Webinar Transcription

Kuntal Warwick (CITC): Welcome to the California International Trade Center – CITC’s Industry Innovation webinar for this month. Again, thanks for joining us. While we’re all still recovering from the last three months, especially those who have been affected directly by COVID-19, it is a cautiously optimistic time but also an exciting time as businesses begin to reopen. I think phase three in California begins on Friday, so that’s fantastic. It’s also timely that we bring you today’s topic on how to integrate sustainability into the ecommerce process. More companies have been utilizing the circular economy approach to their products, packaging, marketing, and other aspects of their supply chain. The speakers and companies joining us today will share the big picture on sustainability in retail, how they integrated it into their businesses, and the decisions they made along the way to support that effort.

Joining us today are Carl Miller, Managing Director of the Global Retail Insights Network in GRIN Labs, Vivian Sayward, founder and CEO Vivacity Sportswear and Vivacity Advantage and who, by the way, was also featured on QVC’s Small Business Spotlight last month, so congratulations on that, Vivian, and Cara Barde, CEO of Crow Canyon Home a kitchen and home goods company that has been selling through major retailers in the U.S. and around the world. Thanks so much for being here. I’m looking forward to your presentations, as I’m sure everybody else is as well.

And just a quick reminder that we’ll have Q&A, after each speaker this time, which Carl will be moderating for us. And please do use the Q&A button on your screen to ask your questions during the presentations and we’ll definitely make sure to get to them right after each person presents. With that, Carl, I’d love to turn it over to you and just kind of give us an idea of what sustainability is looking like in retail around the world and in the United States.

How to Integrate Sustainability into the Ecommerce Process

Carl Miller (GRIN): Absolutely. Thank you so much, Kuntal, and super excited to be here. Just a quick overview of who I am. I’m the managing director of the Global Retail Insights Network or the GRIN, or the URL around that is the GRIN Labs. For about the last decade, we’ve been helping brands and retailers with understanding how to develop their global business. And the part of that is workforce development and sustainability. Because most brands that are out there today, whether they’re peer plays or have a combination of wholesale and retail, they’re certainly global day one, just the nature of customer acquisition. And where sustainability has really come into the fold, and one of the things that we always like to ask our membership is what they’re doing around it, how they define it, and what their next steps are. And I think where a lot of companies get stuck is at that first stage where it’s what is sustainability? What does it mean to them? There are so many pieces to the puzzle. It’s everything from, how your people are, and the tools and resources that your people are using to the materials, and manufacturing, and even sustainability in your buildings, and offices, and packaging, and transportations, and logistics, and customer care. And then you talk about end-of-use, and reuse and recycling, and the circularity of your products, and if you go to events, having communications and marketing. There are so many different areas of the value chain that this word sustainability can capture. And I think that, first and foremost, we always suggest for the companies that we’re working with is define sustainability for you and what it means and how to embed that in your brand truth. And then once they have that understanding, then it’s up to them of see, where their unique strengths lie and how they want to define their sustainability journey. Because, oftentimes, companies, as you’re very well aware, especially smaller companies, that they don’t necessarily have the resources or the know-how to take that sustainability journey. But I think the neat thing about Vivian and Cara, the executives that we’re speaking with today, is that they’ve basically said, “You know what? It’s important to us to start the journey regardless of where we are, to create transparency around that journey so that we can build these next steps.” Because nobody is 100% sustainable, obviously, but I think what we’re all looking for is a better understanding of how we can contribute to this effort globally.

What is Sustainability?

One of the definitions I like just in general around sustainability is from the CFDA here in the U.S., and they just say sustainability is great design. I like that because it starts at the beginning of the process, right, and they say it’s based on a deep understanding that all things are interconnected in this world. Sustainability provides the ability to design and produce indefinitely. This requires the design, development, production, and use of fashion products meets today’s needs without preventing them from being met by future generations. I like that, and it’s just a simple clean syncing into what sustainability overall means.

