By Beatrice Tridimas
Economic success and eco-consciousness have long been thought incompatible. But, thriving local industry suggests otherwise. Small-scale production and local supply chains cut emissions from global shipping and reduce waste from mass over-production, whilst supporting local manufacturers and boosting sub-economies. In the UK alone, small and medium sized businesses are responsible for 60% of private sector employment and contribute around half of its annual turnover. But what exactly is the role of local businesses during economic crises and do they really boast a more sustainable business model?
Innovation During Times of Crisis
The Cool Projects – Greece
Marina Coriolano-Lykourezos, co-founder of The Cool Projects, sources olive oil and the other natural ingredients that make up her delicious soaps locally from Greece. We’ve been talking about the growth of the natural beauty industry in Greece over the past five years and its celebration of Greece’s natural resources.
‘I think there has been an awakening to the fact that there is quality here, and you can make things here,’ she tells me. Indeed, it is not just the natural beauty industry that has sought to make the most of Greece’s resources. As well as boasting a local fashion week that celebrates only designers from Greece, Greece’s garment industry has become more reliant on local materials, dyes and production methods. There are also noticeable trends within the gastronomic and hospitality industries to support local food production and anti-waste practices. At the forefront of each of these movements is a concern for how Greece can make the most of its precious natural resources.
Whilst a concern for the use of natural resources is attributable to the eco-consciousness of the modern age, it is also characteristic of a community that is recovering from economic hardship. Greece, like many EU countries, relies heavily on its 800,000 strong small and medium sized enterprises for their contribution to the economy and, most importantly, for employment. Small businesses took a disproportionate hit in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, but their resurfacing has been indispensable to Greece’s economic recovery.
Economic hardship, Marina tells me, made businesses consider what Greece has to offer. ‘I remember thinking in my head, maybe we can turn this round and make something we can produce here, which is Greek.’ It forced them to become more innovative in using what was available to them and, in turn, become more conscious of how well those resources were being used.
And so developed a community of small businesses sourcing ‘basically everything, if not, as much as possible, from Greece.’ A development which has played an indispensable role in boosting industry around the country and creating jobs. ‘You do definitely feel that, and you are, supporting the local economy as much as possible, even though they’re small businesses,’ Marina says.
‘There’s little pockets of peoples and companies, it is small, but it is creating jobs and collaborations which allow for companies to keep on existing.’
The Nude Label – Spain
For The Nude Label, the innovation displayed by small businesses is vital to their survival during economic crisis. Founded in 2014, the Valencia-based ethical underwear brand avoided the last crisis. Asked if she feels threatened by the onset of the next economic downturn, co-founder Ana Alemany replied positively. ‘Small brands like ours have the power to adapt easily to new situations, especially the ones not following fashion trends as there is not so much pressure on seasonal sales.’ She trusts that consumers know better and will continue to support sustainable brands that are trying to make a difference.
‘There is not a huge textile industry in Spain so sometimes it’s hard to find manufacturers here,’ she tells me over email. But as local industry grows, ‘more and more brands are starting to produce here and that is having a very good impact on the economy at large.’
We need look no further than recent months to understand the vital role local businesses play in Europe. As lockdown set in and supermarket shelves emptied, local restaurants, community shops and wholesalers have stepped up to provide the community’s basic needs. Instead of closing down, many businesses opted to provide new services, especially for the more vulnerable, keeping employees in work and local economies churning.
Quality Not Quantity
For the fashion industry, local business has the potential to be revolutionary. Replacing complex supply chains with local manufacturers guarantees greater transparency and superior quality. The Nude Label enjoy an intimate relationship with their clothing manufacturers who work in their family-run factory, right next-door to their design studio in southern Spain. The small-scale and intimate production allows them to have complete control over their supply chain, offering a comfortable work-space to their manufacturers – complete with snacks – and fair wages.
Oh Lydia Intimates – United Kingdom
‘The world is churning out fast fashion brutally; shoving new collections and seasons in our faces at high speeds and making us desire new clothes when we don’t need them, resulting in waste and damaging the environment,’ says Lydia, of Oh Lydia Intimates.
Her colourful, totally unconventionally sexy underwear is handmade in London by a small team of three. She only ever produces in small batches to ensure nothing goes to waste and any fabric off-cuts are transformed into bralettes or, more recently, face masks.
Working so closely with her manufacturers is part of the collaborative process that enables her designs to come alive.
‘There are so many talented people and businesses locally that we overlook because of cheaper alternatives elsewhere.’
The care and intimacy with which her products have been made is noticeable in their super-soft, high quality texture.
AKKS – Ghana
We’re so used to multinational clothing brands who sacrifice quality for quantity that it has become easy to forget that making clothing is an art. AAKS’s delicate hand-crafted bags each take a week to be finished by talented artisanal weavers in a small Ghanaian village. The love and legacy behind the manufacturing process manifests in the vibrancy, detail and unique quality of the bags.
The Nude Label, now, too, boast the specialised techniques of the shoemakers of Alicante who handmake their new range of vegan leather sandals. The shoes will be sold in partnership with Oxizonia, a non-profit organization working towards reforesting the Amazon.
‘I think it also has to do with a way of living that you’re promoting,’ Marina of The Cool Projects says. ‘You’re suggesting that there is also another way of doing things.’ This living, this alternate way of doing things is a life independent of destructive, large-scale production and international shipping emissions. It is a living that makes the most of what we have and stops asking for more.
For Marina and the natural beauty industry in Greece, it’s a living that celebrates what Greece has to offer. For The Nude Label, Oh Lydia and AAKS it is a lifestyle that celebrates the talent of their local communities. For the businesses which have stepped up to support their communities during lockdown, it is a living which uses what resources we have for the protection of those around them.
Now, more than ever we’ve been offered the opportunity to promote this lifestyle. Seize this moment and choose local. And if you would like to learn how to support small and local businesses, read our article here.