Fair fashion: a personal exploration

Hopefully some of you can relate to this situation. When you find the perfect dress (or jacket, skirt, etc), but then before paying at the counter you think you should also really ask the staff if they can tell you anything about the brand’s CSR policy or about local production circumstances. I.e. does the brand you are intending to buy from operate responsibly? Of course, the staff doesn’t know. I’ve never actually had an answer that made sense when asking this question.

So what do you do? Put back the gorgeous dress because you don’t know how the brand does business, or do you buy it anyway (thereby negating any impact your question might have made: clearly you don’t care at all)?

Yes, sometimes these are the questions that I go shopping with. (And yes, I’m good at making my life difficult)

Of course, when talking about international CSR policies of companies in the Netherlands, you quickly hit the textile industry where this has been a major issue this past year, spurred on by the incidents in Bangladesh. The collective industry has come out with an action plan with the objective to drastically improve the supply chain of Dutch companies in this sector.

Increasing transparency

But another thing that is related to this is being transparent about what a company does, and what its supply chain looks like: what do brands show and say about their business operations? I believe that increased transparency will help a lot in encouraging responsible business practices. If a consumer can tell where the clothing he or she is planning to buy has been produced and how, this can (hopefully) influence someone to buy the better product (though, of course, there will be many a dilemma like the one mentioned above). I’ll soon share a project I’m working on with CHFC that aims to contribute to increasing that transparency.

Where to find information?

But in the meantime: I want to know where the things I wear are made, and how. There are different websites where you can find fair fashion brands (such as here or here) which helps of course. But what about the brands I already wear? And sadly, I can’t really find reliable information on those on, for example, GoedeWaar or Rankabrand.

So I’m intending to take you on a bit of a personal exploration – and you’ll get to know my wardrobe as we go too 😉

I’m starting with two of my favourite brands: Skunkfunk & Nümph. And they couldn’t be further apart on this topic: Skunkfunk has an extensive page on sustainability, while Nümph has nothing. I’ve sent them an email to ask…

To be continued.

Doelen.

Doelgericht. Wat betekent dat eigenlijk? Dat je precies weet waar je over vijf jaar wilt zijn, en de tijd daar naar toe hebt uitgedacht in stappen die je moet nemen om er te komen? Of ben je ook doelgericht als je een vage richting voor je ziet?

De laatste tijd hoor ik vaak van mensen in mijn omgeving – vrienden, collega’s, oud-collega’s – dat ze me zo doelgericht en daadkrachtig vinden in de stappen die ik neem om mijn bedrijf op te zetten. En dat vind ik dan bijzonder om te horen, omdat ik dat eigenlijk zelf niet zo ervaar. Ik doe op dit moment de dingen die op mijn pad komen en die mij goed lijken om te doen. Is dat daadkrachtig? Ik probeer in een nieuw avontuur mijn pad gaandeweg te vinden en te ontdekken wat daarin het beste werkt. Dat voelt in elk geval niet daadkrachtig. Wel voelt het alsof ik de juiste dingen doe en dat het de juiste richting op gaat.

En terwijl ik dit schrijf realiseer ik me dat dat dus juist is wat die mensen bedoelen. Want ook al voelt het allemaal niet daadkrachtig, gedisciplineerd, of ontzettend productief: natuurlijk doe ik de dingen die ik doe met een bepaald doel in gedachten.

Wat dat is? Professioneel succes. En dat is wat mij betreft mijn tijd volledig kunnen besteden aan boeiend en uitdagend werk op het gebied van verantwoord ondernemerschap in Azië, wat de komende tijd de vorm moet krijgen van een stabiele portfolio van interessante en leuke projecten en opdrachten.

Dat dat kan, weet ik zeker. Dat het tijd kost om tot die stabiele portfolio te komen, weet ik ook. Maar er is maar een manier om er achter te komen of ik dat snel genoeg kan.

