CHAM­PION OF RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY

SA­MAN­THA JONES HAS A SO­CIAL CON­SCIENCE STRETCH­ING ALL THE WAY TO IN­DIA. HER UNI­FORM BUSI­NESS IS A LEADER IN SO­CIAL RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY AND ETH­I­CAL PRO­CURE­MENT. THERE IS MUCH TO AD­MIRE ABOUT LIT­TLE YELLOW BIRD.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - BY GLENN BAKER GLENN BAKER IS EDI­TOR OF NZBUSINESS.

Sa­man­tha Jones has a so­cial con­science stretch­ing all the way to In­dia. Her uni­form busi­ness is a leader in so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and eth­i­cal pro­cure­ment.

For a young girl grow­ing up, hav­ing a fa­ther work­ing as a diplo­mat for the gov­ern­ment came with unique ben­e­fits – not least of which, the chance to see the world from an early age.

Four years spent in Rus­sia be­fore re­turn­ing to Welling­ton, then fin­ish­ing high school in In­done­sia, opened Sa­man­tha Jones eyes to the real world and deeply in­flu­enced the start of her busi­ness jour­ney some years later.

But own­ing a busi­ness wasn’t her orig­i­nal dream. An on­line ad­vert for New Zealand Air Force univer­sity schol­ar­ships had caught her eye. She was en­cour­aged to study com­merce, which led to a lo­gis­tics of­fi­cer’s sup­ply chain role – help­ing se­cure air­craft parts to keep the Ori­ons and Sea­sprite he­li­copters op­er­a­tional and as­sist­ing on in­ter­na­tional ex­er­cises.

With the prospect of job ad­vance­ment some five years away Sa­man­tha found bore­dom creep­ing in – it was time to pur­sue her busi­ness dream.

The idea for Lit­tle Yellow Bird, her Welling­ton-based com­pany that pro­duces eth­i­cally-made, fair-trade uni­forms for cor­po­rates, busi­nesses and events, was sparked when, hav­ing pre­vi­ously had a uni­form sup­plied through the Air Force, Sa­man­tha now strug­gled to pur­chase cor­po­rate work­wear that met her re­quire­ments for a part-time job. Even her sis­ter, a lawyer, was hav­ing dif­fi­culty find­ing suit­able work cloth­ing.

Sa­man­tha had also re­mem­bered a dis­turb­ing sight as a school-girl in Jakarta. Look­ing over the river that flowed past her school she could see tex­tile fac­to­ries dis­charg­ing waste – into the same river peo­ple used for drink­ing water. That, com­bined with her in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity stud­ies some years later, even­tu­ally led her to “join the dots”.

“It fi­nally dawned on me that all the prod­ucts we con­sume are caus­ing these [en­vi­ron­men­tal] prob­lems. I didn’t want to be part of that; I wanted to cre­ate a busi­ness that ac­tively tried to change things.”

Sa­man­tha was keen to launch her “so­cial im­pact” ven­ture. Lit­tle Yellow Bird first took flight in March 2015, and to­day the 28-yearold is sole di­rec­tor and has two em­ploy­ees in Welling­ton, as well as a qual­ity con­trol/ pro­duc­tion man­ager in In­dia – where she sources her or­ganic cot­ton (‘rain-fed’) gar­ments, and can trace each gar­ment right back to its cot­ton farm.

Her In­dian em­ployee, whom she met in a cot­ton-field, also helps out with Lit­tle Yellow

Bird’s com­mu­nity im­pact projects. Sa­man­tha says it’s vi­tal to have some­one on the ground who un­der­stands the needs of the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

“For ex­am­ple, af­ter fund­ing some girls through school their par­ents be­came con­cerned that they were now too ed­u­cated to get mar­ried.

“It’s un­in­ten­tional im­pacts such as this that you have to be aware of. I’ve learnt it’s bet­ter to in­volve the com­mu­nity and find out what the peo­ple want.”

For Sa­man­tha, the most sat­is­fy­ing as­pect of Lit­tle Yellow Bird is that there is no neg­a­tive im­pact – no­body is harmed dur­ing the process of get­ting gar­ments from field or fac­tory to end con­sumers.

