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In Conversation With: Sara Collins

In Conversation With: Sara Collins

  • With 10 years of experience developing and manufacturing products ethically, Sara is now on a mission to help independent brands feel confident in their own ethical and sustainable manufacturing practices. Sara believes that we need a mindful and considerate approach to manufacturing, quality and ethics are always the lead focus. Sara supports brands to build trusted partnerships and positive businesses that they’re proud to share.
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HOW DID YOU ROLL INTO BEING A SOURCING CONSULTANT?

SC It actually started from when I was running my own fashion and accessories brand, Sister & Kin. Everything for the brand was made fairly and from a great fair trade organisation. Brand owners were asking me how I was able to source my suppliers and of course, how do I know they’re ethically made. The production side of the business is what came natural to me, my background is working in product development and supplier relationships with artisan producers all around the world. I was lucky enough to work in India, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Italy, and more. So in 2020 I decided to start sharing my advice and offering support to other businesses who were completely new to ethical sourcing and manufacturing. Now I feel so grateful to have worked with some incredible brands who are doing fantastic things in this space. 

 

WHAT DOES ETHICAL PRODUCTION MEAN TO YOU?

SC To me personally, it’s about transparency, trust and partnerships that are mutually respectful. There are set standards that need to be met when it comes to ethical production. Such as fair pay, reasonable working hours, taking breaks, freedom of association, safe working environments that are free from discrimination and harassment. All of these points are important. But in a broader sense, I find it so strange that we even have to state that a production model is ethical. When you think about it, it shows that the standard business model is not, it exploits workers, we know this. It baffles me that we are still using ethically made, we need to get to a point where all people are treated fairly and ethically made is the base level. 

 

HOW CAN YOU MAKE SURE SUPPLIERS MEET ETHICAL STANDARDS?

SC It’s a difficult one to answer, there can be a lot of nuance depending on the situation. But to put it simply, it’s about having open and transparent relationships with your suppliers. Understanding what the ethical standards are yourself, so you know what you are looking for. Have an open dialog with the supplier, asking the right questions. And most importantly, evidence of these practices. This is something that I love to dig deep into with brands. It’s also about looking past your first tier supplier too, who are they buying from, how far back in the supply chain can you trace. It is a lot of work.

 

WHAT STANDS OUT AS YOUR MOST SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT IN YOUR CONSULTING CAREER?

SC Oh, this is an interesting one to think about. I’m not sure, but there are a few moments that bring me a lot of joy. I’m always really pleased when I can pair a brand with an incredible organisation with a real positive impact, many of these partners I’ve known for years, so when I can help them connect with great brands, it’s really satisfying. Last year I was really honored to travel to Kenya for a project and work with some really amazing women. That’s still a pinch me moment. 

 

WHAT IMPORTANT STAGES DOES A BRAND RUN THROUGH FROM THE INITIAL IDEA TO HAVING THE FINAL PRODUCT IN THEIR HANDS?

SC Many stages! It’s about getting really clear on what you want, designing, visualling, then the sourcing stage, this can take some time to really connect with a great supplier. You then need to move into the sampling phase, some brands expect to do one sample and be ready to go, but unfortunately, it can take 2, 3 or even more rounds, it really depends on the product and the complexity of it. Fabric sourcing can be separate, it depends on the manufacturing set up you’re going for. Then we’re moving into production, where you want to think about production samples, sign off, quality control and you’re pretty much there. Don’t forget to think about other details such as contracts, packaging and logistics too! My advice to anyone about to take this on, is build a production tracker to help you manage it, it pretty much like project management.  

 

WHAT KEY FACTORS DO YOU CONSIDER WHEN SEEKING THE RIGHT PRODUCTION PARTNERS?

SC I like to start with values, I ask all my clients what their values are, what is important to them and their business. Your production partners are an extension of your business, so if you lead with values, you can really connect with partners that are aligned. There are other practical details that also need to be considered, such as distance, access to fabrics, and quality. But if you are starting a brand that wants to have a positive impact and you share those values in your search, that’s when you can really build great business relationships. 

 

WHAT IS THE ONE ADVICE YOU WOULD ALWAYS GIVE TO BRANDS STARTING OUT?

SC Start small, brand owners are often creative and keen to share all their designs, offering lots of choice, and I totally get it. But when you’re starting out it’s good to go through the process, start small and manageable, learn the process, perfect a good quality product and put it out into the world. You’ll learn so much, gain feedback from your audience and then you’ll be better equipped to make well informed decisions moving forward. It’s an expensive process, so set yourself up to be agile and don’t invest your full budget in a ton of stock at the very beginning. 

 

WHAT CHANGES DO YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE NEXT YEARS IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY?

SC So many, it’s hard to choose one! Greater transparency and more regulation in place that protects workers. I believe large businesses should be held accountable for their sourcing and production practices, this information should be accessible and open. We have seen new regulations in the EU which have greater transparency regulations for big business, and I think we should see more of this in the next few years. Often the responsibility is pushed onto the factories that these big brands buy from, but it’s the brands putting unrealistic price and time pressure on these suppliers, so they need to be held accountable too. 

 

More of a move toward circularity is also something that I would like to see, and I think this is coming for sure. I also want to see more women in leadership roles in production, globally. This is a mammoth global challenge, but I see time and time again manufacturers where women work on the floor doing the hard labor and offices are filled with men in management and leadership roles. I think we need to see a shift in this for a real sustainability movement. In the fair trade world, there is a much higher percentage of women CEOs and leadership roles, I like to see this across standard business models.

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