Nissa Marion

Sustainable Luxury and Social Entrepreneurship | Nissa Marion

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Nissa Marion, a lifelong environmentalist who launch EcoVision magazine from her apartment floor in Hong Kong.

Looking to convert readers to a sustainable lifestyle through a link between sustainability and a luxurious lifestyle, she set about the work of identifying brands, writing stories, and build a community of followers who would support her work.

As we discuss in the interview, the work wasn't always easy, and she did not always know what to do, but that is the path of entrepreneurship and one that she was committed to.


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About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Nissa Marion

Nissa Marion is a Hong Kong based environmentalist. Born and raised in Canada, she deeply loves nature and wild places, and believes that education, engagement, and collaboration are the keys to sustainability.

In 2003, Nissa’s passion for conservation led her to work with Ecovision, a fifteen-year established non-profit social enterprise specializing in environmental education and events. From there she went on to cofound and direct the well-loved Hong Kong Cleanup (HKcleanup.org), a large-scale community environmental event that has engaged more than 250,000 participants and cleaned up over 17 million pieces of trash. This successful initiative raises awareness of personal, community and corporate environmental responsibility as well as advocating for sustainable government policies regarding waste management.

Nissa was also the Cofounder, Editor in Chief and Event Director of Ecozine, Asia’s premiere guide to modern sustainable living, which produces a quarterly print magazine, a daily-updated website (Ecozine.com), a weekly e-newsletter and world-class events such as Hong Kong’s own Zero Waste Week, successfully launched in 2015. She is committed to using popular media to focus the world’s attention on environmental issues and inspire change for the better.

Follow Nissa:
Website: http://onpointhk.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nmarion
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nissamarion/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

My name is Nissa Marrion. I am the co-founder and editor in chief of Ecozine magazine and also the co-founder of an NGO called The Hong Kong Clean Up. My mission in life is to make the world a better place, no really. To be a contribution in my personal and professional life and I've been really lucky to create a career where actually my job is about that too.

IT'S PERSONAL

I've always been an environmentalist. Like I grew up in Canada, camping, canoeing, all that wonderful stuff. And just communing with nature. I went to a pretty progressive high school, so hung out with a lot of hippie, dippie, fantastic people who just got it. That kind of planted the seed for me of wanting to make sure that I do my part in protecting the planet. And it sounds cheesy, but like I'm just a real tree hugger, ya know? I love nature. It makes me really sad the way that our development as a people has destroyed the planet in many ways and continues to do so. So honestly, I just wanna see people care about nature. So that's one side of it.

Then, I've always been interested in the publishing world and one day, four years ago now, my best friend came to me and said hey I 've got this idea. We know so many people in the environmental sector, and so many small startups and great companies and cool NGOs and fantastic campaigns that need a platform to reach the public. Why don't we be that platform? Why don't we start a magazine? It just made sense. I was like yeah, ok! I had no idea what it was gonna take. Like what that would actually entail. But, it sounded really cool and excited and right up my alley, so I said yes. And we co-founded Ecozine.

GETTING STARTED

We have this NGO called the Hong Kong Clean Up and we've been running that since 2000. My best friend and business partner, Lisa, founded that. And through it, you know, we engage corporate, schools, community members and other NGOs, and government. So we were able to create this incredible community of companies, especially but also other sectors that were doing great things. I had great CSR profiles or launching cool eco products, or just you know, wanted to make the world a better place. At the same time we were seeing more and more sort of evidence that consumers, the evidence that consumers were interested in more than just a label on a product, or the price of a precut. That they really wanted to see products of province and responsibility from companies that they trusted. And wasn't necessarily in Hong Kong a really strong publication that connected those two worlds. That brought, you know, the people with the great ideas and products and CSR initiatives to the consumers that wanted to buy from those companies.

So, we decided that we wanted to be that crossroads because we had such access to both sides of that. So at the same time, having always been passionate about magazines and publications and popular media as a means to convey important messages, it just made sense for us. To start a magazine.

We started by launching an online publication, Ecozine.com. That name came after a good 3 months of thinking about names. I mean this process was very much of a backburner, sort of passion project for us, in our spare time, late nights, mid night coffees, that kind of thing. Just creating what we thought would be cool. The website was the result of...(not noisy at all! (ha, start at midnight coffee's. A lot of helicopters today)). And the website was a result of literally nights of just sketching and drawing what a cool website would look like and referencing hundreds of other websites and you know. We had no experience in this whatsoever in building websites, in developing media, in editorial and advertising. So it was a really fun, but challenging journey. A really steep learning curve and that was just for the website.

So we got that launched in 2012. The model was sponsorship. Because that's where we had experience from our NGO background. But it turned out to be more challenging than we expected to get companies here in Asia to sponsor a page in a website. It was a quite a new and innovative model that wasn't...people weren't ready to embrace it just yet in Asia. So we did some asking around and we thought about what to do and we decided that okay, a print magazine might be a good addition. And people thought we were crazy because so many publications are going from print to digital and cutting their print publications because of costs, because of change to the industry. But we found that here in Asia, although a lot of companies were saying they wanted to do more digital marketing and be online and take advantage of the digital world, actually when they saw a proposal with a full-page ad cost this much will be in this many issues and seen by this many people, they really got it and were able to say yes.

So the print magazine turned out to be a terrific thing for us in so many ways. One, it was self indulgent. I mean, so nice to hold a product in your hand and say I made this...every font, every page, every word, every photo, the size of the margin, the texture of the paper, it's all...we created it. So that was pretty gratifying. Also, as a revenue stream, the online just wasn't cutting it at that time so having a print edition gave us a way to bring in dollars and make this a real company and not just a side project. And also, a marketing tool. So now that the print magazines on shelves and in cafes and all over the place, we're able to say hey, you like that? There's more online, come visit us. Our online traffic has increased.

WHY HONG KONG?

We chose to do this in Hong Kong just exactly because this is Hong Kong and it is struggling with sustainability and it is behind in a lot of ways. There would be no point in launching a magazine like Ecozine in San Francisco. They get it. They're there. Okay, the market has arrived. Whereas in Hong Kong, it's such a huge opportunity. There is a niche for a thing like me, a magazine like Ecozine. There are people who, who really want this kind of content and aren't able to access it easily. And also, we really embrace a challenge and so, we also we love Hong Kong.

