#57 Green Banana Paper: ’I learned everything I needed to know about running my business from YouTube’

This time, we’re with Matt Simpson, the man behind Green Banana Paper, a company developed purely as a way to give local employment to a demographic of island dwellers in Micronesia who would most likely have left for jobs in the city. Making wallets from banana trees, learn how this unique company’s process has been a labour of love for Matt, and a great example of alternative materials playing their role in building products of the future.


Show notes

So, Matt Simpson (below right) from Connecticut, arrives in Kosrae, Micronesia in 2008. He is a young volunteer teacher and picks up some work at one of the local high schools on the island.

He falls in love. With the people, with the island, with the work-life balance he encounters. Who wouldn’t? After work every day, he is merely a hop, skip and jump from the ocean where he spends hours surfing and lapping up the waves.

mattheadshot-1280-720-1.jpg

When his teaching contract came to an end, Matt, understandably, was reluctant to leave.

His time on Kosrae had taught him many things, including the fact that very few businesses existed on the island. And hardly anything was exported out of Kosrae. His former students who had now left school were either unemployed, or had already shipped out to find work in the US, most probably on minimum wage.

Matt decided to do something about it. And Green Banana Paper was born.

A bit lost in high school, Matt originally went into teaching because he felt an urge to help kids who, much like him, needed a helping hand to tread their own path in life.

Taking that philosophy into his business, he has built a business NOT to serve his own interests as a budding entrepreneur, but to satisfy and serve the needs of his team of workers and the Kosrae community in which his business sits.

As he explains to me during our conversation this week, Matt had absolutely no previous experience doing what his company now does. He learned everything from Google and YouTube. 

As his latest Kickstarter campaign came to an end last week, Matt’s business is ready and rearing to go. Yes, it has taken a good few years to get to this point. But Matt’s story is one of passion, belief and creating a business for the good of the many, rather than just the few.

Enjoy.

 
 
FXFA8319_580x.jpg
green-banana-paper-company.jpg

Episode #56 - The bamboo boxers making cotton look pants

Buddha Boxers founder Jason Spitkoski

Buddha Boxers founder Jason Spitkoski

A show title likely to get completely and utterly lost on our North American listeners, we appreciate….this time we’re with Jason Spitkoski, a man that has left his background as a tech developer behind to chase the dream of running a successful underwear business. He is the proud owner of Buddha Boxers, a company that is getting seriously comfortable that its raw material of bamboo is capable of blowing cotton out of the water as a sustainable material of choice in the 21st century.


Show notes

Consider the fashion sector for a moment, and specifically one of the backbones of the industry: cotton.

As the most widely used natural fibre used in clothing today, it is a hugely important crop. And more than 100 million smallholder farmers and their families rely on cotton for a living, with 90% of those farmers living in the developing world.

But cotton faces significant sustainability risks and challenges, not least its reliance on water and the impact of climate change. For every t-shirt made, around 2,700 litres of water is used in the agricultural process – the same amount of water the average human drinks in three years; it is certainly a thirsty crop.

As the World Economic Forum notes, water security is “one of the most tangible and fastest-growing social, political and economic challenges faced today”. The world is likely to face a 40% global shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water in the next 15 years.

It is also worth pointing out that, although cotton uses just 2.4% of the world’s cultivated land, it accounts for 24% of global insecticide use and 11% of global pesticides, making it the most pesticide-intensive crop grown on the planet.

NGOs and non-profits like CottonConnect and the Better Cotton Initiative are working hard to support smallholder farmers, with basic interventions, such as training and education, which can help farmers dramatically save water by adopting more sustainable agricultural practices.

However, many farmers do not have access to basic information when it comes to best practice for water use and conservation. Educating and empowering farmers and helping them gain access to finance are barriers to progress that need to be addressed urgently.

The global textile and garment industry is worth some $3 trillion. But the ephemeral nature of fashion – where what’s hot and what’s not can change in the blink of an eye – poses a series of formidable sustainability challenges, not least in the supply chain of brands everywhere.