And then, we can talk about statistics all day long. I mean, a lot of this is you can google up things. And the exciting thing today is we have real people as part of their journey. Vivian and Cara, they’ve embedded this and embodied these principles into their companies, and are exploring these concepts, and really taking their journey. But just as a quick reminder, about 70% of the consumers in U.S. and Canada, there was a recent study done by the National Retail Federation and they’re saying about 70% of the consumers in U.S. and Canada think it’s important that a brand is sustainable and eco-friendly. That’s one of these drivers that I think is out there. And then before we start in with the presentations, I’d also like to point out, just within the last week, some of the interesting news that’s out there. Adidas excited that they just announced a new partnership with Allbirds which is a sustainable footwear brand, and what they say is that they’re going to be pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in sustainability, creating the world’s lowest carbon footprint shoe by 2021. That’s an exciting movement.

Industry leaders & Sustainability

A few weeks ago, the British Fashion Council, and The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. – CFDA and a bunch of other fashionistas basically created this manifesto. I think what’s happening here in COVID-19, as Kuntal mentions, is there’s a slowdown and a real capture of what’s important. And the British Fashion Council, and the CFDA, and a lot of other fashion leaders across the value chain, I think it was over 2,000 signatures, have basically said, “This is the time that we really do some self-examination in the industry and that we really take the time during this slowdown and during this disruption in this space, which is obviously here, to redefine how we work within the sensibilities of our sustainability efforts.” Super excited about that.

And then you look at Gucci and basically them taking a stance just recently. I’d love to read to you this quote. I think it was a Twitter from Gucci’s Creative Director, Alessandro Michele, and he said, “So much haughtiness made us lose our sisterhood with the butterflies, the flowers, the trees, and the roots. So much outrageous greed made us lose the harmony and the care, the connection and the belonging.” In terms of the commitment that some of these luxury brands, and fashion brands, and, really, as the industry examines itself, it’s starting to take root, and we’re super excited about that. And, I just wanted to share with you that quote and some of the movement that’s going on out there.

The last thing I’ll say is that some of these larger retailers and brands that we’ve always thought of, or at least I thought of as like the evil area or something, they’re doing phenomenal work. If you look at the Walmart’s of the world and their attention to transportation, and pre-consumer and post-consumer ways, and a lot of the work that they’re doing, one tweak for them actually makes a massive impact. And just within this last week, I think it was in last week, they announced that they’re doing a deal with ThredUP which is, basically, they’re going to have thousands of resell items on their site, and they’ve partnered with them so that people that have a product that they’ve already worn can then resell and work with Walmart through their ThredUP partnership. There’s, obviously, a lot of effort, a lot of consciousness and awareness that are bringing us together in a new way so that as this disruption in the space occurs, as we really care and create affinity for this new consciousness around these new consumers that we can be more thoughtful about our business.

With that being said, I’d love to jump into learning more from Vivian and Cara and just learning more about your journey because it’s so beautiful that you’re here with us to share not that you have everything perfect, not to share that you’re 100% sustainable or that you have all the answers but to share what it’s like to be a small business that’s committed your brand to this effort to be a better citizen of the world. Vivian, if you can begin your presentation and start us off, that would be great.

Sustainability Success Case – Vivacity Sportwear

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you, Carl. I love that quote about sustainability and what’s happening there. And the quote from Gucci, that’s really, really interesting. I had not heard that, so I appreciate that.

Hi everyone, my name is Vivian Sayward. I’m president and founder of Vivacity Sportswear. We’re a company based in San Diego where we design and manufacture women’s sportswear for cruise ships, high-end retailers, and so forth, and it’s all done here in San Diego. We founded it because we were trying to solve an unmet need in women’s sportswear, specifically, it started in golf. I started playing golf because my husband’s an avid golfer and I could not find anything to wear for me that was comfortable, that was flattering. And, finally, my husband turned to me one day and said, “Well, then do something about it,” so I did and I dove right in. And I was lucky to find some amazing people locally in my backyard that had been doing so much production in the past and were continuing to survive, local design, manufacturers, so that’s what we’ve done and we’ve created this brand. At the same time, because, thankfully, with our brand recognition in the areas we’ve been working in, we have been approached by other brands, other companies, other startups to help them with product design and development.

Sustainability Practices

I’m just going to step through with you all very quickly just how we’ve incorporated sustainability practices in our business model. And this is something, again, I think Carl mentioned it beautifully, this is a journey. Nothing’s perfect yet, but we’re continuing to explore, to work with our vendors, our suppliers, even our customers on all these different aspects. I’m going to be talking a little bit about product development, our supply chain, and production and fulfillment.

