How To Channel Your Brand Expertise Into A Purpose-Driven Business
The concept of purpose-driven business isn’t new. Commerce and socio-economic development have always met at a natural intersection, however, in recent years, as bottom lines have taken precedence over beneficiaries and the wake of financial crashes has squeezed small businesses, doing the right thing has taken a backseat.
And of course, with the past ten years having been dedicated to convenience and speed, the lengthy and challenging processes of responsible business haven’t been prioritised.
But with the climate crisis almost at the point of no return and human and animal welfare also at tipping point, businesses are now addressing what can be done to tip the scale. This, of course is the point where business leaders can make a difference, by applying knowledge and expertise to the development of new, sustainable processes and purpose-driven brands.
To better understand how leaders might use their influence for good, we caught up with Nicky Adamo, Founder of The Natural Edition. The Natural Edition is a purpose-driven business working with organic cotton to create pared-back basics.
A favourite of eco-conscious celebrities and influencers and with good reason – the brand offers simple designs like plain white tees and Breton-striped tops crafted from super-soft organic cotton.
How did you enter the business of fashion?
I actually started out working in the food industry. Firstly in Australia then in the UK as Marketing Manger for Pret A Manger. A VC I knew was starting a fashion label and asked me to come on board. I would be moving from food to fashion to run the business and I made the jump.
A year later I launched my own luxury lingerie and sleepwear brand and moved back to Australia. I entered fashion by accident and made a success of the business, but there are a lot more similarities between the fashion and food industries than most people realise, especially where supply chains are concerned.
How much of this experience did you apply to your purpose-driven business?
Other than pure business experience, working with lingerie prior to founding The Natural Edition taught me a lot about materials and fit. Bad fit is more unforgiving in lingerie, so you learn about shape, fabric and details that flatter the female form.
But a sustainable business is not just about ‘better’ choices in fabrics. It’s about the people who bring the brand the life, particularly the makers. Being sustainable for me starts with ethics, with living wages and ensuring fair and safe working conditions.
Anyone working in fashion becomes familiar with these aspects of the supply chain but some companies choose to ignore the ethics associated with the industry. I don’t think you can ignore these things.
How challenging would you say it is to transfer existing business insight to a sustainable business?
When I started it was challenging as very few brands were intersted in being sustainable or ethical. Now, with greater transparency and consumer involvement. there is a bigger push in that direction. It means so many amazing resources and sustainable materials are available to new brands and existing brands wanting to make changes within the industry.
The more challenging thing is finding factories that are transparent, safe and paying living wages. Proper due diligence as a business takes work. However, the more brands demanding fair working conditions, the quicker we make that shift and the factories doing things right become the standard for the industry. I’d encourage entrepreneurs to lead by example.
What prevents entrepreneurs from making a success of a purpose-driven business model?
I think the barriers to transform a company into a more sustainable purpose-driven business have come right down. It requires a bit of focus and doing a bit of research to make the right choices but the information is there if you look for it. There’s no sidestepping that.
How can today’s brands remain authentic in the sustainable fashion space?
To remain authentic, brands need to focus fully on their mission and the cause they are passionate about. It’s so important not to compromise on this. A clear mission statement is everything. Everything stems from that.
One of our biggest challenges for The Natural Edition was our packaging. I wanted to remove all plastics from the supply chain but couldn’t find a solution that could be applied on a decent scale. We simply had to innovate and create our own recyclable kraft pouch packaging.
It was quite complicated to introduce into the supply chain as we had to design around existing carton sizes but we found a solution and can proudly say that we’re a plastic-free brand. There’s always a solution.
Whats the most valuable thing for sustainable brand Founders to consider in a post-COVID world?
For us, the recent months have provided a time to reflect, be grateful for what we have had and accept that things might dip a little for a period of time whilst people stopped shopping.
We aimed to continue to give as much as we could and we were able to donate over 300 of The Natural Edition pieces to the NHS. I also worked with a plastic activist to run The Corona Virus hackathon to shape a better future post-covid.
The most important thing for a brand Founder or entrepreneur is to stick to the mission statement and continue driving that purposeful business – whatever that looks like. Flexibility, optimism and imagination is key.