaller suppliers to even consider it as something doable without extensive investment on a yearly basis. Getting accredited means paying fees on pre assessment, applications, certificates, audit personnel (their travelling, expenses and idle time), and then further reaccreditation an year later (with similar costs) all dependent on where the company is located and where the closest certification board is.
There are of course (in many cases) entirely legitimate reasons for why certification costs are so high, it is important these processes and standards are audited and tested throughly and naturally this has an associated cost. And indeed for manufacturers, certification is an excellent tool as it establishes a uniform criteria that needs to be met and upheld and it ensures a baseline in the industry.
Having said this the sad reality is that for many businesses the cost of certification is prohibitive to the point where it becomes a barrier to entry and competition and serves only to further entrench the dominant position of well funded and entirely shareholder profit driven large corporations.
Our manufacturers are, like us, a small challenger business and for now we face this barrier together.
3. Who makes our clothes and do the employees have fair workers rights?
One of the too often ignored crimes of the modern consumer retail sector is that the people behind the manufacture of the garments have become a faceless and voiceless group for whom the world has turned a blind eye. For most people, it is too uncomfortable to want to look and face the reality of how horrid some of the practices in this industry are - many of which are nothing short of economic enslavement.
For us, we know each person involved in every step of our manufacturing process by name. They constitute as much a part of our story and our brand as any of us and we will shortly be announcing an exciting new initiative we are launching with our manufacturing team.
Workers and their rights:
Some may think working with a small factory is a disadvantage. We don’t see it that way - in fact we intentionally chose to work with this factory because of their small size and the opportunities it provided for greater transparency and for us to influence, in a positive way, the practices within the supply chain.
The factory has a full range of worker protections including measures to verify age, employer rights (such as maternity leave, breaks, appropriate working hours, rest, vacations & overtime remunerations). These rights are subject to third party audit as well as a worker’s syndicate which is amongst other things a worker led body where workers can express their thoughts, file complaints and otherwise be heard.
I hope that by answering these questions I have managed to shed light on a part of the business that is rarely seen and thought about by many - our goal is to increasingly talk about the people that make GNGR Bees what it is, working with the values of transparency, honesty and constant improvement, and to make them ever more the principal character of this show as we open the curtains to what in my company has never been behind the scenes.
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Stay tuned for our Part 2 of "You ask, We answer" as we discuss about: How we turn our bottles into textiles, when will we launch a new collection, what are we doing for the environment and more.