Our product design from the get-go, actually, without thinking about it, seven to eight years ago, when we started this whole journey, our product design has always been focused on durability, and quality, and that it can be reproduced. And these are things that may sound a little silly, but being able to reproduce your product from sample to production is really important. There is so much savings on time, on fabric waste, and trims, and whatnot. Really understanding, getting down to really good design, good patterns, and so forth, so we’ve really focused on that from the beginning. Prototyping and testing from that side, again, getting it right, and we do emphasize minimizing waste. And what I mean by that is that we are working already with things. We have built a foundation, and we built from that. Making sure that our samples fit our models, they fit our customer base. We work a lot with our customers both on the wholesale side and even on some direct-to-consumer costumers who’ve reached out to us, and we work with them and we get advice from them at times, and great suggestions, we definitely focus on that. And then the final production, making sure that, again, this whole process of getting the right, what we call a technical package, getting the design correct, getting the patterns correct, getting the sizing as best as we can to have a streamlined production with minimized errors and, therefore, less waste on fabrics, and trims, and so forth.

Our supply chain, we’ve talked a little bit about this. We work and we continue to work with some amazing vendors throughout different parts of the world, actually. For example, one of our main fabric vendors is based in Asia, but they follow some amazing practices called one certification group is called the Bluesign certification and they’re based out of Germany. And what they do is they work closely with the textile industry, auditing different places and giving them these certification levels, making sure that they’re not using dyes that are pollutant to the rivers, and oceans, and so forth.

Innovations with fabrics. For example, this picture that I have here is fabric made out of recycled plastic bottles. These recycled plastic bottles are broken down into fibers and then they’re interwoven again with other fibers and, turns out, this fabric is amazing. And it’s a technical fabric that’s used in many different, now, athletic lines. We work with folks like that are continuously looking at other ways of reintroducing used product, used waste, and so forth into the production line.

Manufacturing. We qualify all our contractors. We’ve worked with them closely. We make sure just from definitely their practices and production as well as how they’re treating their labor force. This is something from the beginning that’s been very important to us. We want to work with people that are upstanding, that care about their employees, that are paying them a living wage, and that they are treated well, and they’re getting the benefits, and that they’re happy employees make great products, so it’s all a continuation right there and a sustainable business model as well.

I think we were talking briefly about labeling and packaging. At the beginning when I started this journey, I realized the waste in packaging, everything from of course, we have to have all this information on products. For example, with this fabric not only the content, where it’s made, how to care for it. There are other ways as opposed to just having a hang tag or some woven tag sewn in. We’re looking at and we’ve been working with our contractors to make sure we can print it on the fabric so we have one less piece of fabric that we don’t need. Hang tags, how many do we need? How do we tell our story in a more effective way?

And then shipping packaging. From when I first started, we were working with wholesalers, all our wholesalers were used to getting individually packaged, and then they would pull and I would see it at the retailer’s space. They would open up our shipments and they would be pulling out our things to display, and every plastic bag that had been placed in there just was thrown away. Again, understanding working with different vendors, seeing how other people are working, collaborating with them on that.

Sustainability in production and fulfillment, this is one thing we’ve worked from the beginning. We never went too far away. Right in my backyard, I already had this talent in place. And this is a picture of a local small business. We work with the ecosystem of small businesses here in San Diego, fabric cutters, sewing contractors, and it’s been fantastic. We’ve learned from each other. I’ve learned tremendously from them. Again, for our standpoint, we have shorter production timelines from design development and all the way to production. If there are any issues, and there’s always something that comes up, we’re able to manage it more quickly, more conveniently, and able to move forward. Again, this is just part of our streamlined being our production’s here, our distribution is here. We work closely with the distribution, and then, as hard as we can, we get it to the customer.

One more thing that we continue to work on, and I think Carl mentioned it as well, no one company is completely sustainable just yet. We’re all striving for it, and every day, there are new things that are happening. And there’s new technology out there, and that technology, even for a small business, is becoming more accessible. We continue to work on that and we continue to make sure that we get to the ultimate goal of this closes-loop circle. I call it, it’s circular system, closed-loop system, which is, essentially, the ultimate goal is to make a product. As soon as that product is done, a shirt, instead of dumping it, donating it, and it ending up, eventually, into a landfill that shirt is reincorporated into the whole process, broken down, and those elements are re-knitted into new fabric and back into the production line. That is our ultimate goal.