So, as we so often pose on the The Better Business Show: what if there was a better way?

Well, this week, we caught up with Jason Spitkoski (top right), founder of Buddha Boxers. He went in search of ultimate comfort for his underwear brand, landing on bamboo as the perfect material of choice. But as he told me during our conversation this week, he got plenty more than he bargained for in setting up a business designed to get people thinking about the clothes they buy.

Enjoy the show.

Episode #54 - What's up with Ivanka Trump's clothing line?

Show notes

Take a look down at the shirt, or top, or t-shirt you’re wearing RIGHT now.

Do you know where it was made? Or by whom?

Can you tell me if it was made safely, and by workers who were paid fairly? And that its production doesn't harm the environment?

No, didn’t think so.

But these are some of the questions our guest this week desperately wants people like you – and your friends and family members – to start asking themselves, and of the businesses that sell and make our clothing.

There has been a plethora of reports and analysis done into the changing consumer habits of the new generation of shoppers.

One of the most compelling is Forum for the Future’s consumer futures 2020 report which imaginess four plausible scenarios for tomorrow’s consumers: ‘my way’, ‘sell it to me’, ‘from me to you’ and ‘I’m in your hands’. These are based on two trends – whether society will be prosperous or not, and whether consumers will take the initiative, or expect brands to do it for them.

The ‘my way’ mainstream consumers of 2020 are keeping it local, in a climate where vertical farming is the norm and personal energy micro-managers make sustainable living high tech and easy. If you open the fridge, you’ll find packaging that refrigerates and changes colour if the food has gone off. Brands and businesses are the ones making it easy in ‘sell it to me’, where smart products and services replace unsustainable products. 

Hyper local is the name of the game for ‘from me to you’, with products sought as directly as possible. Good exchanges, recycling and re-use are common place, as is selling surplus food and growing your own hemp. Say goodbye to brand loyalty. The leasing model champions in ‘I’m in your hands’; retailers and brands not only lease goods, but also provide heat, water and nutrition. You won’t own your washing machine; you’ll lease it.

Yes, the four scenarios look quite different. But there is one common theme running throughout: sustainable consumption is mainstream.

This week, I’m in conversation with Natalie Grillon, co-founder and co-CEO of Project JUST, an online community looking to help consumers change the way they shop for clothing by raising awareness of a number of key issues that leave the fashion sector on the verge of straying into territory a new generation of shoppers just won’t tolerate

And Project JUST will also call companies out that are just not doing enough to be transparent about how their clothes make it from farm, factory, store and into people’s wardrobes. The big investigation Natalie and her team have been working on to shine a light on Ivanka Trump's clothing line is testament to that spirit.

As ever, let me know what you think of the show.

Natalie Grillon, co-founder and co-CEO of Project JUST

Natalie Grillon, co-founder and co-CEO of Project JUST

Episode #47 - The fashion brand run by knitting grandmothers

Show notes

In the US, where the number of senior citizens in the workforce has nearly tripled since the 1970s, older workers are also increasingly working full-time instead of part-time. Seniors now working full-time are more common than those working part-time.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of those working who are older than 65 will reach 23% by 2022. In the last decade, the average age of the US labour force has increased by about five years.

Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with this; working lives are being extended as life expectancy rises and public health improves.

And employers are starting to value older workers more.

In the UK, Barclays and National Express have both recently announced apprenticeship schemes designed to cater for older workers and to broaden the age diversity of their workforces.

The National Express scheme aims to recruit people for whom age and extended career breaks can pose a barrier to finding employment, including the over-50s and women coming back to work after having kids.

Company’s are starting to realise the value of having a diverse workforce, reflecting as it does their broad customer base and the wide range of skills and experience on offer.

No better is that being realised than at the DIY store B&Q, which has long championed employing older staff that have the real knowledge about doing stuff round the house that the new generation just can’t be bothered with.