Ecozine is created by two people who chosen Hong Kong as their home. We weren't born here, we moved here. We chose to stay here because we love this place.

BRINGING GREEN MAINSTREAM

It's easier to start by sharing what we didn't want Ecozine to be. We didn't want Ecozine to be a magazine for the deep greens, for environmentalist, for people who already, like me, love hugging trees. We wanted it to be a lifestyle magazine for the general public. The idea of Ecozine is to create a sleek, sexy, appealing, even aspirational package for sustainable living. So you know, we put celebrities in our covers. We talk about food, family, travel, cars, lifestyle, you know? We just slip in the sustainability angle, it's trough a green lens.

But it's not a magazine that's pitched for people who consider themselves environmentalist. It's actually designed to bring green mainstream, is one of our taglines. To brig it to the masses. To show that sustainable living can be aspirational and not just something that you have to give up some part of your life or attend protests or wear Birkenstocks or live in the forest. You can live more sustainably and have a terrific life. That was what we wanted to bring because Hong Kong is very much about consumptions. What can I buy next? Where can I go next? What can I see next? Whose coming to town...what celebrity? So we want to bring sustainability into that lifestyle aspect that Hong Kong embraces.

What we find actually is that there isn't a consistent element between every story that needs to be maintained. There needs to be a thread, of which in our case is our voice. Our voice we maintain sort of light-hearted, layperson, friendly, slightly tongue-in-cheek lifestyle a voice. So we always try not to be too corporate, to use too much jargon, be too green, assume that the readers know everything there is to know about a certain topic. So that thread is our voice. But the subject matter and the way that we treat each topic varies widely. Because we have everything form you know, great advice from CSR professionals in really successful companies to taking great strides. To you know, top 5 veggie cafes to go to this weekend. So it really varies. That way we're able to engage a wider audience because some people like the sort of....the top 5s, and the way's to and the how to's, and some people really like the meatier stuff. So we do offer a variety.

BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR

For me, one of the biggest challenges of becoming an entrepreneur was that I, I didn't feel like I had an entrepreneurial spirit. Like I, I'm risk-averse. I'd rather just have stability, a steady income, I work hard, I take home my paycheck. At least that's how I thought I was. So for me, just embracing the idea of being an entrepreneur was a big challenge to cover come. I think I have. It excites me now. But there's still you know...I'm a natural worrier and so you know, that from time to time comes up for me.

In practical terms, just learning how to do this business. It wasn't like...I know I have expertise in something, I'll start a business in it. It was, I'm passionate about something and I've zero expertise in it, I'll start a business. So, learning about pagination and selecting paper and printing and the whole production cycle of a magazine and what kind of roles need to be filled, HR. I'm not an expert of running a business either. So not just a publication, but any type of business, you know? Steep seat learning curve, but exciting because I love learning so that was part of the appeal.

IT NEVER STOPS GETTING SCARY

It's funny, because I was asked to give a talk a couple months ago on risk at an event called Creative Mornings. I was like, risk...I'm not really sure I'm qualified to talk about that because I'm risk-adverse. Then they were like, but you're an entrepreneur right? So, okay, that's like oh yeah! I should probably...I could come up with a couple of things.

It never stops getting scary for me. Like it's always my hear plummets or my stomach gets tense, you know, when there something for example hiring people, you know? When it's just you and your business partner and your own late nights and your own you know, tears and bloodshed and sometimes laughter at stake, that's one thing. When it's other peoples livelihoods at stake, it just feels like...it's just such a huge responsibility for new entrepreneur and the there's lots of us out there. Who've just been a one man or two man band for a while who suddenly take on staff . That was one of them, you know? It was and still is as we're still growing and continue planning to grow....plan to continue growing our team, that was and still is you know, a terrifying thing in some ways. But, you can't grow a successful business without hiring people. So the impetus, you know, is obvious. Like it's do it or fail. Or work yourself to the bone and burn out. So you, know.

Oh my God. We have asked for so much advice over this journey and will continue to because we fully acknowledge that we don't know crap about some of the things or didn't know that we're doing. So, for instance, when we decided we wanted to start a magazine. We reached out to a magazine publishers that we knew. Models that we knew that met modeled for magazines. People that we knew who wrote for magazines. Luckily, we have a really strong network and some incredible friends. And even you know, people who in some terms could end up being competitors, just giving just the most generous support and advice along the way.

I'm such a proponent of just ask. Ask for help. There's nothing to lose. I don't think I've ever been told no. I've been given weak advice or advice I didn't take. Lisa and I, as business partners you know, from time to time we're like...did that make sense to you? No, okay that's fine, you know. But ask. Why not? I totally am all for hearing other people to have other people have to think. Especially people who know more than I do about a topic. Oh gosh yea.

GETTING GOOD ADVICE

So we've...the best advice we've been given, I think, are from two pools. Again, we've asked everyone we know, you know various points along the journey. But people who are already in the business we're in. So in our case, publishers, editors, writers, people in the magazine business and then investors. Whether or not we're seeking investment, investors know what companies need to have ready, need to look at, need to have in their business plan for success because that's what investors look for.

So, people I have in my personal network, who are investors, angel investors or fund managers or whatever, tend to have terrific business advice for, for startups and entrepreneurs because they're looking for other startups and entrepreneurs and they know what to look for in a successful, or in a successful business model.

PERSONAL RISK AND BUSINESS DECISIONS

So when you ask what my worst fear is, I don't tend to give a lot of time of day to thinking about my worst fears because it's really defeating. But if I were to give it a second, I'd probably say my fear is I'm on a persona l note, planning to you know I just got married last year. Planning to start a family and that needs to be a stable situation and the entrepreneurial world is always one with you know, instability and risk.

So, I guess my worst fear would be not being able to provide for my family because of a choice that I personally made or one of my staff not being able to provide for their family because of a choice I made with the business. I hope to god that never happens. You know, that's a new fear for me. So I wasn't driven by it before. Before my own personal life you know? Before I got married and decided I want to start a family, the only thing at risk,really was me. My time, my energy, my, my...maybe chance of dying younger. But there was no sort of other things at stake.

