By Denny Pallenberg
When your company was just named one of the top ten sustainable fashion brands in the world by Common Objective and judged by leaders from Vogue, Vivienne Westwood, and GQ, some brands might stop to pat themselves on the back. But not for Scott Leonard, CEO, and Matt Reynolds, President, the leaders of the pioneering B Corporation & ethical clothing brand INDIGENOUS. They are doubling down on an already impressive commitment to “crafting a supply chain focused on the needs of our artisans.” They’ve gotten passionate interest from their investors to build a blockchain enabled platform in 2019/2020 to include “every touch point in our supply chain to add authentic accuracy, unlock capital and provide full transparency.”
What better place to begin this process, than at the TRANSFORM 2019: Climate, Communities, Capital Conference, hosted by GatherLab at the Impact Hub in San Francisco on May 22-23rd. GatherLab’s mission to “Bring People Together For Good” did just that during a session in which the attendees participated in a fishbowl design sprint with the INDIGENOUS founders and Regen Network’s CEO Christian Shearer and engineer Daniel Swid on “how integrating blockchain technology, data visualization, and ecological contracting could result in huge benefits for farmers, producers, and consumers.”
Regen Network is a technology company working to realign the economics of agriculture by “building a contract platform with scientifically robust outcomes at the heart of these contracts.” According to Christian, finances are the number one concern of farmers and their platform would give institutions the ability to contract with a large number of farmers managing their land to specific protocols, such as no-till farming.
The very heart of regenerative agriculture is moving beyond the do good, net positive, ideals-based paradigm towards “thinking about systems in their uniqueness, so that we engage the system in a way that allows that system to express it’s wholeness more fully.” A regenerative model focuses on growing capacity to be in deep relation to the place, people, creatures, and land.
INDIGENOUS Impact Fashion has been making ethical, fair trade fashion from 100% natural fibers for 24 years. When you look at their mission of “creating beautiful clothes in an ethical way, while supporting the artisans behind our organic clothing, and preserving our shared natural resources. Discover clothing that fits your style and your values” you can see a whole systems perspective about their supply, especially when they weave their customers into their supply chain.
INDIGENOUS’s South American supply chain, primarily focussed in Peru, employs about 700 artisans, from farms to millers of the fibers, to artisans with fair living wages in safe working conditions. They provide zero-interest loans for education and equipment, encourage biodiversity in alpaca herds, and their business is built on a cooperative model that supports entrepreneurship among independent artisans. In an industry that is known for exploitive business practices, INDIGENOUS is literally ahead of the sustainable herd. INDIGENOUS was also one of the first 17 Benefit Corporations in the World.
So for Scott Leonard, the next question in the progression of their brand was “how can we give more?” They believe that the concept of a steward ownership model that flips ownership upside down and gives more returns to artisans is the answer. Scott and Matt intend to use the brand as a demonstration for what is truly possible for ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) businesses.
The Fish Bowl Design session started off with asking the session participants about what consumers want to see in a fully transparent supply chain, which included: impacts, water usage, wages, CO2 footprint, images and profiles of the artisans, fabric ingredients, growing models, evolution of work over time, and history and values of the indigenous communities.
Diving deeper, what information would flow up and downstream to the producers and consumers. From Matt’s perspective, “Fashion is emotional, how do we flip that on its head? How do we measure this? How do we reflect that the clothes on someone’s back represents their values?”
INDIGENOUS is leveraging Regen Network’s technology expertise to try to help answer these questions. The ultimate goal for this project is to use technology to link together the complete storyline of a garment from farm to landfill in such a way that information could flow throughout their supply chain and hopefully drive more money into the hands of their artisans.
Daniel Swid Regen’s engineer helped to map out this challenge by looking at their supply chain from many perspectives, including the producers, artisans, consumers, investors, and the garments.
While this was a lot to take on in one hour, it was a purely collaborative session with attendees sharing from their experience as impact professionals and consumers. Kanyon CoyoteWoman Sayers-Roods from Kanyon Konsulting and Marc Thibault of Ideal Convergence brought in-depth indigenous insights into the conversation, which a sprint such as this would have normally included with appropriate resources.
Indigenous Designs and Regen Network plan to continue working on this functionality and aim to have some sort of MVP up and running by early 2020. Please visit their respective websites for more information about their companies and updates on this groundbreaking collaboration.
Denny Pallenberg is an Impact Business & Brand Strategist with Denstar Consulting working at the intersection of business, sustainability, and mindfulness.