Samantha Jones is not your average 28-year old.
As if having work experience which includes being in the Royal New Zealand Air Force wasn’t enough, she’s also an accomplished entrepreneur with a number of accolades to her name – including being named as New Zealand’s Young Innovator of the year in 2017.
As founder of the Wellington-based Little Yellow Bird (an apparel company that’s dedicated to providing visibility in the garment supply chain), Samantha was already committed to eliminating exploitation in the garment industry. To add to her glowing resume, she has now raised $1.2 million to develop a tech platform which will verify the origins of apparel in the garment industry, in a quest to end modern-day slavery. ‘Origins’, her new venture, will utilise NEM blockchain technology to track their products from origin to point of sale.
We spoke with Samantha about her journey so far, and her continuing vision for both Little Yellow Bird and Origins. Here are some highlights:
Her formative years were spent in developing countries, finishing high school while living in Indonesia, and later she was a supply chain manager in the New Zealand military. Samantha’s path so far, clearly had an influence on her experience now working in a developing country like India.
In particular, her time spent travelling with her parents across Asia’s developing countries instilled a desire within her to be ethical and environmentally sustainable. Her vision for her work is clear – good wages and working conditions, and sustainable and ethical sourcing, are a key motto for her businesses. This is what got her started, and it’s also the most passionate aspect of her vision.
Good wages and working conditions, and sustainable and ethical sourcing, are a key motto for her businesses.
On whether there was any element of education involved for the people she works with in the developing countries: Her vision is apparent – always ensuring that her businesses work with similarly ethically-minded partners globally, and educating workers in developing countries so that they’re armed with the knowledge and transparency of their work, while being able to fight off exploitative conditions on their own strength and conviction. Little Yellow Bird has already contributed to educational initiatives in developing countries, and funded computer programs etc.
On the Little Yellow Bird team being primarily female, and if that’s a conscious choice on her part and how important is it for her to involve women in the business, especially one that now has a more tech-based focus to it as well: Little Yellow Bird’s advisory board consists of three women and one male member. “Having women in strong, decision-making roles is invaluable,” said Jones. It was evident how proud she is of her team, some of whom have been with Little Yellow Bird since the beginning.
“Having women in strong, decision-making roles is invaluable,” said Jones.
But she also pointed out that this, as well as the high female to male ratio at her company, was not the result of any female-only hiring initiative but instead a case of really efficient women being interested in those roles.
On how easy or difficult it is to work out of New Zealand: While they work very closely with partners in India (Little Yellow Bird has an Indian production manager who oversees local factory work, inspections and social audits) and they have clients in Japan, Germany and the US, Samantha said how encouraging, helpful, and collaborative New Zealand is towards local entrepreneurs. Wellington (where her business is based) is actually a great space for a small and medium sized startups to be.
On whether she has noticed any pattern in the type of clients her business most often generates (universities, coffee companies, New Zealand Post are some of the clients who buy their rain-fed organic cotton apparel): Samantha agreed there’s certainly a pattern there. She agreed that, “most of our clients are either selling a product that has transparency or some extent of social good.” She hopes to reach a point where more businesses will care about not just making money, but also making a positive difference in the world.
“Most of our clients are either selling a product that has transparency or some extent of social good.”
She wants to encourage other businesses to be more closely aligned with her vision (i.e. ethical sourcing, good wages, non-exploitative working conditions, and the complete elimination of child labour) by educating them.