Fast food chain McDonald's and pub chain JD Wetherspoons are two other notable companies now getting in on the act in encouraging older people to apply for jobs.

But imagine a company whose sole reason for existing is to give jobs to older people.

This week, Vikki Knowles meets Faustine Badrichani, the co-founder of Wooln, a New York-based business making high-end beanie hats and other knitted goods, entirely handmade by older ladies in the community.

If you want to find out more, head to www.wooln-ny.com.

Faustine Badrichani and Margaux Rousseau, co-founders of Wooln (Credi:  Aude Adrien)  p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.8px Arial; color: #232323; -webkit-text-stroke: #232323}
span.s1 {font-kerning: none}

Faustine Badrichani and Margaux Rousseau, co-founders of Wooln (Credi: Aude Adrien)

Faustine and  Margaux with the grandmas (Credit: La Femme Collective)

Faustine and Margaux with the grandmas (Credit: La Femme Collective)

Wooln's grandmas working on a new pattern together

Wooln's grandmas working on a new pattern together

From the new Wooln collection (Credit:  eakphoto)

From the new Wooln collection (Credit: eakphoto)


Also, this week...

Gareth Kane

Gareth Kane

I know we have many sustainability practitioners listening to the show – those working within businesses whose task it is to rally the troops, set goals, make improvements, sell the concept of sustainability to the board, and so on.

Well, we have a special segment of the show just for you this week.

Gareth Kane gives you his 10 Worst Sustainability Ideas – and how you can learn from them.

Episode #43 - Meet the business kickstarting a sportswear revolution

Show notes

This week, we're in the company of Rob Webbon, a man who has combined his passion for cycling and sustainability to kickstart a sportswear revolution with Grn Sportswear.

Over the last 50 years, the way companies produce fashion – and the way in which we consume it – has changed dramatically. 

The so-called fast fashion retailers argue that their model has democratised, and made ultimately accessible, fashion. No longer is it the reserve of the rich or elite to be able to afford the latest trends. Now, everyone, everywhere can experience that short-lived thrill of buying new fashion items and have the pleasure of wearing something new on a regular basis.

And it is this model that has driven large fashion retailers for so long, certainly in the UK and the US, and increasingly elsewhere.

To start, fast fashion was all about increasing the speed of production and cutting the time it takes to bring designs to the shop shelves. And rather than having just two collections a year, this speedier production process made it possible for companies to continuously rotate their product lines all year long.

And, of course, the ultimate is to then sell many more products and decrease the trend cycle – to have something new for consumers all the time.

The other big success for fast fashion has been reduced prices. 

In fact, fast fashion is now less about the speed of production and more about sales – shifting more and more products as quickly as possible.

And that means producing a lot of stuff at as low a price as possible, which puts pressure on suppliers to make huge volumes at a low price to tight deadlines.

It’s clearly a model with a big problem. And in the last five years, a real and growing movement has gathered pace against fast fashion as the status quo. 

And this has coincided with a number of the established high street retailers making public commitments to reduce their environmental impacts, as well as get their social and community story straight too, particularly along the supply chain.

The question is whether fast fashion can ever become sustainable – something the Ethical Fashion Forum defines as "fashion that maximises benefits to people, and minimises impact on the environment". If the high street brands are able to use their weight and influence – and put as much effort into dealing with things like water use in agriculture, human rights abuse, poor factory conditions and pollution as they have into developing fast and efficient production process – then there is hope.

But the industry must first address the big elephant in the room - that fast fashion as has grown up during the last decade is inherently unsustainable. The commercial drivers of the businesses that work within the current system are in conflict with reducing environmental impact, and looking after workers and farmers further down the supply chain. Something’s got to give.

A wealth of great new businesses have sprung up in the last decade, to hold a mirror up to fast fashion, to make it realise what a mess the model is creating.

And we meet one of those businesses this week.