We’ve done some highlighting of Vivacity with QVC and HSN. We talked about our production, our story here in San Diego. And we’ve done a lot of work with sustainability. We are definitely very aware of what’s going on out there from a political standpoint, legislatively and so forth, so we’ve done a lot of advocacy work the National Retail Federation, and through them, we’ve been able to do some work with QVC and HSN.

Resources for Sustainable Fashion

Just wanted to leave you with this, just a few online resources for sustainable fashion if anyone’s interested, and I’m not quite sure we’re going to be sharing these presentations or at least these items. Sustainable Apparel Coalition was started by groups such as Patagonia and a few others, definitely trying to find ways of measuring our levels of sustainability in different companies and helping them learn more about that. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation based in the U.K., they’re doing a lot of support grants and so forth on new technologies. And Fashion for Good is another European online resource for sustainable fashion.

And I have my contact information here vivian@vivacitysportswear.com. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak to you all. And, again, Vivacity Sportswear, we have at vivacitysportswear.com, and Vivacity Advantage, which is our consulting arm of Vivacity Sportswear.

Carl Miller (GRIN): Thank you so much, Vivian. And I just I want to remind everybody that you can type in your questions on the panel to the right. Well, actually, I don’t know where your panel is, but you can chat in questions or ask questions at any time. To start off, I have a question for you. What have you found to be the most challenging in your journey? What’s a big challenge that you’ve had that you’d love to share?

Challenges in the Process

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): I think we’ve discussed it briefly. Some of it on our wholesale side, trying to teach some of the more traditional retailers about maybe earlier on, trying to understand and maybe change their practices as far as shipping, the requirements they have for shipping, making them a bit more sustainable. I think I mentioned it briefly, the individualized packaged shirts that were going to be pulled out anyway for the displays, the merchandise displays in retailers. There are different ways. There are some people that are shipping them instead of using individual bags, they’re putting them all together in one, still protected, trying to come up with solutions that way. And, early on, everyone was like, “No, this is the way we always do it. This protects the garment.” Well, there’s other ways, and there’s more technology out there now. Slowly educating them and making them understand. And, again, as a smaller company, it’s a little hard for us to say, “Hey, you guys are doing it wrong,” but working with them and trying to get some advocates within, that takes some time and education in that standpoint.

Carl Miller (GRIN): And when did you start to incorporate your sustainability efforts into your business?

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): Organically. It began from the beginning. I was looking for durable clothing. I’ve never liked to buy a shirt for it to wear and to fall apart within a few wash and wears and then I have to get rid of it or use it as a rag or something like that. I think from the beginning, that was unknowingly for me, that was part of our mission to have clothing that works well in your wardrobe.

Carl Miller (GRIN): And I have a question about the organization as well. Different leads in your organization and in terms of the sustainability effort, how much do they have and their curiosity of solving for some of these problems in their area of expertise? 

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): Highly welcomed. I mean, that’s one thing that they know. They understand that this is just to make it a better business model in general. I mean, sustainability is that. There are so many avenues to that, so we do welcome, we do open it up. And we’ve had some great suggestions and new projects from our different areas, everything from even vendors and even some of our partners in manufacturing. Absolutely.

Sustainability & Cost-Benefit

Carl Miller (GRIN): And can you give us a specific example of the topics that comes up often like cost, cost-benefit and really, what it means to create a sustainable effort. But there is usually potential cost around that, right? They might be higher; they might have to pass it on to the consumers. Can you share what that looks like? And maybe provide a specific example where that’s been a challenging decision.

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): Yes. It’s interesting for me because my background is finance, and product costing, and accounting, and just understanding from minimizing scrap rates, for example. Let’s start there. Let’s be basic in manufacturing. That’s a cost savings right there. You’re using less fabric otherwise, you’re being very purposeful when you’re not just making your patterns, how you’re designing and building this product but then also, how it’s put together, and making sure from cutting the fabric all the way to sewing it that you’re not wasting additional materials. You’re making the seams just so, you’re not wasting when you’re cutting out all the different sizes, that you’re fitting it accordingly based on the width of the fabric. Maybe I’m getting a little technical here, but all those things are very important.

