As we explore what responsible supply chains look like, as we imagine new ways of doing business, and as we discover practical solutions that support progress, let's fold curiosity into all aspects of our conversation.
Today I'm exploring how a clear corporate mission or purpose can support broader supply chain transparency. Recently I was introduced to Les Sublimes, a small apparel brand based in Paris. This company, founded in 2015 by Alexis Assoignon and Kachen Hong, is on the cusp of launching their very first collection. It's just beginning.
Beginnings are full of opportunity, particularly when it comes to crafting the stories of the companies we hope to build. They lay the foundation for the much larger construction we're dreaming up. It's an excellent place to bring the purpose of a company into our conversations- conversations with internal staff, with external suppliers and stakeholders, and with potential customers.
The purpose of a company can be a beacon of light as we venture into the sometimes-murky waters of ethics in a global supply chain.
So, what purpose is Les Sublimes here to serve, and how can this purpose support their work as they build their supply chain?
"Our purpose at Les Sublimes is to make people happy while respecting Mother Nature, and to represent a hope for a better future. This is the soul of what we do."
The purpose driving a company can play an essential role in its commitment to being a responsible, transparent company making thoughtful products.
Let's explore how Les Sublimes has folded their purpose into their sourcing strategy and consumer conversations, and what opportunities they have to continue supporting this purpose as they grow.
How Can a Company Make People Happy?
It's incredible to imagine how many people actually participate in the process of making and selling things. People of all ethnicities, all races, all cultures and all walks of life play critical roles- from the design process through production and sale as well as use and disposal.
Curiosity is invoking questions about the happiness of employees, about working conditions of those making these clothes, and also about Les Sublimes' customers- how does the brand play a role in their happiness?
Making the People Behind the Brand Happy
Who are we talking about? The founders, the investors, the staff. Every person who has a hand in designing and selling the product.
Les Sublimes was founded by two women who are passionate about contributing to positive change in the world. Assoignon, a former fashion Account Executive in New York, and Hong, previously a consultant in sustainable consumption, created Les Sublimes to meet a growing need among conscious consumers who want to buy beautiful things without making an ethical compromise. With the launch of this company, they and their small team have deeply committed to building something that offers an alternative to the "fast fashion" industry. It's their ultimate hope to "demonstrate that design, thoughtfulness and sustainability can be married in our fashion choices."
Currently the small team of 5 is based in Paris, France, and they recently launched their INDIEGOGO campaign through which they hope to raise enough money to purchase the raw materials needed for their first Made in France ladies wear collection. The team has five core values that, as they describe, "guide everything we do as a social enterprise, a brand and a collective of people". Since launching the campaign they've been posting occasional videos on their Facebook page to share their gratitude, excitement and hope as they get closer to meeting their fundraising goal.
Making the People Behind the Label Happy
Who are we talking about? The factory owners, managers and workers. The sub-supplier (mills and sundries) and raw materials suppliers and the owners, managers and workers of those facilities and farms. Every person who has a hand in making the product.
Any brand or retailer that includes in their mission a reference to people has to take into consideration the impact of their product on the people who make it.
Les Sublimes purposefully chose a local supplier so that they could spend time onsite getting to know the owners, managers and workers. This isn't always a possibility for brands and retailers who are sourcing products from far and wide around the globe. By sourcing locally, it gives the Les Sublimes team a unique opportunity to understand the values of their lead supplier, and to directly communicate the requirements of their Responsible Code of Conduct.
Confection Pérard, the sole supplier they've chosen for the Made in France collection, is a small town atelier operating in the French countryside of Renaison. The atelier has a flexible work program that allows mothers to work full time or part time, and allows them to do work at home if necessary. The workspace of the atelier is brightly lit, filled with photos of the children and grandchildren of employees and owners. Some employees have worked with this atelier for more than 20 years. By considering the family and lifestyle values of its workers, Confection Pérard has created a work environment that is welcoming and supportive of career growth within the garment industry.
As a small-scale company just beginning to build the foundation of their supply chain, Les Sublimes has less direct access to their raw material suppliers. Onsite visits to farms, mines and/or forests around the world, where these materials are initially sourced, come with a cost that can be difficult to justify early on.
Like many other companies in this industry Les Sublimes is looking to the world of certification (such as choosing to source Fair Trade certified cotton) to help them ensure their raw material suppliers are treating their workers fairly. However, as the company grows, they have an opportunity to build into their growth strategy and cost budget, a more dynamic relationship with these raw material suppliers- one that allows for onsite visits and direct engagement with workers and management. We are continuously seeing innovative solutions to encourage supplier transparency and engagement with workers further down the supply chain, including tools driven by worker feedback such as those developed by &Wider and Good World Solutions. As the industry of social and environmental compliance continues to innovate, more effective options are available for companies of every shape and size.
