The business benefits of selling fair and ethical goods
Three small businesses share the benefits of selling fair trade and ethical goods.
Canterbury-based Siesta is a fair trade shop and wholesaler “dealing in unusual and interesting gifts, musical instruments and clothing from around the world”. Its origins date back to 1983, when Christine and Les Harper set up a market stall and started selling Mexican and Guatemalan handicraft items brought back from their travels.
“We’ve traded with some of our suppliers for more than 25 years and we’re friends – not simply business associates,” Les explains. “We have a mutually beneficial relationship – they’re happy with the price they’re paid and we’re happy with the price we pay.
“We also trust each other. Suppliers know that we won’t drop them, so they can plan for the future. Our main Nepalese supplier, for example, has recently built a new factory with modern facilities and excellent working conditions. He knows that we’ll continue to order from him.”
The Harpers import from seven countries and have visited most of their suppliers, so they have seen what a difference their custom makes. “We aid through trade – but it’s not just a one-way thing,” adds Les. “We’ve learnt so much from our amazing suppliers – stoicism, humility and the ability to enjoy life, regardless of what comes your way.”
Les says business is good and he believes that selling fair trade goods can provide competitive advantage, as some consumers prefer to buy from fair trade sellers, because they understand the difference it can make to people’s lives overseas.
He admits that Siesta could become more profitable by pushing for cheaper prices, but wouldn’t be happy doing that, nor is it a viable long-term proposition. “We are not against profit – but we are against greed and maximising profit at all costs. Suppliers and buyers both need to make a profit to survive.”
Sven Segal is an award-winning entrepreneur and designer of sustainable footwear who founded Po-Zu in 2006, after a decade spent designing shoes for mainstream brands. His commitment to promoting ethical and sustainable practices led him to launch the Better Shoes Foundation in 2016.
“Po-Zu creates ethical footwear made from carefully selected natural and sustainable materials that are healthy for your feet, kind to the environment and safe for all workers throughout the supply chain,” Sven explains.
“Modern footwear production can be very wasteful and environmentally damaging, while, on average, we each throw out three pairs of shoes per year, which are sent to landfill. But people should fall in love with their shoes, which should be created to last. Our shoes also look fantastic – we don’t compromise on style, comfort or ethics,” he smiles.
Sven believes that all businesses should be more ethical and sustainable. “After trashing the planet for decades, ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option. The only solution, going forward, is to minimise our impact by producing more sustainably and ethically. I could cut my costs by using other production methods, but what about the cost to the planet and people?
“Brands that fail to become more ethical and sustainable will lag behind. Increasingly, customers, certainly younger ones, are attracted to sustainable, ethical brands and products. We’ve just brought out a Star Wars range, and fans have told us just how much they appreciate our ethos. That’s just one example that shows that ethical and sustainable aren’t niche – they’re mainstream.”
The Pip Box
Founded in 2016 by Chester-based entrepreneur and former graphic designer, Sofi Evans, The Pip Box is a beauty subscription box-based business that is “dedicated to helping beauty lovers go cruelty-free with their cosmetics”. Every box sold leads to a 50p donation to the charity, Animal Free Research UK.
“I went cruelty-free with all my cosmetics after getting my puppy, Pip, and launched the business to help others do the same,” Sofi explains. “Cosmetic animal testing is cruel, unnecessary and unreliable.
“We proudly promote ethical beauty and with ethical consumerism ever increasing, our ethos has helped us to attract customers. Only selling cruelty-free and vegan cosmetic products limits our supply chain options drastically. And we must research each brand’s animal-testing policies carefully to ensure they align with our cruelty-free commitment, which is time-consuming,” admits Sofi.
She believes that businesses have a “moral responsibility to produce or sell products ethically” and to “limit their impact on our planet and community”. Sofi says more and more brands have to answer customer questions about their products and services, which is forcing them to think more carefully about their supply chains. “Profit is crucial in business, of course it is,” she says, “but I believe you can be profitable and ethical – one doesn’t have to exclude the other.”