Packaging is something we’ve talked about. At first, understanding the difference between buying or ordering printed labels with fabric information, instead, printing it on the fabric. We use technical fabric, so it’s easier to print from that standpoint. There’s a startup cost in doing that, buying the machinery or whatever you may need, and understanding and getting the training for that. That is an upfront cost, but the return on investment on that has been tremendous because we have saved a lot of money year over year after that because we’re not ordering new fabric labels. There’s something as simple as that helps us along the way.

Carl Miller (GRIN): Those are great examples. That’s awesome. Last question here before we move on to Cara. If you could advise other companies that are looking to begin their journey, their sustainability journey, what would you say to them? Like, where should they start?

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): It depends on where they’re at, but if they’re already working with suppliers or contractors, I would start asking them questions. I’ve always tried to be very collaborative. And I’ve reached out to other brands that either I’ve worked with or, at least, we’re in a shared space. I feel there’s room and I’ve never been one to not share information if it helps the greater good. I think it’s important because it just makes everybody more successful and there’s room for everyone to grow.

I’ve worked with different companies. Actually, I just got off the phone about a couple days ago with another brand up in LA, and we share best practices, and ideas. And he gave me some resources for something I was looking for, a more sustainable side, and in return I’m sharing with him what he may need. I think it’s just talking to people, and asking questions, and starting that conversation, and you never know what kind of partnership that could lead to and a new opportunity for you both.

Carl Miller (GRIN): That’s beautiful. And I think it’s the consciousness and awareness that we’re all in this together, right? Because when it comes to sustainability and circularity in business, it’s really an effort that we all are looking to partake in. I have a quick story around that, actually. One of the groups that I think I’ve told you this story before. Well, I know I have because it was before this call, but around Lane Crawford. It was a massive retailer in Asia, and one of the things that they’ve done is, for their post-consumer waste, they’ve created an open-source platform, and infrastructure, and model that they basically shared with any brand that wants to participate. What a beautiful gift. They weren’t just thinking of themselves around it. They were really thinking of the industry overall and how they could participate in change. And, it’s people and leaders like yourself at the end that I think with that open, curiosity, and passion, and sensibility that are helping the industry make movements.

Thank you so much for sharing today, and, certainly if there’s wrap-up questions at the end, I know you’ll be here. If anybody that has questions, please do type them into your chat bar or your question bar. And those questions, if you think of one as Cara’s going through for Vivian, you can just put Vivian, comma, and then the question, and we can revisit that towards the end. Thank you, Vivian, for your presentation and the Q&A. And, Cara, we’d love to move to your presentation.

Sustainability Success Case – Crow Canyon Home

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): Thank you very much for having me. I am Cara Barde. I’m the owner and CEO of Crow Canyon Home. We are an enamelware company. We do tabletop and kitchen items. The company has been around since 1977, and my husband and I bought it about eight years ago. We have the largest selection of enamelware patterns and shapes in the world. And even though we’ve been around for a long time and we have a large number of products, we are only twelve employees, twelve people total, including my husband and I.

Up until just a couple months ago, we were primarily a wholesale business. We’re about 85% wholesale selling to mostly mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar shops around the country as well as restaurants, but we do also work with large retailers such as West Elm, Pendleton, Anthropologie, and things like that. We were already starting to transition to direct consumer, but, obviously, the COVID-19 sped up that process quite a bit. And while our wholesale dropped off almost completely, our direct-to-consumer has doubled. And with that, there’s been some challenges that I’ll go over in a little bit. 

First of all, enamelware in itself, what it is as most people know it kind of as the traditional camping cup. It is steel with porcelain baked on in a furnace. It’s naturally non-stick. It’s very lightweight. It does not shatter. It can go on hours can go in the oven. It’s dishwasher-safe. It is very multi-use. We have bakeware, cookware, dinner serving, all sorts of things, and just the product itself, enamelware is actually a great product for people and families’ sustainable journey. It replaces paper and plastic. It’s great for outside, going to the beach, going camping, just your backyard, also great for children. A lot of people are trying to switch from using plastic with their kids, enamelware is a really great option.