Grn Sportswear, operates in a rather niche market, producing cycling gear for corporate and team events and clubs. But it is a great example of a company keen to rip up the rulebook when it comes to fashion and apparel.

And there’s loads of great takeaways from the founder of CEO of the business, Rob Webbon –from the materials used in the products, to the local manufacturing, to the ethics behind Rob’s model – that sportswear is to be loved, kept and cared for, rather than thrown away – something the sector he is operating in has been notoriously bad it.

Enjoy the show.

You can find out more about Grn Sportswear here.

Rob (left) with Peter Littie, Grn's chief peddler.

Rob (left) with Peter Littie, Grn's chief peddler.

Friday Five #4 - The Disney-Dole deal to get kids healthy; the big HFC agreement; and why Tyson is buying into the vegan market

This is the Better Business Show Friday Five, our brand new show coming to you at the end of every week – digesting the very best stories from across the world of sustainable business in the last 7 days.

This time, we're talking:

Don't miss our two Better Business Show episodes a week by signing up to our weekly newsletter: www.betterbusiness.show

Friday Five #3 - Clooney's South Sudan mission continues, H&M shaking up TV ads, a boom in EV sales

This is the Better Business Show Friday Five, our brand new show coming to you at the end of every week – digesting the very best stories from across the world of sustainable business in the last 7 days.

This time, we're talking:

Don't miss our two Better Business Show episodes a week by signing up to our weekly newsletter: www.betterbusiness.show

 

Friday Five #1 - 30 September 2016

Tom and Viks here. Welcome to the very first Better Business Show Friday Five, our brand new show coming to you at the end of every week.

This is your dedicated 10-minute news round-up, digesting the very best stories from across the world of sustainable business in the last 7 days.

This time, we're talking:

- Palm oil giant IOI and a tough new campaign from Greenpeace
- Brooklyn's new rooftop winery, Rooftop Reds
- BMW's new energy storage facility built from used EV batteries
- How the most sustainable dress in fashion was created
- And why Patagonia is getting involved in the US election


Don't miss our two Better Business Show episodes a week by signing up to our weekly newsletter.


Episode #35 - Be more flamingo. The business empowering women through high heel sales

Show notes

You don't need me to tell you, but there's a problem with gender.

It’s something the likes of Jeremy Corbyn – the man still battling to win his place as leader of the Labour opposition party here in the UK – is keen to address. He has called for small businesses to report their gender pay gaps, claiming that women were overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs.

Not long after Corbyn made the point, The Times published figures revealing that it is men that occupy all the senior roles in his team while women were relegated to the lowest paid positions. Even those are the far-left of the debate are failing to take appropriate steps to redress the balance.

The situation is worse in business. Take our supposedly enlightened cousins in Silicon Valley. Facebook and Twitter are happy to talk about the importance of diversity, but only 16% and 13% of their tech roles respectively are occupied by women.

As Gabriel Phillips writes in Management Today last week, “Many seem to work under the false assumption that there aren’t enough qualified women to work or even talk about the lack of gender diversity in the sector.

"A recent panel on ‘Gender Equality and Inclusion at the workplace’ hosted by PayPal failed to include a single woman speaker while Michael Moritz, the CEO of Sequoia Capital, said that the company was not willing to ‘lower their standards’ for the sake of diversity."

Outside of the developed world, millions of female workers worldwide continue to be deprived of basic rights such as schooling, a rest day or minimum wage. And our guest business this week is campaigning to support the wellbeing of women and girls through its own commercial venture.

Shoes by Shaherazad is a "for purpose" company and since launching earlier this year has already empowered many women in Kenya, Peru, Pakistan and Palestine through its 18-hour heels.

Enjoy. And, as ever, let me know what you think of Shaz and her story.

You can find out more about the business here.