Plas­tic pack­ag­ing is down 90 per­cent on 2017; pa­per use is min­i­mal and pa­per re­cy­cled; Lit­tle Yellow Bird is a Sus­tain­able Busi­ness Net­work (SBN) mem­ber; and a cer­ti­fied B Corp.

“We’re proud to be the only uni­form com­pany in the world cer­ti­fied B Corp,” says Sa­man­tha. “It means that while we aim to make a profit, we don't do it at the ex­pense of peo­ple or the planet.”

GROWTH PAINS

Sa­man­tha ad­mits to hav­ing some grow­ing pains along her busi­ness jour­ney. It took a while to find a team that gelled. There have been the usual cash­flow and sup­ply chain hic­cups, and is­sues in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with In­dia. How­ever, win­ning around $50k through var­i­ous busi­ness sup­port pro­grams over the years has made all the dif­fer­ence to their sur­vival – it even helped fund air­fares to In­dia.

Vi­tal sales have also re­sulted from var­i­ous awards Sa­man­tha has en­tered. She was a SheEO fi­nal­ist and, at the In­no­va­tion Awards, a fi­nal­ist in the In­no­va­tion in Sus­tain­abil­ity & Re­new­able En­ergy cat­e­gory and the over­all Young New Zealand In­no­va­tor of the Year.

She has also been a fi­nal­ist in the Welling­ton Gold Awards, New Zealand Women of In­flu­ence Awards, SBN Awards, and is part of the Ed­mund Hil­lary Fel­low­ship – help­ing con­nect ‘high im­pact’ en­trepreneurs and in­vestors over­seas with busi­nesses in New Zealand.

Lit­tle Yellow Bird has cus­tomers world­wide. Their largest client, based in the US, ac­tu­ally found them through a Ja­panese pub­li­ca­tion. And here in New Zealand they pretty much have the eth­i­cally-sourced or­ganic uni­form space to them­selves.

The jour­ney has had its high points – such as mov­ing into their own of­fice last year – as well as low points. Sa­man­tha re­mem­bers the day they com­pletely ran out of money – only to re­ceive a call that af­ter­noon to say they’d won a $100k ten­der.

Sud­denly their worst day had turned into one of their best!

LES­SONS AND GOALS

De­velop re­silience quickly – that’s a key busi­ness les­son from Sa­man­tha. “It never gets eas­ier – you just get more skilled at deal­ing with things.

“Recog­nise that things will go wrong and learn to fo­cus on the big­ger pic­ture,” she ad­vises. “If you’re not re­peat­ing your mis­takes then you’re im­prov­ing.”

“My big mes­sage is that profit doesn’t need to come at the ex­pense of ethics. They go hand in hand. The most prof­itable busi­nesses in the fu­ture will be eth­i­cally-minded – that’s what the young gen­er­a­tion is de­mand­ing.”

Sa­man­tha’s ad­vice for start-ups in­cludes se­cur­ing the best in le­gal and ac­count­ing ser­vices. “Get­ting that stuff right is su­per im­por­tant.”

She’s also pleased she didn’t bow to pres­sure to take on in­vest­ment early in the busi­ness’s jour­ney. “Be­cause we did make mis­takes, and if we’d made those mis­takes at scale then we would have wasted peo­ple’s money.”

Sa­man­tha’s goal is for Lit­tle Yellow Bird to be­come a na­tion­ally recog­nised brand that sup­plies New Zealand’s big­gest com­pa­nies and chal­lenges peo­ple to think sus­tain­ably and eth­i­cally.

The timing is per­fect; she re­cently raised aware­ness on eth­i­cal fash­ion even fur­ther by help­ing or­gan­ise the eco-fash­ion con­fer­ence at Welling­ton’s City Gallery on April 19. Peri Drys­dale and Jessie Wong were in­cluded in a pow­er­ful nine-speaker line-up and Sa­man­tha also took to the stage.

It was yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to spread the mes­sage on ethics, and from per­sonal experience.

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