We’ve always had a product that was, in itself, a sustainable option. It is a product that people are moving to just because it’s something that’s made to last. Our products actually are passed down through generations, and they along with the fact that you’re replacing your plastic and paper, it’s also you’re buying less. If you can use it for 40 years instead of having to buy new kitchenware and new baking items, you can. If you drop it on something hard, it’s still completely safe to use. I meet a lot of people that tell me that they got a bowl or a Crow Canyon pot passed down from their mom or their grandmother. And, again, you’re buying less items, and that is less impact on the earth.

Sustainability & Direct-to-Consumer Model

Where our sustainable journey is, right now what we’re focusing on is our supply chain, packaging, and marketing, all of which, particularly packaging and marketing, have become really forefront right now because we’ve had to pivot to almost an all direct-to-consumer model. And these are the areas we’re not perfect. We’re always trying to find different ways to have less impact, but these are the areas that we’re working on now.

The first is our supply chain and packaging. Our product is made in China. It’s in a Hong Kong-based manufacturer. The factory is right over the border in Mainland China. It’s been the same factory for the last 40-something years. Everything is made by hand. What was great was that our factory was actually going through the same process. I had reached out to them. I do meet with them all the time about our packaging and changing it, and they said, “We’re already looking into that, but here are some of the things that we are doing.” And one big thing is a lot of the air pollution in China comes from factories that are using coal, gasoline for their machines. Our factory has moved to an electric furnace. And then our factory also gets audits by an independent organization Sedex that looks at labor, health, safety, and environment. That is also very important to us, and it is something that while most of our wholesale customers don’t ask about, the larger ones do. They do want to know that if you’re manufacturing overseas, you’re working with a reputable factory. And we work with them closely on coming up with ideas for packaging. 

And right now, because our products can chip if it’s bent around during shipping, our main concern was making sure it got to us in one piece, and it did include plastic-based paper and things like that to wrap it. And we, obviously, looked at that over the last couple of years and said, “If we want to be a sustainable business and we’re out touting how enamelware is just a sustainable product, we need be looking at ourselves and saying, what can we do,” and, obviously, we don’t want plastic in our packaging. The factory sourced recycled paper for the same price, and it actually looks better. We also do have to import it, so we use ocean transportation, and we work with a freight forwarder that actually has a carbon offset program. This is just an area that there’s not any other way to get the product here, so we’re just happy to work with a partner that has that in mind and is trying to do something about it.

And then here in our U.S. warehouse, we have our own warehouse and we have three employees, and they actually have been proactively asking me over the last couple years, can we switch out some of the packaging that we have. We were using those air pillows, the plastic air pillows that you’d get from Amazon, to try to make sure that our product didn’t get chipped, but, obviously, that is not a great option. And now we have switched to that with using recycled paper, crumpling it up to try to make sure that everything gets to our destination safely. We’re also in the process of switching out our plastic tape with paper. We do have the same situation when we’re working with large retailers where we have to send it in a lot of packaging just like Vivian said. It is always a challenge. I know when they get all of our product, there’s just much extra waste. It is something we try to put more into our master cartons so we have fewer inner cartons and try to encourage them to just buy higher amounts at a time, but it is an ongoing challenge.

When it comes to marketing, we didn’t really focus on the environmental aspect of our product. It was just something we talked about here and there. And now, we’re taking this time during COVID-19 to really work on rebranding and educating our consumers about why enamelware is the environmental choice for your family or for yourself instead of paper and plastic and for just finding products that are affordable but last a long time. Our consumers are conscious. They’re conscious about the environment and they’re conscious about their dollar. And being able to buy something that lasts 40, 50 years and maybe more is a great choice just to be able to have less product. It’s something that we’re working on just within our social media and our website. We’re going to be putting it up in the forefront so people know where we stand, but we are making sure that they know it’s also a journey because we’re not going to be perfect, but we want to work with our customers on making just less impact on the Earth.

Another area, even though our products can still be used when its chipped, sometimes people are ready for something else, ready to buy something new. And our product is really great to be used to upcycle, and here are some examples. And what we plan on doing is creating an area on our website. This is for our customers so when they’re ready to move on to when they can upcycle their products and then they can let us know, send us a picture, we’ll put it up on our website, and we’ll give them a discount on their next order. We really don’t want these to go into the trash as little trash as possible. If you’re done using our product, we really try to encourage the upcycling.