Wat ik daar voor moet doen weet ik niet helemaal precies, maar het wordt steeds duidelijker. Over sommige dingen daarvan heb ik jarenlang getwijfeld en ga ik nu pas doen. Voor mijn omgeving lijkt dat misschien daadkrachtig, maar vijf jaar twijfelen over iets is dat toch bepaald niet, lijkt me. Ik ga er nu wel voor. Dus hoop ik het nieuwe jaar te starten in Shanghai om eindelijk een flinke basis te leggen in mijn Chinese taalvaardigheden: want dat ik vaker en langer in China moet zijn om het werk te kunnen doen wat ik wil doen was een van de belangrijkste conclusies van mijn afgelopen reis in september.

Hoe ik dát precies ga doen weet ik ook niet. Maar een aantal weken naar China in januari klinkt als een uitstekend begin.

En daarnaast: ik ben dus beschikbaar voor bovengenoemde interessante opdrachten rond verantwoord ondernemerschap in Azië. Heb je ideeën, leads, of wil je gewoon een keer koffie drinken om meer te weten wat ik precies voor je kan doen? Neem vooral contact met me op!

Getting your message across: make it stick

How to ensure your idea will be remembered and acted on by the people you talk to?

It’s not easy answering that question, or rather, it’s not easy to really put that answer into practice. But the book Made to Stick, with the telling subtitle of Why some ideas survive and others die, is a pretty good read to get to that answer.

I picked it up at the bookshop some time ago as I’d heard quite a few professional speakers mention this book as a great resource on understanding better how to communicate effectively: how can you get your message across so that it ‘sticks’ and people remember, understand, and importantly, act on it.

This is not only a topic I work on through my Toastmaster speeches, but I also have a professional interest in this: in what way can you communicate about sustainability and responsible business practices to induce people to act? And more personally: how can I communicate about the work I do so I can successfully find projects and clients and deliver the work they expect?

The book breaks down the components of a ‘sticky’ idea, which conveniently fit into the acronym SUCCESs:

  • Simplicity
  • Unexpectedness
  • Concreteness
  • Credibility
  • Emotions
  • Stories

The chapters all focus on one of these components, which are illustrated with tons of stories and anecdotes – and doing precisely what it says to make something stick. Very insightful and it helps you to understand the pitfalls which are just around the corner for every professional talking about what you do to an audience who doesn’t know:

When you open your mouth to communicate, without thinking about what’s coming out of your mouth you’re speaking your native language: Expertese.

This, the curse of knowledge, returns often throughout the book: rightly so as it’s so easy to expect your audience to also know what you know. But they don’t. Of course.

The book makes it seem easy to spot or create stories that will make your message stickier. I wish it were! But, I’m definitely going to look better at what components of sticky ideas my communications include, and how to improve that. Starting with my next Toastmaster speech….

Weekend reading: Myanmar, closing the loop & the story of solutions

It’s been a while since the previous weekend reading, but these are some of the online articles that stuck with me this week. Enjoy reading!

Responsible business in Myanmar
Following the session on opportunities for responsible business in Myanmar at the CSR Asia Summit I am slowly reading up a bit more on developments in Myanmar: what is happening locally? But also, what are Dutch organizations doing to support doing business in Myanmar, and is there an awareness for the need of responsible business practices? Over the next few weeks I’m meeting with a few people to talk about this more.
This week I came across two articles which highlight the challenges in doing business responsibly in this part of the world. The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) posted a commentary on developments locally, focusing on the impact business can have and how to work with local communities. And, Global Post asks whether the textile industry in Myanmar will be ‘the next Bangladesh’ and what will be needed to prevent this.

Closing the loop
This week in the Netherlands, the conference Closing the Loop took place: what can business do to become part of the circular economy? GreenBiz just posted an interesting article on a best practice in Canada: quick service restaurant chain Tim Hortons is closing the loop on coffee cups.

