Hello Emily here, as we travel through our 21st year of making, I wanted to take the time to reflect on Nancybird's journey, growth and impact.
As we continue to evolve as a small business, we revisit our commitments to being a sustainable and socially responsible business. There are always small and sometimes large improvements we can make along the way.
We are working hard in our day-to-day and future planning to strengthen our sourcing, production, distribution and consumption.
Thank you for trusting us to make this happen. Emily x
IMPACT AND CHALLENGES IN SUSTAINABILITY IN THE INDUSTRY
Our most significant shift, over the 20 years has been the focus towards sustainability, what that means and how best to head towards that goal.
It's something we've always been conscious of in many ways, but there have been blind spots that we've needed to look at and been able to make improvements on – and we still have a way to go. As a small team, it has sometimes been a bit slower than I would have liked – but improvements have been made consistently, and we have plans for implementing further changes along the way.
To delve a little more into sustainability – it's such a complex area that can be looked at in myriad ways – not all of them hold a picture we are comfortable with. To have a business making products means using energy, using materials. Unless you're using a closed loop, recycled, and recyclable materials using 100% renewable energy in production and transport, there is some form of fossil fuel usage.
But the idea is not to go for perfection but to move as quickly as possible in the right direction while keeping your business viable. There are some compromises we've had to make to keep things workable for us, and some non-negotiable things.
I feel that keeping to our main pillars has kept us solid over the years - well designed, well made using the best materials possible at a reasonable price point.
Four main factors that are a focus for us to be an ecologically and socially responsible business is strengthening on our approach to Materials, Production, Our Makers and in turn our impact on the Planet.
Our non-negotiables are around material usage. We only use natural materials – cotton (always preferencing organic where available), linen, wool, Lenzing (a fantastic company – look them up!) Tencel and Viscose using closed loop processes. We don't use generic viscose or cellulose fabrics because of the chemical waste.
- We only use something like spandex where it significantly contributes to the use of the product – for a long time, we used no spandex, and we found the wearability of our pants just wasn't good enough – and things need to be worn many, many times to justify the energy usage to have them made. So we allow spandex to be used for bottoms.
We only use genuine leather and waxed canvas in our bags and wallet range. There are some backing materials to stiffen or thicken some areas of these items that use man made materials. Still, we keep this to a minimum based on the product's usability.
- We will never use PU as a leather alternative. It is a plastic derived from crude oil, and it worries me that it has, in more recent times, been marketed as vegan leather. It is vegan, but it is basically plastic and does not break down. I understand the ethical choice behind vegan products, but I feel like there are other alternatives that still use natural materials – like waxed canvas.
- The other parts of the sustainability question for us have been about being careful with our production numbers, growing or contracting organically as needed, using more sea freight, looking at all aspects of our Australian HQ and improvements we can make. While also changing our packaging (moving to corn starch garment bags for example) and working with our factories on social and ethical standards through independent audits.
- We work with a mix of manufacturers that can make 30 pieces of something, or they can make 400, depending on the need. We are careful not to overproduce if the demand is not there – and although we don't always get this exactly right, it is always our aim to produce what we can sell during the season.
- In terms of ethical and social compliance, we work with a mix of makers and factories – some are Fair Trade certified, one is a non-profit collective, others are small factories of 10 people that I have visited, others are larger that have multiple independent audits such as SMETA and SA 8000.
- My aim is to standardise all our makers' audits rather than a variety of certifications, especially as maker visits haven't been possible over the last 2+ years and may not be possible in the near future.
- A big highlight of my year used to be visiting our makers – I would go every year, and it was so exciting to spend time with the people making our designs in Hong Kong, China, Korea and India. I miss this aspect of the business, but I hope this can happen again one day!
- Working towards carbon neutral. We have just moved to solar power in our two Melbourne spaces - our studio and warehouse! We're excited to use 100% solar power and hopefully feed extra green energy back into the grid!
- Last year we became members of 1% for the Planet - a network committed to donate 1% of gross sales to environmental organisations and charities. The organisation certifies all donations and reviews sales and donation details annually.
It's all ongoing, and we are certainly not perfect!
HIGHLIGHTS AND LESSONS LEARNT ALONG THE JOURNEY
It's so important to celebrate the good times!The satisfaction of seeing the final range each season is my absolute favourite part of what we do.
I think something that I've worked out over the years is that staying small is better for me. It suits my temperament, I think it fits what we design, and I feel like it's more sustainable in many different ways -I don't think massive expansion is something that we should strive for in the world as it is right now.
GROWTH & PACE
- When we have had periods of growth, it has been organic. We've had periods of shrinkage too, and luckily we've been able to respond to this and made our way through it. As a business, you can survive downturns and then build up again - that has been a good lesson for me.
I feel that keeping to our main pillars, has kept us solid over the years.
- Another thing that has worked for us is not to overextend ourselves financially – and, when the time is right, to invest in the business. We've been able to buy the studio we work in and then our second warehouse a few years later. This has meant we're secure here and not at the mercy of landlords – and we've been able to renovate to make the spaces more comfortable for staff. It wasn't easy to make these jumps, but it has been doable because we've been cautious.
There have been many significant challenges, especially over the last few years!
- Covid times were tricky for everyone - our particular challenges were the various lockdowns locally and in India and China - leading to late production, there were significant shipping delays and retail stores locked down in different parts of Australia and NZ, and our team working from home. Working with a seasonal product where timing is vital in those circumstances was a little stressful! But our team has been just brilliant – I was so proud of how we navigated these challenges.
There was some "letting go" needed in these times - of timelines and of a particular outcome – primarily, people have been really understanding of these challenges.
Once again thank you for supporting us on this journey. We hope you love each and every purchase you make from Nancybird for years to come. Here's to shopping consciously and supporting sustainable fashion.
If you would like to know more about Our Approach please visit our page here.