That is, it. This is my contact information cara@crowcanyonhome.com and www.crowcanyonhome.com. But if anybody has any questions, Carl, please let me know.

Carl Miller (GRIN): Absolutely. Thank you so much, Cara. I have a question about your wholesale buyers and how some of them started to ask questions around your efforts. Can you share more about what that looks like or how you address what those concerns are, or if they work in partnership with you around them?

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): The larger buyers really are focused on the manufacturing, making sure that we’re working with factories that don’t pollute and things like that. They do require us to prove that, but I, unfortunately, haven’t seen their interest change in the packaging. They want to make it as easy as possible, which is not always the most sustainable way.

I have seen our smaller retailers, particularly, in California and places like that they were getting some of our packaging and they were saying, “Hey, there’s a lot of plastic in this.” And they do care and they would like to see us, which is what we were doing anyway but a change to paper as opposed to plastic.

Sustainability & Marketing

Carl Miller (GRIN): And you mentioned as well that right now, on this time in COVID-19 that you’re also taking some time to evaluate sort of sustainability and how to communicate that. Can you share a little bit about what that process looks like?

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): Sure. I mean, I think that we are working with a marketing company to help us really understand there’s a lot of benefits to our products, a lot of benefits to the way that we’re running our business that we just weren’t communicating. It was just something that we did and that’s just how it was. And this company is helping us really made me understand that it should be number one thing that we actually talk about when we’re marketing. It’s what differentiates us from a lot of other tabletop products.

And we’re just working on, messaging and just communicating through all the different channels about how, really, the features of our product, and not that it just looks good. And one of the things about our product is you can have these items and it still looks good. It’s stylish, it’s cool, but it’s also good for the environment. And this is what we’re trying to still market to people who want it because they like the look of it but also tell them, like, hey, this is also a great product to help your sustainable journey.

Carl Miller (GRIN): That’s excellent. So, connecting with your consumers around, like, them identifying you not just as the aesthetic of enamelware but that when they are having their social distancing parties in their neighborhood and other places that it’s really a product that they should be choosing instead of just wasting cups and paper everywhere.

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): Yes.

Carl Miller (GRIN): Love it. The last question here, and the same question that I asked Vivian towards the end was just in terms of if you’re looking at other companies that maybe haven’t started their journey yet or just getting into it, what would your advice be to them?

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): Just like Vivian, it would depend on where they are and what kind of product they have. But where I see the most waste and the area for improvement is and for us, it’s definitely packaging. You just see it every day with the packages that come to your house that are just huge boxes that are just filled with air. There are so many resources out there on more sustainable packaging just for shipping, particularly.

Also, it’s important for everybody to know that there are, even overseas, manufacturers that do care about this and they are doing things about it. You can find manufacturers and factories that are making a lot of effort to be more environmentally friendly and they don’t cost more, and so I would just encourage people to do the legwork. And, just like Vivian said, I just get so much information from other business owners. I talk to them all the time. I’m part of different groups. I talk to them when we’re at conferences and trade shows, not as much this year but, we keep in touch and we share resources on all of these things.

Carl Miller (GRIN): Excellent. Thank you so much for the conversation and the presentation around your business, both Vivian and Cara. Your dedication, and collaboration, and sharing is just so needed in this space, so we definitely love that your leaders that are taking on the charge here. Kuntal, before I give it over to you, I did just want to bare the truth, again, around why this is so important. And, again, I’ll look at the CFDA and one of the quotes that they have here just in conclusion where they say, “The fashion industry is not currently sustainable. We are using up natural resources and exploiting people in ways that will deplete future generations of the resources they need impacting future profitability and business opportunities. We have the power to change the way fashion is made and consumed by creating a sustainable industry with greater influence and increased profit.”

There’s a lot of commitment, especially during these times of slowing down, and shifting, and the disruption that’s going on in our space to really evaluate all of our businesses. And we so appreciate the support and the guidance today from the California International Trade Center – CITC and Vivian, and Cara to help us better contextualize our journey in this effort.

General Advice for Sustainability

Kuntal Warwick (CITC): Thank you, everybody, for your presentations and Carl for moderating and providing so much dimension to this conversation. I think this is so interesting. It’s so timely, particularly, as we also think about health. I think that there’s been a renewed focus on just not only our individual health but, as a society, how healthy are we and what is affecting that, and so that has gone into every element of even doing business.