The Story of Solutions
But also this week: the Story of Stuff project launched their new video The Story of Solutions. And as always, it has a powerful message and challenges us to reconsider the goal of our current economic system. What can we do to change the goal of MORE to a goal of BETTER?

Shanghai favourites

In between my meetings in Shanghai, I managed to find some time to explore the city a bit more. And head back to my favourite shop (in the world, I think). Here are some of my favourites.

shanghai 236 Firstly, Spin Ceramics. I was tipped about this shop last year, and spend over an hour trying to make up my mind what to choose from all the beautiful ceramics they sell here. Bowls or some sort of ceramics is what I usually buy from wherever I travel to as a souvenir, but the things in this shop are just stunning. Beautifully designed, and made in Jingdezhen, a historically famous production site in China for ceramics.

There are of course loads of restaurants in the city, but one that I liked and thought was a bit different was Noodle Bull. This place served homemade noodles, with interesting combinations of flavours (or at least, different from what I know) and …. served in Spin bowls. No surprises why I liked it!

shanghai 226 In my Hong Kong post I mentioned the K11 shopping mall: turns out there is also one in Shanghai! Unfortunately, this one is part of a bigger mall and skyscraper which makes the set-up very confusing. But, the underground floors are very interesting, with some galleries showing contemporary art from Asia and Europe. Very nicely done.

And of course, aside from restaurants and shopping there is no shortage of hotels either in Shanghai. I decided to splurge for my last few nights, as I had become very curious about the URBN Hotel. The hotel opened a few years ago, is carbon-neutral and the interior design consists of all recycled and sustainable materials. It is definitely the best designed hotel I’ve ever stayed in, with spacious rooms designed to be able to relax after a long day. I liked the ‘coziness’ of the hotel: it’s quite small, but with a lovely and quiet courtyard to have breakfast or coffee.

P.S. The picture at the top is taken at the Rockbund Art Museum, and is Li Liao’s installation Consumption.

Sustainability networks in China: a few to start

Sustainability and CSR are very broad terms, and include so many different topics: environment, urban farming, pollution, impact investment, corruption, diversity in the workplace, urban development etc etc. There are several informal networks – worldwide, but also in China – which provide a place to meet and chat with a diverse group of people working in these various areas of sustainability.

When you are new in a city, but looking to build a local network with sustainability professionals, this is a great way to meet people. I’ll list a few that I’ve come across in China & Hong Kong.

> Green Drinks is a worldwide informal network, with groups getting together in more than 600 cities. The extent of activity varies quite a bit in each city, but the Green Drinks website lists all locations in China (including geographically diverse cities such as Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Beijing, etc).

Of maybe special mention is the location in Shanghai, which has grown far beyond ‘just’ the monthly drinks. The organisation now organizes an event at least weekly it seems, and is in the process of changing into a more formal organisation which will be working on projects on sustainability, together with partners in the Shanghai region, aimed at moving beyond raising awareness on sustainability to impact and results, including some projects on education. It was very interesting to hear about this last week in Shanghai, and I can’t wait to see what the organisation becomes in the next few weeks.

> The Beijing Energy Network is a similar network based in Beijing. Apart from regular events, their online platform also posts vacancies, mostly in the field of (renewable) energy and environment.

> And in Hong Kong I joined the SippedIn-network which meets irregularly but brings together sustainability professionals in HK, from diverse areas such as sustainable finance to organic farming.

Of course, there are more networks you can tap into – which might not be solely focused on sustainability, but may offer you other useful contacts. It’s worth looking at networks supporting companies from your country in China. For the Dutch: make sure to get in touch with the Dutch representation in the region where you do business (currently, located in 11 cities across China, including Hong Kong and most recently in Chongqing).

The Benelux Chamber of Commerce (BenCham, in short) offers networking and a wide membership of companies from the Benelux doing business in China, and related organisations. Located in three cities the BenCham chapters organize regular events focused on the practicalities of setting up your business in China (such as HR, IT, and anything else). In Hong Kong, there’s an equivalent organisation: the Dutch Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.