So as your, I realize now that as your life evolves and your priorities change, that can cause, that can be an impetus and a catalyst for making smarter decisions about your business. That's where I'm at right now actually. Is knowing that I have something more at stake causing me to be...wanting to be wiser about how I approach the business.

So, practically I don't think comes into it because we always have a practical hat on. You know, we always make sure that bills can get paid. And because you know the priorities that I mentioned are my future family, for instance, the main mission of the magazine is still the most important thing to me. Because I'm now talking about future generations and the planet we leave them. So for me, that aspect of the business is absolutely vital for my job satisfaction.

ALIGNING INTERESTS

Our advertisers for the most part are not just , are not bad companies doing a couple good things, but good companies. I mean we're...and there's more and more of them. Like I said we're very fortunate working with companies that are, that I genuinely...that I buy from, that I admire. I mean, those are the first people I reach out to ever issue. I put my sales pipeline together to reach out to advertisers and the people top of that list are people, are companies that I genuinely respect and admire.

It turns out that the companies that I genuinely respect and admire happen to be the company often times that want to reach the audience that we have. So, we haven't had to really give up anything in terms of our morals and ethics and mission. We've been able to meet that, that requirement. So, far anyway and I can't imagine this changing, our advertiser pool matches the, you know, aligns with what we want to create for the planet.

TELLING THE RIGHT STORY

Where the challenge lies, is that companies we think are doing good things, but that have been burned by accusations of green washing or that you know 100% of their business isn't sustainable. Like maybe they're...maybe they're saving millions of liters of water, but they still haven't figured out their dyeing process exactly yet. Or, they're a luggage company that makes products for life for the lifetime guarantee, which is think is very sustainable instead of like fast fashion. But, they don't market themselves as eco luggage, they market themselves as luxury luggage so they don't see the fit.

So that's one of the challenges that we see, is you know, convincing these companies. Or even like, let's say a fast-fashion company like H&M that is taking huge strides to try and be a sustainable business. When you're a business that big, it is challenging to do and they've been burned by green groups telling them that they're doing it wrong and they have done things wrong. But they're really making efforts in this journey. So at what point along the way can they say, yes we're doing good things and feel comfortable about it, you know? And even that applies even more so for the companies who've never tried to say anything about doing anything green, but that we perceive as a business that we perceive are doing something right. So sometimes it's about convincing the advertisers that they deserve to be in your magazine.

So, we're lucky that we have quite a bit of flexibility in our content. I mean luckily because we....we're lucky that we have flexibility in our content because we can then, you know. Some of our content is, its consumer facing in the sense that it's not even about the story of the companies, it's just about what you can do as a consumer to be more sustainable in terms of you know, seeking products with less packaging or saying no to straws or not even you know recommending certain businesses to work with, just lifestyle options.

Then when it comes to telling the states the sustainability story of a given company or organization, every company's story is so different I don't think there's any formula you can use. Some of them are you know really making great strides in work life balance for their employees. Others are just doing incredible things to the environment or the production or this you know the supply chain. Others are making great social strides providing clean water, looking at water waste. There's so many different ways a company can approach the sustainability that there's an equal number of ways that we can tell the sustainability story for them. So it you know it really is so case-by-case.

One of the things that we...this has been a part of our evolution over the development of our publication, is the definition of sustainability that we adhere to. Because it is such, I mean just every throws the word around now right? It's the new eco or green, it's sustainability. For us, it's about, and this is sometimes hard to convey because the name of our magazine is Ecozine, but it's not just about ecology and environment for us. It's about overall sustainability.

So personal sustainability, wellness is a big part of what we talk about. Social sustainability, you know. People doing good for people, looking after themselves and each other. Social issues and of course economic sustainability too. So, that you know, conveying to people that we're not just about trees and animals, but about actually the wider, broader definition of just being a more responsible creature on this planet, towards ourselves, others and the planet itself is something that we often have to bring up in conversation.

STAYING INSPIRED

Yeah, it's pretty easy to say what in spires me actually. I'm just, I love getting out in nature. I mean maybe it's cheesy, like yes, nature inspires me. Nature inspires everybody, but after a long week or three weeks in a row without a break, let's say a work...one hour in the forest, one hike, one afternoon at the beach is just enough to revive me incredibly. So and that's exactly what we're working to protect you know? In a broader sense, so I really need to get in nature on a regular basis or I start to feel defeated by just the vanity of urban life.

In terms of the business itself, the other thing that's really inspiring is when we get emails from people saying you know. I just discovered this product or I sign this petition or I had no idea that my X action had Y impact. I will never do that again. Even when we get emails from people asking for advice, you know. Where can I get, where can I recycle this? Where can I buy vintage clothes? Sometimes I like, go buy the magazine!! But then you know I feel it's really gratifying that people are confident that there's a resource. That somebody will answer them. That they don't have to wonder. So that's also inspiring that people look to us as some place with answers for that kind of question. So when we get individual human responses from people, it's just incredibly gratifying and it gives us that drive to continue.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Brian Tam

Overcoming Fear and Excuses | Brian Tam, Let's Make Great!

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with my good friend, and co-host of Behind the Grind, Brian Tam, about the fear that holds many entrepreneurs back.

His insights on how to get ideas off the dashboard, the importance of small wins, and in learning quickly through rapid failures, are all spot on.

 


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About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action.

To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Brian Tam

Brian is a Creativity Catalyst and co-founder of an innovation consultancy, Let’s Make GREAT!

Born in America and having graduated from the University of Maryland, Brian saw China’s dynamic growth and decided to make a leap back to the mainland in 2007 when he came to Shanghai to create more growth and innovation in China.

Follow Brian
Website: http://www.letsmakegreat.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brian.tam.56211
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamonline/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/letsmakegreat/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Brian: I am Brian Tam, I am the founder and CEO of Let’s Make Great!. We are a creative consultancy focusing on the next hundred years of innovation in China. So basically, what that means is that we do everything and anything to help people become more creative in China.

We were doing some Google research, just looking at different words that are popping up. And if you search "creativity in China", it’s very very low. All the new top 10 results are all negative results. “It’s not going to happen." "Education is not going to allow creativity to happen." But then interestingly, what’s changed is that if you search "innovation in China", the results are going up.

