Lightning Lab XX programme to help Little Yellow Bird fly
26 February 2016 by Samantha Jones
Yellow birds are an image of hope, joy and happiness and for socially conscious entrepreneur Samantha Jones, there is no better symbol to represent what her business is about.
The former Royal New Zealand Air Force logistics officer founded Little Yellow Bird, a company that sells organic business uniforms ethically sourced and made in India.
Originally an idea created for a business challenge at the University of Canterbury and officially launched last year, Little Yellow Bird has recently been chosen as one of seven startups to take part in business accelerator Lightning Lab's first female-focused programme, Lightning Lab XX.
Beginning on March 8 - also International Women's Day - Lightning Lab XX will involve 13 weeks of mentoring and time for each team to work on their business, as well as $20,000 in seed funding for each startup and the chance to pitch to investors at the end of the programme.
For Jones and her business partner Hannah Duder, it will be a chance to work towards their ultimate goal of Little Yellow Bird becoming the leading global supplier of sustainable uniforms.
"We don't want to be the cool fashion business. We want to be classic and do things that are timeless. A white business shirt is never going to go out of fashion," Jones said.
More than that, it was about trying to change the fashion industry for the better.
Last year's Australian Fashion Report, which assesses the ethical practices of clothing brands, awarded New Zealand women's fashion retailer Glassons with a D-minus and several popular Australian brands including Valley Girl, Just Jeans and Dotti were given equally low, or worse, scores.
The 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where more than 1000 people died, shone new light on the poor working conditions of clothing factory workers. Jones said she was interested in fashion but never wanted to play a role in what she saw as a form of modern day slavery. Instead, the 26-year-old not only used organic and ethical suppliers but also paired customers up with a project helping communities in India.
"We want to be an example that you can make money but you can also do it in the right way. You don't have to cut corners and not pay people what they deserve.
"Our workers deserve more than what is conventional."
Doing the right thing has not come without difficulty. Jones spent six months trying to find the right supplier after communication challenges meant fabrics did not match samples and products were not ready by the agreed date.
The challenges are paying off though, with the company gathering more attention and recognition for all the right reasons.
As well as being named as one of the first companies to take part in Lightning Lab XX, Little Yellow Bird also came first in BNZ's Startup Alley, winning $20,000 and a place at the Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco, the first stop for many Kiwi tech entrepreneurs on their way to establishing their businesses in the United States.
While still unsure about whether they will pitch for funding from investors, Jones said it would be good to get a strategic investor for the company and to be able to continue with the business once Lightning Lab XX finished.
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