18 Sep From Belo's Bags for Lives – Why Circular Economy has to go beyond materials.
A guest post by Char Bingham-Wallis, Co-Founder of From Belo. In this post, Char explains how we need to consider the human side of the circular economy. By reinvesting into our supply chains, and not just into materials, we can make a more sustainable future.
Working in circles has, historically, never been considered a productive way of working. But for us, it makes complete sense. Circular economy is one of the new buzz words we are all hearing on the sustainability front, where the circular way of running a business can be focussed entirely on materials. But what about the people who are part of this process?
Circular economy is based on a closed-loop system that aims to banish waste and reuse what is already in the system. More often than not, we talk about the raw materials in this system and the end product. But the people who are producing the products, usually in the most impoverished communities, are not often discussed.
However, it’s possible to apply the same circular process to the communities that we work with. Rather than just take the labour, we can reinvest back into their communities. This provides them with the opportunity to rise as the company thrives.
Brave men and women have spoken out about the fashion supply chain and publicly investigated this industry to highlight the modern slavery that lives within it. Fashion Revolution is an excellent source of knowledge for the current statistics and figures on the working conditions and effect of fashion on the supply chain. From this, we have heard harrowing statistics, such as:
"Garment workers are paid 30% of what they need to live a decent life, with no possibility to negotiate."
"It is believed that 71% of leading retailers have modern slavery within their supply chain".
Personally, even when I was at school with my part-time job, I had an expectation that I would receive a fair wage, training to help me progress and be safe at work. I never once thought that this would be a luxury; it is what I felt I was justly entitled to. And, if I was unhappy with something, I felt protected by laws and relations.
It seems absurd that many UK led businesses can righteously uphold a good working ethos in the UK, but that goes out the window in lower economically developed countries where exploitation becomes a daily norm. In general, the public is unaware or even detached from how products are made. Many even assume that the low prices for clothing are due to machines making them, rather than it being a person behind the stitches. This dehumanisation adds to the problem, as it distorts our expectation of price when we purchase a product.
Rethinking our supply chain as people and not just a machine
Applying a circular model makes sense for materials, but what if we rethink the supply chain? Business can be used as a powerful force to create positive changes for everyone. What if we used it as an opportunity to reinvest in these communities, rather than just use the workforce for financial benefit. It seems like a simple thing to do, but many sceptics challenge the thought process. They say that investing more money into the community and the baseline employees, so they have a living wage rather than minimum wage, will lead to a financially unsustainable business.
But we at From Belo wholeheartedly disagree. This short-sighted logic comes, in part, due to a bias that sees wages as a cost rather than a tool to engage employees, stimulate innovation and improve overall efficiency. Over the long run, profitability will suffer as workers’ motivation and productivity decline.
Bags for lives – our solution
From Belo is a for-profit accessories brand that was built on the foundations of kindness. We repurpose materials once destined for landfill into beautiful accessories. But we didn't stop there! After working with some of the most impoverished communities in South America, we were inspired to create a socially responsible company that provides work with fair wages. It goes beyond the workers and their family’s basics needs, to ensure a good quality of living.
We also realised the importance of reinvesting back into the community of our artisans. So with every purchase made, we donate meals to the homeless and in need. Every donation is personally taken to our partner charity "Casa de Maria" – that way, we can guarantee we are doing what we are saying.
The power of community is felt in every stitch at From Belo. Our team feels motivated to not only be able to have the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their family, but also to be making a difference in their community. This sense of purpose and having the opportunity to thrive and not just survive helps ignite the fire and passion for creating sensational products. This reinvestment into the community, this is part of our circular economy.
Keeping a close relationship with our team has been an essential facet of our company. We know every member of our team, and we focus on ensuring they feel happy, safe and respected. Not only has this helped with our productivity, but it has also helped with product creation. We work as a team to iron out any challenges or difficulties in design to create the best products available. It is incredible to learn the journey of our team members (From Belo Family) and how some of them were once supported by our partner charity in their time of need. Now they are the breadwinners for their family and able to give their children the education they had craved.
To summarise, if kindness isn't enough of a reason for a company to be socially responsible, we can guarantee the benefits go far beyond financial compensation. It promotes employee morale, lowers the costs as it helps with retention of skilled workers, declines absenteeism and increases the focus on product quality.
We are proof that business can be done in circles both for materials and for people to create a better future for everyone involved.