So it’s all positive news about how China is becoming more innovative, Chinese companies are becoming more innovative. So there is a change happening. It’s in wordplay, but I think it’s a real change.

China’s ecosystem for innovation

Brian: It is changing a lot. I started about three to four years ago now. And since I started, I can see that larger scale organizations are now starting to reach out to start-ups and build up connections and collaborations. So BMW now has an incubator. OMD is working with China Accelerator of course. Unilever and another New Zealand milk company, Fonterra, is also working with internal entrepreneurship and building up that innovation game that way.

So I think it’s happening, it’s starting to change. Three to four years ago, when I started, I was like “Entrepreneurship! This is the way to the future! This is going to make everything/the world a better place. You build a company inside a bigger company, how great is that? You get all the joined freedom of your own business and also you get the power and distribution of a large company.”

And I thought that was gonna be it. But companies don’t like that a lot of times. They are like, wait, you want them to be the boss? Then what is my job gonna be? So there’s a lot of people pushing back on that. But there’s also a lot of people making it happen ‘cause they do see it as a way for it. So those are the front runners and there is hope!

Do foreigners understand China?

Brian: I think there’s a lot of people who don’t get it. They are not really doing the homework of talking to the people who are going to be using it or getting in touch with their ideas. So that needs to change.

Rich: Do you think they really think that they know it better than the Chinese?

Brian: There’s a certain arrogance. Everybody has arrogance, so that’s always gonna be the case. "We are from the West, and we know better. This is what we should be doing." But is that always true? No. I mean, somewhere in the middle through the process, you figure out, “Okay, I do need to change.”

Hopefully, people are figuring out that they do need the change, because at the end, money shows how much impact you are really making or how much traction you’re getting. So I think there needs to be a significant/true metric. So a lot of entrepreneurs — actually let’s not call them entrepreneurs yet. They are not entrepreneurs yet, I can’t even say that.

They are just guys with ideas or people with ideas, and that’s nice and good. And usually, those ideas are about making impact and helping people to something better. But how realistic and driven are they? A lot of these people I work with are entrepreneurs, creatives, designers, architects, consultants — all knowledge-based people. They are not really thinking about, “How do I make this happen?”

They are thinking about thinking about thinking about making it happen.

Brian: They are several ways away from that. And it’s good, we need that. We need thinking. It’s important. But where’s the rubber meet the road? And that’s where I’m trying to push these people to get to: interacting with the Chinese market. Making sure that their idea really works for whoever they are targeting. That’s always an interesting thing to get people to move towards, because they are afraid. They don’t know.

Because if you actually — if you start meeting the road and you get resistance, then everything changes. You’re not sure if can really do it. You’re not sure. You hit reality, and reality is hard, and it sucks, and it hurts. So people are gonna get scared of that. It’s getting pushback. In idea land, in the dream world, anything is possible.

And that is fun, energetic, sexy, and alluring for a lot of these creative leaders to think about their ideas over and over again. But it doesn’t go anywhere. I think that’s one of the biggest things that needs to change for a lot of people. I don’t care if you’re a teacher, go make it real. I don’t care if you’re an artist, actually do something with it. Everyone got ideas, and it’s not about ideas, it’s about execution. But it is fear that’s preventing them.

No excuses

Brian: It’s interesting — I couldn’t say "on the Chinese side", because I’m not working with them — but just looking at the things that are coming out, I can see that they are very much based on other ideas. But they are mixing and matching, so it’s more plug-and-play and collecting different ideas together. And I think that’s a type of innovation as well. With the foreign entrepreneurs, maybe they are trying to do something different.

They are a little more disruptive. It’s just two different strategies. I don’t think either one is right or wrong, it’s just two different strategies. Yeah, so there’s a lot of entrepreneurs here. The community here has been developing, and that’s kind of cool. There’s a clear divide, though, between the Chinese entrepreneurs and the foreign entrepreneurs.

I mainly work with the foreign ones and the foreign creatives, and so they are pushing the line — but their impact is somewhat limited, as we talked about earlier. They are always looking for a Chinese partner, and they are always looking for the way to get their products into the Chinese market — a little bit more localized, right?

Or, they wait and make those excuses that say, “I can’t do that because I don’t have that partner. I can’t do that because I don’t speak Chinese. I can’t do that because…” I think those are excuses, and I really try to get these people to keep pushing on their own side to do what they can and what’s within their control. So that’s always been an interesting mind shift for a lot of these people, because we think we need help rather than we need to create momentum to attract help. And I think that’s a complete mental shift that a lot of people need to get towards.

Challenges of entrepreneurship

Brian: They are afraid of failure, is the biggest thing. They build up these fantasies in their head and they've got these big dreams. I mean, I got them, too. My big dream is a hundred years of innovation in China. That’s pretty big. Let’s think about that. One hundred years. China. Innovation.

This is like the three biggest ideas in the world right now. It’s scary. It’s unrealizable almost. But it’s not supposed to be realizable right now. It is supposed to be realizable in that time. So I try to separate people’s ideas and thinking into short-term and long-term.

And short-term, you need to have that action but be guided by that long-term vision. So that’s something I’m trying to separate for people, so that they do start taking action — because the fear of failure is this kind of ambiguous fear. You don’t know where it’s coming from. You don’t know what might cause that failure, and so it could come from anywhere. Here, there are different factors/drivers at play. The government have their rules, and we’re here playing by their rules. That’s the name of the game.

Dealing with fear

Brian: How do you deal with fear? It is everything. I say fuck fear, first of all, because it’s always going to be there. I’ve been doing this three to four years, and I’m still afraid. It’s just a part of it. If you are afraid that means you’re doing something new, which means you’re on the right path.

If you’re not afraid, then what are you doing? You’re so comfortable that you don’t have to think about. You are not putting yourself out there. Then what value are you adding to society, to your team, to your company and to the people around you? So you need to be doing something a little bit scary at least so that you can start to realize it.

So I say, first of all, fuck fear — it’s there, deal with it. Second of all, start small and get that feedback early so that you know if you’re on the right track or not. If you have those small wins, they build up to a big win at the end. So that’s a super critical step.

What is a small win?