Key quotes, points and takeaways from this week's show:

  • "Nobody should have to work an 18 hour day, but it happens."
  • "Empowered women buy my shoes, to empower women living in poverty."
  • "I've always worked with big UK retailers – and even there there's an imbalance in opportunities for women."
  • "I wanted to do something for women who don't have access to education and opportunity."
  • "I'm head of customer marketing for the Co-operative. But I wanted to do something for other people. I'm not capable of running a marathon, but thought if I can use my business skills to raise money for other people, that's what I will do."
  • "Our products are made in the UK. We don't use sweatshops and we make sure everyone is paid a fair wage."
  • "You can wear our heels for 18 hours and they won't hurt your feet."
  • "Women working in boardrooms shouldn't be hobbling; it's not a good look."
  • "I went to the London College of Fashion on weekends and learned the principles of design, found a factory to hep me and launched earlier this year."
  • "We work in 5 countries and aim to give 3 months of education for every pair of shoes sold."
  • "I didn't want to just give money to a cause. By supporting education, women can go on to make their own living and take control of their own futures."
  • "I want us all to be flamingoes. They believe in equal rights; the male and female share in child rearing and live in harmony."
  • "You do need to invest in good marketing and PR. Also, trust the people around you to get more done."
  • "Having more faith at the beginning would have been good; hold your nerve."
Real women modelling Shaz's shoes

Real women modelling Shaz's shoes

Episode #30 - We bought an off-the-shelf ethical supply chain

Show notes

I was delighted to have Rob Drake-Knight on the show this week.

He is one of the two brother co-founders (along with Martin, pictured together on the right) of Rapanui, an ethical clothing business taking supply chain traceability to another level. You can read more about the story here.

With a few hundred quid in their pocket, a garden shed as premises and a box of t-shirts, Rob and Martin set about creating a new brand whose power could influence customers to think more carefully about where the clothes they wear come from.

Eight years later and that is exactly what Rapanui is doing – and much much more.

As well as exploring the intricacies of running the business from the Isle of Wight, we also talk extensively about Teemill, a new feature of the business which allows anybody, anywhere to tap into the Rapanui factory, supply chain and back-end operations and start their own t-shirt business – with matching ethical, organic and fully traceable product credentials.

And as I rather excitedly explain at the end of this week's show, we decided to play around with Teemill ourselves and ended up setting up our very own t-shirt business. You can visit it here.

This is what the home page looks like....

 

This blog explains a bit more about the premise of the store and the range of products we have created. But essentially, if you’re a green geek and get excited about the words and wisdom of environmentalists, pioneers and innovators across the world of sustainable business, then you will hopefully love the t-shirts I have in the store.

Each is emblazoned with a great quote from the great and good of environmentalism – from the late great Ray Anderson and Jonathon Porritt, to Nick Stern and Peter Drucker.

Happy (ethical, conscious) shopping!


Episode #25 - The fashion house shaking up the industry by paying interns and ensuring models actually eat

Episode 25 supported by:


Show notes

This week, we're in the company of Heidy Rehman, the Founder and Managing Director of Rose & Willard, an ethical and feminist British womenswear brand based in London.

This is a company which has made pieces for Jennifer Aniston, Pippa Middleton, Gemma Arterton, Michelle Dockery, Naomie Harris and Elisabeth Moss and aims to lead a trend towards a more transparent, fairer womenswear and fashion industry in general.

Heidy Rehman, founder and managing director of Rose & Willard.

Heidy Rehman, founder and managing director of Rose & Willard.

This is a company with the lowest carbon footprint in the fashion Industry on account of the fact that it designs, cuts patterns, makes samples, manufactures and distributes all of its products from one location in South London.

This is one of the only fashion houses in London that pays its interns.

This is a company that is pioneering positive body image - making use of non-model models, despite pressure from the industry to use thinner models and to supply samples in a size 6.

This is a company that is always looking to source materials that are different, such as its fish leather.

“I was working as a top-ranked stock broker and unable to find clothing choices for women that could convey professionalism, femininity and individuality simultaneously,” says Heidy. “What I found on the high street was either too frumpy, desperately chasing trends or ludicrously expensive. 

