Voices of Impact: Melissa Sevvy & Jenna Rakuita on sustainable sourcing.
For brands sourcing materials and products, what best practices do you recommend to ensure sustainable sourcing?
JENNA: In the past, third-party certifications have been used to ensure ethical sourcing. While these certifications can be great at raising awareness and giving brands a baseline understanding, they only go so far.
Moving beyond certifications, and building direct connection and visibility with the producers and people within your network are key!
What tips or tricks do you have for brands looking for corporate gifts or swag from ethical sources?
MELISSA: The arena of gifts and swag, especially in the corporate space, faces two big issues:
Unknown sourcing. More often than not, people don’t know the sourcing of branded swag. Meaning, their swag come from an unknown factory where working conditions, product quality, and sustainability measures are all unknown.
Exorbitant waste. Because brands often spend their swag dollars on cheap, nonfunctional, or overly branded products. So these items often end up in landfills!
JENNA: My advice to sustainable companies is to ask if their swag is:
Usable & functional. Are these products ones that your employees will actually find useful? Are they lasting and high-quality to serve that function for as long as possible?
Exciting & meaningful. Are these products well-designed and sleek, or do they have a meaningful or cool origin story?
Otherwise, you’re wasting your company dollars. When your already allocated budget could be better – and more sustainably – spent!
You work with a lot of artisans around the world. How do you ensure that these stories are presented through an ethical, empowered lens?
JENNA: At Ethik, we’re super mindful of how we portray and tell the stories of our artisans. I recently came across this quote by Deborah Swerdlow:
“There’s a fine line between telling a person’s story and using their story, and between empowering someone’s voice through storytelling and exploiting them. — Deborah Swerdlow”
We believe ethical storytelling means ensuring complete artisan consent. Whether we’re interviewing, editing, or publishing a story.
MELISSA: There are also cultural differences in how people share personal details, from their stories to their photos. For example, in some cultures, women don’t mind sharing their stories if we don’t use their names or photos.
We honor these requests completely and give people the space to always change their minds.
If you could give brands one piece of advice to uplevel their sustainability efforts, what would it be?
MELISSA: In the past, sustainability was just trying to ensure you weren’t exploiting people. However, this approach doesn’t cut it anymore.
My one piece of advice for brands to uplevel their sustainability is to embed impact throughout their entire business model.
JENNA: Lots of research shows that ethical/sustainable companies are more profitable as consumers become more conscious. So companies who prioritize sustainability will be rewarded in the long term!
If you could give consumers one piece of advice to uplevel their sustainability efforts, what would it be?
JENNA: Look for brands that are transparent. While well-known third-party certifications can indicate a level of business sustainability, these certifications are often very costly. Many mid-sized or small businesses can’t afford to get certified.
It all comes down to transparency in their sustainability efforts, goals, plans, and values.
MELISSA: The most sustainable way you can source clothing as a consumer is to wear things that last, and thrift! We work in product, and understand — even encourage — the idea that we don’t always have to be buying into consumerism.
Melissa Sevvy is the Founder and CEO of Ethik. Melissa’s sustainability journey began while teaching public health classes in Uganda years ago. Ever since, Melissa has been pioneering the best sustainability practices to disrupt unjust systems. She started Ethik with the vision of building a platform that brings brilliant makers to the global wholesale market.
Jenna Rakuita is the Head of Impact at Ethik. With a background in social work, Jenna became passionate about removing systematic barriers early on. Now, she leads initiatives at Ethik to ensure the utmost sustainable impact, ethical sourcing, and ethical storytelling for all artisan partners.
Ethik is a wholesale marketplace for ethical handcraft that connects companies to brilliant makers worldwide for sustainable swag. At its heart, Ethik seeks to provide fair, consistent employment to artisans — the second-largest industry in the developing world.
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