Brian: Small wins are even just people smiling as you talk about the idea, and people are smiling and nodding, and they go, “Okay, I kind of get that." A small win is even, they give me feedback that I can use to improve it [the idea], so maybe sometimes a small win is everything. You just try to switch your mind into looking for the small win rather than looking for the failure or the reason that you shouldn’t do it.

And I think a lot of people who are very smart — these educators, consultants , designers — are very smart and creative people. But because they are so critical, they start looking for all the reasons they shouldn’t be doing it, all the “NOs” — and that adds up, so you don’t do anything. There’s no action then.

You just stop. You are paralyzed by fear. So I’m saying, look for that small win no matter what it is. There’s always a small win. You gotta look for it. And as long as you take action, you got a small win. So that small win and taking that small step is the key.

Is social entrepreneurship different?

Brian: So for me, I don’t give a shit about it. It’s not for me to label. I don’t care about labels. You can call it whatever you want — as long as you’re doing good, adding value, making the world a better place, I don’t care what you call that. But make sure that happens. If you are an entrepreneur, a businessman, a politician, or even a homeless person, make the world a better place. That’s it.

Why else are you alive? Why is your heart beating? Why are you breathing air and consuming things if you are not giving back in some way? My girlfriend is really amazing, because she’ll give to all the homeless people. I’m like “you can’t do this”.

But if they are playing music, she’ll take out the 10 RMB or the 20 RMB note. She’ll give them a little bit more. I think it’s because they are adding value. They are creating this atmosphere of positivity and enjoyment, right? Just like that. There’s a positive atmosphere that we can all live and love by. It’s amazing.

Ideas do not equate to action.

Brian: So everyone is different. I can’t give you an answer for how to start or where to start, but just start! That’s the wrong question to be asking — just starting, right? So, if you have one tool, go with that tool right now. If you have a million tools, maybe it’s time to start using some of them. All these ideas are all really nice, but the ideas are pointless until you start to realize them. And that’s what an idea is for, right? It’s for action, to make it come true.

I had that problem. I was a marketing guy doing project management. Then I was an English teacher. Then I was another marketing guy in another leadership development company. This was just ideas about ideas about ideas. And it drove me crazy. I wasn’t satisfied. And I thought, "Why not?" Because they were just in my head and weren’t in reality, and they weren’t a part of my reality. So I went out, and I quit my job, and I started Let's Make Great!.

And I decided that this would be my vision: By reflecting on my past, I looked at the "why's" of my past, and I saw that these "why's", these motivations, were all leading toward something that I didn’t even realize until I reflected. So I was lucky to have built up six to eight years of working experience before I started reflecting.

I know when you are a little bit younger, you don’t have enough experience to know "why" yet. You just haven't connected enough dots — some people say that, but I don’t think it’s true either. I think if I reflected earlier, I probably would have seen it earlier, but nobody was pushing me to think about it. So that’s on me, it’s just circumstance.

Self-assessment

Brian: Are you taking action? The first assessment. Are you taking action?

Research, and preparing, and planning is not "action" in my definition. Getting feedback, talking to people and building something, that’s action. I’m gonna call you out (points to Rich). I see you are stopping and starting, but have you actually put them altogether yet in video? I tried to shoot a video before, and I stop and start, but I couldn’t bring them altogether because there are these weird cut points.

That drove me crazy. So I was like “Are you taking action? Are you really following through with that?” All right, thank God for you (to Rich's assistant).

China and entrepreneurship

Brian: I think two things about this question. First is that entrepreneurship is the modern-day spiritual journey.

Because what is that? In entrepreneurship you find out who you are, what you are about. What you are trying to do, and what value you have to society? If those aren’t spiritual questions, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t matter. It just happens to be that if you do follow entrepreneurship, you’ll figure out these things.

And in China, it’s nice, coming from the West at least, because you end up in this place where all of the rules are different slightly or majorly — and you just go “why?” And by having that huge impact on your expectations and beliefs that not everybody is crossing the road the same way, not everybody is dressed the same way, not everybody is talking the same way, not everybody is treating me the same way.

All those expectations that flipped you around — that flipped you mentally around — is very challenging, frustrating, and difficult. But that creates a better environment to think creatively and differently about doing something. So, China is great because of that — for now, at this time and place, there’s no better place in the world.

Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

The 20-year old fresh arrival in Shanghai. I think there’s so many opportunities to go explore. A lot of times, we fall into these patterns. We want to be comfortable so we find people who look like us, talk like us, think like us — and that’s good to a certain extent, but where are you expanding yourself? Where are you pushing yourself? Again, feeling uncomfortable, feeling afraid, that is a good thing. So use that as your barometer for right or wrong.

How much does it scare you?

One of the biggest question is “What am I supposed to do?” I’m like, “What are you most afraid of?” and that’s the answer. That’s what they should be doing, because they already know, but everything is an excuse.

“I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. My mom, my dad, my sister, and my friends don’t get it. The market says I shouldn’t do it. The advisor, Brian, says you shouldn’t do it."

Fuck that. I’m wrong, you’re wrong, everybody is wrong. You got to figure out your own way. And so if people are telling you you’re wrong, listen of course, and make sure you get that — but move forward too. But don’t let it paralyze you. A lot of people let it paralyze them. It is really annoying and scary.

And when those people become 41, and they haven’t gone their own path, they become different people. They become shells of their previous self, where they aren’t really pushing the boundaries as much. They forget that they should, they forget how to — they forget that it’s natural, and everything becomes an excuse on why it won’t work, why they shouldn’t do it, why they it’s not their responsibility, and all this sort of stuff. So it is a strong contrast between these two types of people.

Advice to our interns

Intern: I’m thinking about all the ideas that I have, how do you pick one?

Brian: So what have you done?

Intern: So far, I have interned with Collective Responsibility and I’m trying to find my basis.

Brian: Good start. Big win.

Intern: My original idea is… but now my idea is…

Brian: Stop... stop... stop… I like all these ideas here, but what have you actually been doing to work towards it? I think the thing about taking action, small steps, and those small wins is that through those small wins, you’ll find your way.

But if you are just thinking about it, nothing happens. Like you started with “I’m thinking about…” or “I’m preparing to...” that’s like several layers away. That’s what I was talking about the “thinking about thinking about thinking…” We’re trying to get you to action right away in a small way, and that’s what needs to happen.

