What does the word “sustainability” mean to you? It’s become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, especially when it comes to sustainable fashion, but what does it really mean? At Voice, sustainability drives our business because we believe that sustainable, creative employment changes lives. We employ women and pay them a sustainable wage, which means not only that they can put food on the table and pay school fees each month, but also that they can save. Sustainable employment is employment that enables our women to live with hope for their future, not just the next month.
We are also committed to using more sustainably-sourced materials to create our jewellery and accessories. When we talk about sustainably-sourced materials, we mean materials that the harvesting and use of has no additional adverse impact on the environment. For example, the Ankole horn used in our Courage collection is a natural byproduct of the cattle farming process, and so in this way we contribute to reducing the amount of waste generated by the Western Ugandan farm industry.
At Voice we are taking measurable steps to improve the sustainability of our production line, something Nathalia Grisard, founder and designer at the sustainable clothing brand GNGR Bees, knows a lot about. We recently spoke to Nathalia about how sustainability drives her business.
“Everything in GNGR Bees starts with the question: ‘Why are we making this and who is it going to benefit?’,” says Nathalia. “Everything is created for a specific purpose and tied back to a project that benefits communities, the planet and all that live in it. Hence sustainability is what drives GNGR Bees forward, but also what makes us take our first step.”
Nathalia is currently working towards the launch of her next activewear collection, but it is a slow process to ensure the new range holds true to her values. “One of the values I hold dear at GNGR Bees is that we already have everything we need to create new products. We do not need to exploit raw resources, nature and people to do so. I made the conscious decision of only starting new designs from waste from our collections and supply chain, which means reclaiming an extensive range of materials such as newspapers, plastic bottles, cotton t-shirts, fishing nets, cement sacks, and others.”
The decision to only create collections from waste materials seems a radical one that potentially leaves less room for a designer’s creativity, however Nathalia feels fully in control of her designs and her pace of working. “Because we work with slow fashion, we do not have the pressures other brands do to bring new collections and fit in trends,” she says, adding that she feels no need to keep up with the latest fashion trends.
“Trends go against everything we stand for. The fashion world imposes trends on the market so they are able to produce more products people actually do not need in order to keep on the top financially. We are the extreme opposite of that and think the planet is trending, so it is time to save it.”
Building a profitable company on the values of sustainability and honesty instead of profit is counter cultural in a world focused on fast fashion. Nathalia admits that it was an “arduous process” to get her brand to the place where it operates with “with a full value alignment”, but that she has no regrets about running her business in this way. So do her sustainability principles make it harder for Nathalia to run her business?
“I used to think it made it harder but after having established good partnerships and working tirelessly to have a supply chain I am proud of, I believe the whole process is actually incredibly fun,” she says. “Since everyone that works with me holds the same values I do, we all constantly play around with ideas as well as discuss new possibilities for products and projects we want to create together.”
Refusing to settle for anything less than a single-use plastic free supply chain and only using reclaimed materials led Nathalia to forge incredible partnerships with the people who directly produced the materials she needed, and helped her form projects to give back to the communities she works with. Her partners include Azizi Life in Africa, who commit to paying a fair wage to the artisans GNGR Bees work with, and One Tree Planted, who plant a tree every time you shop at GNGR Bees.
In reality absolute sustainability is difficult to achieve in an industry that produces non-essential items such as activewear and jewellery, but we can all commit to adopting better practices and taking the time and responsibility to shop from sustainable fashion brands who are committed to being fair to people and not taking advantage of the environment. As Nathalia says, “sustainability has a different meaning to everyone, and it is up to each and everyone of us to find what meaning best resonates within.”