“I created Rose & Willard to solve this problem. Just before I quit the corporate world, to focus on what is a labour of love for me, I released this report on Saudi Oil, which caused quite a stir. I hope to do the same in fashion industry.”

For more on Rose & Willard visit the website. You can also find the business on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


This week, we kick off a brand new segment of the show which will play out over the next few weeks.

We’ve been working with the team at Terrafiniti, an international consultancy that works with companies to help them develop leadership in ecological, social and business value. And part of that work culminates today in the launch of a brand new series of e-books which offer thoughts, provocations and big ideas for how we might create a sustainable future on a planet of 9 billion people.

In the face of scarce resources, a warming climate, erratic weather patterns, forced migration, hunger, poverty and a widening gap between those that have and those that do not, fostering the conditions that would enable everybody to thrive is a challenge that requires audacious new thinking.

So, we asked Joss Tantram, a founding partner of Terrafiniti, to share with us his best big ideas – and that’s what he’s going to do this week and for the next four weeks.

This week is Part 1: Discounting the discount rate.

The Towards 9 Billion ebook series is out now and can be downloaded for free at the Terrafiniti website.


Episode #10 - Tom Cridland, selling t-shirts with a 30-year guarantee

Show notes

In 2011, the outdoor clothing company Patagonia did something brilliant. In a unique ad campaign designed to flatter consumers into thinking they don’t care about material goods, it ran page ads featuring one of the company’s beautiful winter fleece jackets with the slogan 'DON’T BUY THIS JACKET'.

It did something that few ad campaigns had done before: it asked – or rather instructed – consumers to restrain themselves. It presented a photo of one of its fantastic products and then told you to refrain from buying it impulsively, or lustfully, or to otherwise buy something you just don’t need.

Of course, it was hugely clever. The campaign did its utmost to explain that shopping is bad because the garment industry is wasteful. But if you HAVE to buy something, you’re probably best off buying the least-sinful option: a beautiful Patagonia fleece.

The anti-shopping movement has grown exponentially in recent years – largely in a backlash to the annual retail events like Black Friday, which encourages consumers to buy as much as they can at reduced rates.

The upscale-fleece-company REI decided to close its doors on Black Friday. Instead, it runs a social media campaign #OptOutside, to promote the fact, inviting its band of loyal customers to share the fact that rather than going shopping on a day when stuff’s on sale, you’re going to be scaling a mountain, or paddling down a creek.

Of course, Black Friday events have surfaced on this side of the Atlantic too here int he UK.

But even Asda - part of the Walmart Group – took a stand last year to not partake in flash sales which have in the past led to full scale riots in stores as people try to get their hands on cut price flat screen TVs.

Patagonia’s ad campaign was less about anti-shopping though, and more about encouraging people to think before they buy. And if they are going to be, to choose something that lasts.

Fashion and apparel has a big problem - particularly fast-fashion. the sort of stuff sold by the high street chains, like Primark, Topshop and H&M. According to Wrap, around £140m (350,000 tonnes) worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year – that’s around 30% of our unwanted clothing.

People like to stay on top of the latest fashion trends, but clearly it comes at a price.

But there are a growing band of businesses that promote a ‘built to last’ mentality, encouraging people to only buy something that they will use again and again – that has legs, that is sustainable.

Our guest this week has built his business on this very concept. Tom Cridland is a luxury fashion designer with a range of clothing for which he offers a 30-year guarantee.

I hope you enjoy our chat this week.

You can check out Tom's creations on his website. He's also on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

 

News update

During my chat with Vikki Knowles this week, we mentioned the Budget (a good round up of which can be found here); the B Corps uniting to bring rooftop solar to the masses; the Wings on Waste plastic trash-powered plane journey championed by Sir David Attenborough; and Unilever's Indiegogo innovation campaign.