And through that action, whatever it is, it could just be these videos you can reflect that you don’t like interviewing idiots like this, "This just doesn’t help me in my career." Now you know that’s not what you want. Or, you find out that, "This is great, if I can do this times a million, whatever it is, in a city out of nowhere, I’ll be very happy." So you start learning from there. But it requires small steps, small actions.

Intern: So how do you pick just one?

Brian: You don’t pick, you just do.

Intern: Even if there’s all of these ideas, do you think I should take a direction and run with it and see where it develop?

Brian: I think a lot of times we are looking at different directions, and any direction is a good direction but until you know why. So why are you doing it? So list down all the 10 different directions that you might have and just do 10, please. Just start with 10. And then looks at all the "why's" behind it. So don’t look at what it is, but the "why" behind it, and look at which ones make the most sense. And probably from that "why's", you can even see that pattern in it — and then whichever one feels that most powerful to you, go with that and just do that and start.

Intern: I’m a very indecisive person. How does that play into finding an action and just going with it?

Brian: Indecision comes from those people who aren’t tapped into their emotions. I don’t know you, but typically that’s what happens. People are too logical, too smart, and they’re analyzing, and they are not feeling. So I’m going to ask you to feel the right answer — that’s why I asked you to look at the whys. And from the "why's", you feel that this one resonates with you, so you’re going to go with that. Of course, these are all ideas that you’re coming up with, so they should all resonate in some way — but we are talking about the ones that make you go, “Oh shit, I have to do this. This is it. Oh of course, why didn’t I think of that?"


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Steve Jiang

The Power of Story to Change Minds | Steven Jiang

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with filmmaker Steven Jiang about his work to capture the lives of Chinese living with Tourette Syndrome

Steven Jiang, is the absolute embodiment of what it means to be an entrepreneur for Good, and he is not really an entrepreneur.

He has no business model for his work, and he is not trying to sell a product, but he is picking up the tools that he has to fix a problem that he sees and doing something about it.

More than many other interviews I have done to date, Steven's attitude, grit, and the way he attacked the challenge, is an amazing inspiration.

Be prepared to be inspired, and if you are, please remember to like, share, and comment.

 


How can you laugh at us? We are just like you. What you can do, we can do.
What you can achieve, we can achieve.
- Steven Jiang, Filmmaker


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Hi, my name is Steven Jiang. I'm a videographer and cinematographer here in Shanghai. I've been living in Shanghai for 10 years. Beside my job I got a lifetime companion. It's called Tourette Syndrome. Last year I spent a year filming, editing my very first documentary serious. It's called the happiness of Tourette Syndrome.

TOURETTE'S SYNDROME

Tourette Syndrome, I'm not a doctor but basically based on my understanding it's a neurological problem that causes people to do involuntary movements which they call tics.

First these two types of tics. It's a motor tic and a fawning tick, which is basically called a vocal tic. It sometimes bothers people because we do it involuntarily where it is uncontrollable. We can control it in a certain amount of time, but after this control and where we'll get them released. So when we do the tic, actually this...some part of our muscle or whatever it feels sore or a little bit uncomfortable. That's why we use tic to release this un-comfortableness. So that's why we do the tic all the time.

IGNORANCE AND INSULTS

Yeah, I mean every day ... mean my Tourette Syndrome is not that severe. But, I first know sometimes every month I saw people with Tourette Syndrome. Also I face which, maybe it's called a so-so stigmatization and people have missed a misunderstanding about it. Because people are ignorant of Tourette Syndrome.

If you ask a hundreds of Chinese people, youngsters, you know educated, whatever, they know nothing. But they know ADHD, they know OCD, but they don't know Tourette's. So that's a problem.

For me the most insulting behavior, um the word is, they mimic me. They copy me. I wanted to makes noise and they were makes noise. Someone asked me did you hear you are like a frog Craig, or something? But, yeah I mean there were two reasons. Maybe, maybe it's my tic sounds really like a frog. So they just do you think well, what is a frog in here or maybe they know is it's my tic, but I don't' know what's going on. They just, they're just too fun. So I basically, this is something about, I know this case can be worse, like even people, the thing you bother them and they asked no reason. They think you're weirdo.

BE TOLLERANT OF THE IGNORANT

We are very sensitive about how people look at me sometimes. I mean, I don't think it's good because some if you've get over sensitive, and you will mess up all this friendly behavior.

Sometimes you just look at you. It's care. Either you too sensitive ,I think while they heck you look at me? So this is something that I told my friends with Tourette Syndrome, don't go extreme. Because again, it confuse us that, these ignorant people should be forgiven. They're ignorant. Why don't you just, just be tourists? They know nothing. Just don't fight with them. Yeah.

IT'S OK TO BE PHENOMENAL

Even if your kids had Tourette Syndrome, it's ok for them to be phenomenal. Even our kids have Tourette Syndrome. If we have good education, if we know the trust an old properly, the tics can be healed before or after adolescence. Then there's a fewer. Why don't you see tangle with this because they don't want to spend time to study the hardcore... I mean the essence of Tourette Syndrome. They still think it's AIDS. This is something really awful.

So that's the thing to be sad about. That's the thing I want to change you know? Even I'm a little individual. I mean my documentary is not a blockbuster. It's not a boom, a week and billions of hits. No. It needs time to empower. To let people, to elect people to ignite people's heart.

It's a film that you should watch with your friends, with a relative. So It's something....I'm not so hassled to wait for the outcome because I'm sure others not perfect, but I think it's possible the best one-man crew documentary I saw in China. I mean I'm confident about that.

A lot of people say, don't do it alone. I say ok, I only have 60,000 how can I have a crew? And if I bring a crew, this heroes they don't think they don't feel comfortable. Like the girl a mother would never quarry, fine with me. So there have to be one man crew. They have to but again those have two sides, coins have two sides. London crew has it's own disadvantage, but also it gives you the advantage. But that you are so close with them.

DEVELOPING SKILLS

I used to be a cartoonist. An illustrator and also a probeist...I mean taking photos with strobes and finally I found myself. I still love something...the motions.

Then that's why I became a videographer and I learned from the tutorials. Thanks for my knowledge about English because this tutorial is that, there's no in Chinese subtitle, but they usually force myself to use English software with Photoshop, Premier Adobe, whatever because you learned lingo and jargons with the software.

