When I made plans to meet Little Yellow Bird founder Samantha Jones, I was picturing a workspace stuffed with corporate uniforms of all shapes and sizes. I was was shocked when Samantha informed me she didn’t have an office. Her company makes and sells ethically made office attire, but they don’t have a dedicated office. By choice.
“As part of the Lightning Lab XX program we do have a co-working office space as a base, but we often find we are doing much of our business on the go, working from home, cafe’s and the occasional airport.”
LYB is a corporate uniform supplier that uses ethically sourced fabrics to make quality uniforms under fair trade working conditions. As a former member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, she found choice transparency of the uniform source was not an option. She saw an opportunity to fill this gap for the growing contingent of ethically minded, socially conscious businesses.
“I knew that if I cared about where my uniform was coming from and struggled to find an ethical alternative that it would be likely that other people had the same problem.”
Samantha and her business partner Hannah believe that garment workers deserve more than what is conventional. All of their workers receive fair wages, have safe working conditions and access to affordable education and healthcare. They want Little Yellow Bird to be a force for good. Their vision is to pay workers what they deserve for producing quality garments and provide more visibility on the supply chain. Choosing to target corporates as they bring bigger orders leading to a bigger impact within the garment industry.
Being a transient business means Samantha is always on the move. And while her mobile phone plays a big part in how she runs her business, it’s not the only thing she uses. Though she does joke that her military training in logistics is “ironically handy for running a fashion company,” she also has a whole suite of apps that help her stay productive when not sitting down at a desk. Along with Xero she uses Asana for delegating and assigning tasks between herself and Hannah, Gmail for keeping on top of her calendar, BNZ for banking, Dropbox for file sharing and Slack to maintain fluid communication.
Travelling around New Zealand to inform corporates about her business is one thing, but with all the products being made in India, it really puts this transient business to the test. Thanks to winning Entré, a small business competition run by the University of Canterbury, Samantha was able to bridge their geographical gap by travelling to India to meet with all her suppliers and workers.
Now that she’s established connections in India she can find different factories to produce her products depending on what she needs. LYB has expanded from womenswear, to a men’s line, to now providing just about anything from polo’s to business shirts, and custom options. They can develop fabrics specifically based on a company’s colours or image. This is due in large part to her main production facility in Bangalore. And it fits right in with her company’s mission. It was originally set up over 20 years ago as a Non-Government Organisation project to provide employment for disadvantaged women.
New to the world of business and being a business owner, the learning curve for Samantha and Hannah has been steep. Everything from filing a GST return to managing cash flow, to sourcing and working with remote manufacturers had to be figured out. Access to the right technology was a major factor that enabled LYBs early success.
Her advice for anyone looking to take a leap of faith? “If you’ve got an idea and want to do something then just do it, because there will never be a right time. Naivety is an asset early on – if you realised how much you didn’t know, you’d probably never start so I recommend taking the leap, not being afraid of failing and figuring it out as you go.”
Samantha doesn’t know what the next 12 months will hold for LYB, but with the duo recently accepting a Lightning Lab incubator program, and then winning a $10,000 business mentoring package through Quest Apartment Hotels, they’re not short of believers and top-notch advisors. They’re also on the road a to sustainable cash flow with the securement of a number of larger corporate accounts. With a steadfast focus on growth, supporting emerging markets and a genuine passion and dedication for the communities they work with, LYB has a bright future ahead.