Making the People Behind the Screen Happy
Who are we talking about? The consumer, the customer, the buyer, the retailer. Every person who has a hand in buying the product, using the product and ultimately disposing of the product.
Les Sublimes is an e-tailer, selling direct to consumers on their website; therefore, most of their engagement and communication with consumers comes from behind the screen.
The intention behind the clothes being produced by Les Sublimes is to give women beautiful wardrobe essentials that are stylish and high quality, but don't compromise their values and ethics. By connecting with consumer values, the brand hones in on what drives the buying decisions of a "conscious consumer"- and this plays out in their business model. In an effort to ensure affordability, the products are offered directly to the consumer online. The dialogue is not focused on the need to buy buy buy; instead it's focused on the value of having high quality, beautiful things that have a story, a story that their consumers want to tell.
Les Sublimes is also committed to having a transparent conversation with consumers about product pricing. On their website they disclose their profit margins, and how they intend to invest in the growth of the company in a responsible way. Consumers have a clear understanding of where their money is going, further empowering them to choose how they wish to spend that money.
Personally, I adore finding essential items for my wardrobe that travel well and easily transition between boardrooms, factory floors and evening drinks. As a curious consumer, I value high quality goods that are multifunctional and multi-fashionable. I don't want to buy something I'll fall out of love with. I also value information about where the product comes from and who had a hand in it- information I don't want to have to dig for. Although I can't say I have any Les Sublimes pieces in my closet at the moment (remember, they're just launching their first collection now), I appreciate the way they celebrate each piece as an investment, not a passing fad. I also love the way they're engaging consumers in the production process through education and exposure.
How Can a Company Respect Mother Nature?
Curiosity has all kinds of questions popping up- what does respecting nature mean to Les Sublime? How does the company consider the impact of the things they make? How does the company talk about environmental impact in a public forum?
Environmental Impact of Raw Materials
What environment are we talking about? The local environment where raw materials are sourced- usually fields, forests and/or mines- harvest and extraction sites.
When exploring the impact of a product on the environment, there are so many angles to take. In order to really grasp the environmental impact, we need to going back to the point where raw materials are sourced. This is where the impact begins, and although there isn't always a lot of information at this level (don't worry, that's changing!), it's where our opportunity for thoughtful sourcing practices begins.
The company founders have taken a thoughtful approach to understanding the environmental impact of the materials they use. They've done so by considering where in the world these materials come from, what toxic pesticides and herbicides are used, how much water is needed in cultivation, impact on soil health and renewable versus non-renewable properties. All of these considerations are factored into their product planning and design before the materials are actually purchased.
What I've found interesting (and quite appealing to my sense of curiosity) is that Les Sublimes has chosen to engage their consumers in the conversation about these fabric choices. On their website they provide snapshots of each fabric's environmental impact, the purpose it serves (e.g. is it durable, soft, warm etc.) and where it's sourced from.
As Les Sublimes grows and develops long term relationships with their raw materials suppliers, they have an opportunity to share more detailed stories of those suppliers and measure the actual environmental impact of the materials they source. By sharing these stories with their consumers, they have the potential to inspire a deeper connection between their consumers and the source of the goods they buy.
Presenting consumers with information about raw materials inspires a sense of curiosity that may trickle down into their other purchases and engagement with other brands they buy from.
Environmental Impact of Production Processes
What environment are we talking about? The natural environment surrounding the factories manufacturing these products; the environment within these factories; and the broader environment impacted by emissions generated by product transport and warehousing.
Beyond the raw materials, there are also environmental impacts to consider when it comes to the actual production facilities and processes required to make a product and bring it to market.
Les Sublimes is still in early stages of raw material purchasing and their first-run production, so there isn't data available on actual environmental impact or the carbon footprint of the clothing they sell. However- they have a fantastic opportunity to begin this measurement process from the get-go, considering they've established a transparent relationship with their sole supplier- Confection Pérard.
The Les Sublimes team took their time seeking out a local production partner with shared values that went beyond product cost and quality, and included labor rights and environmental issues. One example is that Confection Pérard donates all scrap fabric to a local business that integrates them into new textiles- thereby reducing the amount of waste generated by the facility.
By bringing a thoughtful conversation about waste and environmental impact into initial supplier negotiations, Les Sublimes was able to find a partner that would help them build their business while staying true to their mission. This will be an essential asset as they continue to grow, measure and manage the environmental impact of the clothing they produce.