You don't have to learn, you don't go to freakin English first to study about it, you know? This software gave you all the professional terms. Also and I think this my lighting skills with taking photos with strobes, helps me with I think this strobe lighting tech excuse or the techniques, but similar very similar to the lighting skills in a film. Just two different lights.

My camera is simple. I only have two camera. One camera is Canon Cinema 100. It's a professional camera, but it doesn't have slow-motion functions. So Sad. But it's a professional camera and it's a light, portable. Because I'm a one-man crew, so I can't, I cant take huge camera. Also, the price for that camera is affordable.

Also a second camera is called backup camera. It is a Cannon 60D...just like the, you know the LR camera. I use it for cam laugh or some other angle with do the interview, whatever. So and a tripod, a monopod and also a slider.

That's why I say I travel with three cities...with three packages. This is not...I think it's almost nearly twenty kilos or something. It's so heavy, but again you know the power is sometimes I do, I did in the middle way I want to equate. You know it's.. I'm not a hero, you know? I'm an ordinary people. Sometimes why do I do I do this, nobody pay me You know like I think it's out of the love and a care of the Tourettesy. If everybody knows Tourettes like what American people did and Canada did, there's no need for me to make the documentary.

So Every time I think about is sad stories that there are companions of facing. Think about the ignorant people I mean, they need to be educated. I don't think in my film will change every Chinese People to think about, you know? And also now there are still some people insulting my film. They think it's a tragedy for Tourette kids. I don't care about it. So sometimes you have to be stopped in a good way.

I think everybody has a small universe inside your heart and this stubborn idea or stubbornness what figure out is a small universe. And you will possibly, you make you do some behavior that this behavior will exactly will influence people we'll ignite a society and maybe it would even change the world.

You can't say I'm a small person and I'm just individual I can't do nothing.

FINDING THE RIGHT COLOR

I choose heroes because I said there was all about 50 or 60 people like a candidate. I found that some of candidate their stories really sad. So again, I saying what kid of team what kid of color I wanna give my film. It's kind of warm. It's not like kind of dark and black because I found, not every...even most of the Trans people in mainland China are facing problems. But I don't want my film to show they're really kind of desperate kind of people.

Although I choose this person these four heroes, they have trauma, but they overcame their trauma. Or they can work with the trauma pretty well. So like the first episode is a guy from Taiwan. He's 37year old flower arranger artist, called a florist. His syndrome is the worst one. The most severe one. He was crazy. He was yelling out all the time. But he was the first Asian florist, who win the number one French, like a flower arranging competition.

The hardcore message from him is to be yourself. Do not let others people's opinion judge you. Everybody is different individual, even though you have Tourette Syndrome, just let it go. He never covered his syndrome. Sometimes I covered it sometimes in an appropriate location, whatever. But you see in a film where he was doing flower things. When he's teaching students. He releasing this all the time.

But this thing can be an advantage because interviews are some of his students and said well I like the tic of my teacher because the most of the flower teachers are really boring, monotonous. When he do oohh, it's funny because sometimes you tired and a tic makes us wake up. So he didn't notice, but his students find well this is a characteristic of my teacher. So, although some people say well maybe he say well the God or whatever it seems like a challenge for him, or unfair treatment, but it's good because he never take himself as a patient. Because the story we have specific term for the actors, heroes.

So also there is a British woman, I think her name is Jessica, something. Her name is Jessica. She have a website. It's called To Rescue.com. So I think this person who dare to stand out and behave...relieve their tic in front of my camera continuously for month, it's really encourages act, you know? I don't think every Tourette sufferer or Tourette friend, they have this, these guts to do so. For me, they are my hero. They are a true hero because people tend to cover their trauma. They don't want to relieve that's trauma. To let billions of Chinese people know I have Tourette Syndrome. I mean in America, maybe in England, the situation got better, but here in China, mainland China this is really courageous.

YOU HAVE TO FIND THE BEAUTY

There are two hopes for Tourette sufferers here in China. I hope that this film is a bit to give them strength and power to face the situation, even if incurable. There is no cure for it. That mean you are not sentenced to die. You're not into a life sentence.

So every coin has two sides. Tourette has this awful side of it, everybody knows, but also has this beauty. But you have to find out a beauty through whatever you can do. Don't get beaten by us. Because if you've gotten beaten by us, the true ego will be killed. So just be yourself. Tell the world I am Tourette's. I have Tourette Syndrome.

GIVE THEM HOPE

Sooner or later people will type of Tourette Syndrome on YouTube or whatever. Actually want I want to see is not see how sorrow we are is the real situation and justlike me years ago. I click Tourette Syndrome on YouTube. I don't want to see how American Tourette

people feel. Like I honestly can I get some strengths. Is there a cure? We are looking for a cure, not a medical cure, but a spiritual cure.

If I show this sad photos and there it will quench their fire. They have a little fire inside. They have a little universe inside. These negative images will destroy them. So I don't want to give them this kind of impression. So that's why I even used the poster I found a good illustrator. So she made a painting of this, this for heroes and just tell them this....I'll give them hope. Like the last episode that hero was...it was the only hero doesn't have Tourette Syndrome. Her kid has Tourette Syndrome.

So this 33 year old woman, she healed her kids not through medicine, through love. Through behavior training and also this mental training so she's Tourette Syndrome gone. And then people said, well she can stop because you try a lot of effort and your son is covered. You go, just do whatever you want. But she kept writing blog. She writes 8 years, hadn't read diary for...record every second every minute.

She's almost like a doctor, but she doesn't have any medical background. And then she become profession blogger writing a blog, almost 900 articles to write about Tourette Syndrome. Not only diagnosis of Tourette kids, but also or every aspect to care, the maternal relationship, everything. And this year she is going to release her book. She is a blogger.

So in this episode, I give the people the answer, but how Tourette Syndrome inform you. How you should face Tourette Syndrome and how women changed her life and career out of the love of her Tourette kids. In the end she said someone else ask her why don't you stop? No one pay you. She said I feel I have a kind of like an agreement with Tourette's, with little Tourette angels and my mission is to tell these parents of these little angels that your job is to take care of this special angel. Do not blame them. It's not their fault. It's your fault because the key to help your children with Tourette Syndrome is you. It's not a medicine.