I would say, the floor is open for anyone else to ask questions, but if there are any other tips or bit of advice that particularly Cara and Vivian can give to businesses that are already established or maybe just starting out that are in the process of making some of these decisions, what advice would you give to, particularly, young businesses as they begin their journey? Obviously, it depends on what industry they’re in, what sector they’re in, but one or two bits of advice, I think, would be really helpful. Vivian, if we could start with you.

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): Thank you, Cara, again, and Carl, and Kuntal for a great discussion, great presentation. I have folks come to me because I do some mentoring at a local university here. I’ve worked with San Diego State and also with UCSD and different innovation labs, and I’m actually advising a group of recent UCSD grads right now. We’re working on a really cool technology. We’re changing fiber, it’s nanotechnology, changing colors in fabric. It’s mind-blowing and I love the energy of these kids have. They’re amazing.

But what I tell people who come and talk to me, especially those starting out, be it a fashion line, I’ll use that example, is if you don’t have that experience, start working with someone who already has something established. Work with them, talk to them. I think again, Cara was mentioning the same thing. We talk to different people all the time. In the past, attending trade shows. Right now, it’s more webinars. But still, attending those, learning more, doing your research, I mean, that’s really important.

There are a lot of people out there doing some amazing things. It’s a matter of just searching for those folks and those you can find through. I mentioned some of the websites on the fashion side, but there are definitely information out there in different groups where you can find people, you can find groups, you can find companies that may be able to help you along to start this journey. I would really research, research, research and ask, ask, ask. 

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): I would say, besides what I’ve said so far, I would look at the product that you’re making and kind of envision what happens to it at the end of its life cycle. Is it something that is just going to be thrown away? I mean, first, obviously, you want to make something that lasts as long as it can, but not every people get rid of things. And is it something that can be refurbished? Is it something that can be recycled?

But you as a business, it is something that you want to create a program around, bringing it back and being able to reuse it, recycle it, or encourage upcycling like we are. I think that the amount of stuff that we throw away is just outrageous. And so outside of the packaging, just the product itself, look at it and say, “Okay, I want it to last as long as possible.” But, when we’re done, what should we have our consumer do with that product?

Balance of Consumption, Sustainability and Profitability

Kuntal Warwick (CITC): I think that’s really the elephant in the room, right? Especially when we’re talking about international trade. Carl, I know we have just a few minutes, but if you can speak to this idea of particularly as you consult companies that come to you, what do we tell companies that are looking to create their own businesses, and make products, and, particularly, as this is a balance of consumption, sustainability, and profitability? I hope I’m not putting you on the spot, but I’m putting you on the spot. How do you go about guiding businesses in balancing all of those elements?

Carl Miller (GRIN): If the leader was here across from me at the table, I would say, feel it in heart. Know that it’s true for you and that it’s not about the money, it’s really about changing things. And if they’re developing from scratch, how do they make a difference, and why are they doing what they’re doing?

And there are so many beautiful examples of leaders that are making a real difference while producing product in the world and recreating business models that make a huge difference, whether that’s rental models or circularity models that are popping up for simplifying what fashion means to people. And like Everlane for example. I think that there’s just some brilliant creativity, taking a look and taking a step back and realizing that it starts from the heart, and then, secondly, it starts, really, examining the business model because the business model of the past doesn’t work anymore. That would be my advice.

Kuntal Warwick (CITC): Thank you. That’s very good advice. And I would just also say just having been kind of an observer of business around the world, I think there are so many examples of upcycling and recycling in other countries in places that we’re now trying to sell to where there are practices that are very culturally based that I think can also be used as models. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to go into it now, but I would love to do another session on that and look at how are other cultures, other countries, how have they been doing this, and are there, principles that we could take away from that and utilize in our own production, and marketing, and selling?

With that, I would like to just thank you all for participating and for providing such a robust conversation today. Carl, thank you again for your insights and your guidance in this conversation. And I encourage everyone who’s attending to reach out and keep this conversation going. Please do check out the California International Trade Center website for resources, for tools, and services, and this along with many other topics that are being covered. Have a wonderful day, everybody. Thank you.

Cara Barde (Crow Canyon Home): Bye. Thank you.

Vivian Sayward (Vivacity Sportwear): Bye. Thank you.