As they continue building relationships with suppliers, Les Sublimes can introduce them to meaningful data collection tools and resources such as the Higg Index developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. Over time these tools can be used to help suppliers track and reduce the carbon footprint of their facilities. This data can also support Les Sublimes in their goal to make products that don't harm the environment, by allowing them to track and reduce environmental impacts. As the saying goes, we manage what we measure- when suppliers and brands/retailers are measuring environmental impact, they are more prepared to manage it in ways that meet this company mission.
Environmental Impact of Product Purpose & Waste-cycle
What environment are we talking about? The local environment of the consumer using the product and the environment where the product is ultimately discarded.
Products don't just impact our environment during the production process- they also impact our environment depending on the purpose they serve while a consumer uses them (for example, how they're washed and cared for), how long they are made to last, and how they can be discarded in a responsible way at their end of life.
When crafting the collection and considering the number of styles, patterns, cuts and colors to offer, Assoignon and Hong decided to focus on investment pieces- clothes that could be long-term staples in any wardrobe, rather than a seasonal trend. This thoughtfulness also supports the purpose of caring for Mother Nature.
Making a high-quality product that can last, and influences customers to purchase fewer things, is a great start. But what can a company do to ensure that the customer doesn't ultimately throw the product in the trash when they no longer want it? When I posed this question to the ladies at Les Sublimes, they said that the product life cycle did factor into their ideas for product development and consumer engagement. They created a Caring for Your Clothes page to help educate consumers about how they can reduce the environmental impact of their clothes during washing. Additionally, they intend to continue the conversation with occasional features on their blog.
As more companies begin engaging customers in this critical conversation about textile waste, consumers will have a heightened sense and understanding of the ultimate impact of their buying decisions. Trends such as Patagonia's Worn Wear program help customers share stories of the life they've given the things they buy, celebrating them and seeking innovative ways to repair and recycle them. There are also ongoing initiatives (for example this very cool LAUNCH Nordic innovation challenge) to support the search for innovative and truly sustainable textiles and materials. It's a long road ahead to finding fully closed loop options; but it's a road more and more companies are willing to walk, and it's exciting to see the emerging innovations.
When we consider an estimated 11 million tons of textiles are tossed in the trash every year (from the USA alone), it's essential that companies consider the full lifecycle of the things they produce.
How Can a Company Represent Hope For a Better Future?
We've come to the final piece of the Les Sublimes purpose, and it's a pretty big piece.
Hope is a powerful word. Whenever we delve into the complex issues that arise as a result of our global economy, hope is an essential tool that needs to be maintained on our journey to build, manage, and grow responsible supply chains- and responsible companies. Hope is an essential ingredient in our recipe for a truly sustainable product.
Fundamentally, both Hong and Assoignon believe that educating girls is the best way to end poverty permanently. As many of us who work in human rights know, poverty is often the driver behind such challenging issues as child labor, human trafficking etc. Education is an essential part of the conversation when we consider a path toward more responsible business practices globally.
With the Made in France collection, Les Sublimes will pay for one month of education for a young girl in need, through their One Piece.One Girl.One Month initiative. To support this initiative, Les Sublimes has partnered with the Panauti Community Homestay in Nepal and together they will provide scholarships for young girls. As Alexis said recently in an interview with WornValues:
"We want to help women and we want to provide jobs. But to have a job you need to have some basic level of education. So we need to work on both sides to break the poverty trap. And this is an organisation we personally know and completely trust."
Les Sublimes also has me hopeful about building more business models that are transparent about supply chain practices from the very beginning of the process. They're directly engaging their consumers in the conversation about where the clothes they buy come from. On their website consumers can find information about raw material choices, their cut and sew factory and the core values driving their sourcing and management decisions.
This is an essential place to begin this conversation, in my opinion, as it connects the consumer to the places and people impacted by this thing they're buying- it takes them out of the shopping mall and into the harvest field, onto the factory floor. It inspires curiosity about what stories will unfold as Les Sublimes continues to grow and build more relationships with suppliers and with consumers in a meaningful way.
Ultimately, it offers more transparency where more transparency is desperately needed, and this is where we must begin in order to move toward a better future.
Learn more about Les Sublimes at their website: www.les-sublimes.com
If you're inspired to support Les Sublimes with their Made in France collection, check out their INDIEGOGO campaign: https://igg.me/at/lessublimes
**As a disclaimer, this is not a promotional piece and I am not benefiting directly from driving sales over at Les Sublimes. I simply decided to feature them in support of a little company that I believe is taking an authentic and intentional approach to change the way business as usual is done, by doing business a little more unusually.