Wellington apparel company Little Yellow Bird has won New Zealand’s top sustainable award at the 2019 NZI Sustainable Business Awards – winning the Supreme Award, plus ‘Hardwired for Social Good’ category.
Little Yellow Bird’s founder Samantha Rae Jones says she is thrilled with the awards and to be recognised for their sustainable uniform and fashion label that set out to prove that producing ethically made clothing is not only achievable, but it can be successful.
“We strongly believe that business can be used as a force for good, and that you can make a profit without compromising people or planet. We are minimising negative social and environmental impacts and communicating those impacts to clients and the public to raise awareness and ultimately transform the way consumers think and interact with the fashion industry,” says Jones. “We hope to promote and be a catalyst for transforming the industry into a transparent and circular economy model.”
Little Yellow Bird has faced challenges that are typical of the garment industry but has worked hard to overcome them. Worker exploitation is rife in the sector, from low pay to unsafe working practices and child labour. Little Yellow Bird works exclusively with fair trade and Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified factories in India, that also have a minimum working age of 18. In New Zealand they have been accredited as a Living Wage Employer since April 2019.
The impact of the textile and clothing industry on the environment is another big challenge facing the sector. Little Yellow Bird source only 100 per cent rain-fed organic cotton to make their garments and conserve water when dying fabric.
The judges were impressed by the integration of sustainability throughout the business; from cotton farming, manufacturing, logistics, packaging, recycling, through to waste management in the head office.
Little Yellow Bird work with cotton farmers that use natural farming techniques and operate under a cooperative model. Their ginning is a zero waste process with the seeds later used to make cotton seed oil. They use azo-free, non-toxic, GOTS certified dyes to colour their fabrics within a closed loop water treatment system. And they use sea freight as much as possible to minimise their carbon footprint and have eliminated plastic packaging by 90 per cent across the organisation in the last two years.
The company composts, recycles, uses energy efficient lighting in their Wellington office and have chosen an electricity provider that uses only renewable energy.
They are currently experimenting with some recycling schemes for plastic and end-of-life clothing.
Jones is clear about the company’s vision. “We want to see the fashion industry transformed into a circular economy – from ethical production to conscious consumption. I’m very proud we can craft exceptionally made garments that are transparently made and fair for all.”
Winners and Commendations for 2019 NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards
Sponsored by Toitū Envirocare
Winner = Andrew Fisher – Managing Director, EcoStock Supplies
Commendation = Janette Searle – Managing Trustee, Take My Hands
Commendation = Marty Taylor – Founder & Chief Sustainability Officer, Papa Taiao Earthcare
Communicating for Change
Sponsored by Cadence Communications
Winner = Tauranga City Council
Commendation = BLAKE & New Zealand Geographic
Commendation = Ethique
Hardwired for Social Good
Sponsored by Alsco
Winner = Little Yellow Bird
Commendation = ecostore
Partnering for Good
Sponsored by Ministry for Primary Industries
Winner = Auckland Council, TROW Group & Green Way Demolition
Commendation = BNZ & Salvation Army
Sponsored by Auckland Council
Winner = Medsalv
Commendation = Stone Arrow Jewellery
Commendation = The Formary
Sponsored by Ricoh
Winner = Sudima Hotels
Commendation = Iplex Pipelines NZ
Commendation = National Steel
Sponsored by NZ Transport Agency
Winner = Fisher & Paykel Healthcare
Commendation = Blue Cars
Sponsored by EECA
Winner = AUT University
Commendation = Auckland District Health Board
Commendation = Camp Glenorchy
Sponsored by Yealands Wines
Winner = Chia Sisters
Commendation = Breadcraft
Sponsored by Department of Conservation
Winner = Te Whangai Trust
Commendation = AgriSea NZ
Commendation = Rotorua Canopy Tours
Millennial on a Mission
Sponsored by The Spinoff
Winner = Fraser McConnell – Co-Founder, Squawk Squad
Commendation = Grace Glass – Co-founder, Natural Paint Co
SUPREME AWARD: NZI TRANSFORMING NEW ZEALAND AWARD
Winner = Little Yellow Bird
Finalist = Auckland Council, TROW Group & Green Way Demolition (partnership)
Finalist = Tauranga City Council
Finalist = Te Whangai Trust