EVERYBODY HAS TRAUMA

For the masses. The majority of the people in China, it's like I want to trigger out the empathy, not sympathy because Tourette's is not a handicap. Is like a body infection. Everybody has trauma. Everybody has "Tourette's" in some ways.

How can you laugh at us? We are just like you. What you can do, we can do. What you can achieve, we can achieve. Even we do better when Mozart, he had Tourette Syndrome. There are some American athletes, they have Tourette's. And you know there was a movie called The Front of the Class and Brad Coyne was the writer. Also the hero in that film, he was a teacher. It was the best teacher in that state.

We have Tourette heroes all around the world. So we are just like everybody. So just, and also for the ordinary people,
again for this film, Tourette's is just clothes. It's just a dress. Inside the bone is how people dealing with the trauma.

How you deal with the problem. Everybody has a problem. That's why some people after the premier, after they see my video launched online, this ordinary friends, they told me hey...I saw myself in some of the episode.

They say right. You have problem, but you don't have Tourette's.

That's why you give me the feedback. That's the thing along my documentary is..there are still some problems there. I'm not happy with this, it is not a perfect one, but I think it's ...it missed what document the documentary spirit need to make people think.

To make people reflect even to make people change. Yeah


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Christina Dean

Changing Consumer Mindsets and Persistence | Christina Dean, Redress

Through this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with Christina Dean about the problem of waste in the fashion and textile industry, and the work she is doing at Redress to bring awareness and solutions to the forefront.


Quote


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Christina Dean

Christina is the heart and soul of Redress. Since she started Redress in 2007 as Founder and spokesperson, and has steered the organisation’s powerful course towards a more sustainable future with less waste in the fashion industry.

Voted one of the UK Vogue’s Top 30 Inspirational Women, Christina delivers the Redress message to the world through talks, seminars, thought-leadership pieces and documentaries.

The indefatigable ex-dentist and journalist consistently drives the organisation towards inspiring positive environmental change in the world’s second most polluting industry. To Christina, Redress is not just the future of fashion but the future way of living.

Follow Christina and Redress:
Website: https://www.redress.com.hk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006862236443
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-christina-dean-7694a652/
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/getredressed/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/RedressAsia
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Redress_Asia


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

I'm Christina, and I'm the founder of Redress. We are an NGO reducing pollution and waste in the fashion industry. Probably my ultimate mission is just to inspire people to kind of get active with being a part of a solution.

REDRESS

The original problem we were trying to address is the rampant pollution coming from the fashion textile industry and we're still trying to do that. But ultimately after 9-10 years of experience in this sector what we're really trying to do is question human's relationship with consumption and trying to awaken people's minds to better ways of consuming and using and disposing.

EVERYTHING IS A MESS

Well, honestly, the industry is facing way too many problems for me to be able to isolate it. Firstly, taking a whole look at the entire fashion and textile industry, it's the second biggest global polluter and so if you want to look at pollution, you're going to have to address water, chemicals, carbon, green house gases, the whole spectrum of pollution and its all coming out of the fashion and textile industry. Of course, if you wanted to isolate the absolute worst of the worst, I think you could possibly isolate water.

The textile industry causes about 20% of all industrial and water pollution and in China, the textile industry is probably the second biggest water polluter in China. You've got to think, ya know, see China has got a huge industry across multiple sectors. So, even if you look at China the amount of, if you look at China...if you look at the pollution coming from the textile industry in China, the textile industry is actually causing twice the amount of pollution for water than the coal industry. And China's coal industry is actually supplying around 50% of the world's coal. So, I mean that's, that's just looking at textile, sorry, that's just looking at water as being one major problem with the textile industry.

When you start looking at the... I mean cuz there's also chemicals. You know, you need 8,000 chemicals to turn the raw material into a fabric. Eight thousand different chemicals. One pair of jeans requires three kilos of chemicals. And when you just multiply that by the amount of clothes that are being produced out there, it's truly horrific.

CHANGING CONSUMER HABITS

Well, I think if consumers keep going with buying, buying and dumping, dumping, then we're not going to address the problems of the fashion industry. Which will mean, that the fashion industry will continue to speed up, it will produce more and more clothes and it will create a lot of pollution and waste long the supply chain. And we will be continually facing a huge amount of wastage going into the landfill. So what is that going to do? It's going to continue to damage the environment, polluting the planet and killing people.

WHAT'S THE SOLUTION?

I think, from talking to a lot of people in the industry, is that the biggest threat...if you could look the industry is facing almost every single challenge that you could possibly think of. But if you really wanted to nail it down to something, what the industry really needs is a reliable, sustainable, renewable, cheap source of new fibers. Because you know cotton is a mind filed of problems and recycle polyester is wonderful.

I mean we've got a whole spectrum of materials and fibers that you're feeding into the textile industry and the search is on for the miracle fiber that you can feed this monster with less of an impact and that is what fashion brands need. Because they know that most textile garment fashion businesses know that they can't source the way that they did before because there's competition for food, for land to grow food, versus fibers. You've' got under priced resources like water. You've got consumer awareness that has spiked in recent years an you've got a chancing consumer sentiment. So basically sourcing has to change.

REDUCING WASTE. IT'S OBVIOUS

The reason we focus on waste reduction is because it's so obviously an environmental benefit to reduce waste and its also an economic benefit for anyone wanting to improve their bottom line, reduce waste. I mean, come on it's obvious. So that's why we want to reduce waste because we think that we can demonstrate, impact that way. If you want to reduce waste and you want to go talk to a brand and you want to a supplier, the doors open. Because everyone loves reducing waste. So that's why do that. Why we are not trying to find the miracle new fiber, because honestly the solution will probably for that will come from technology and we are not, ya know, I can barely operate Facebook. So you know we are not going to be going down that route.

BUSINESS MODEL

We are an educational organization essentially a social enterprise driven by education. So, in order to do that, we have to make money. The ways we make money are, entrepreneurial at the very spirit, but completely varied according to where we're digging for cash. If we're looking in the supply chain, or if we're looking for cash from consumers and funding. So we don't have any one funding model that actually serves us because we're not actually serving a product or making a product. Instead we're basically incredibly creative about getting money out of people, companies and organizations and governments.

So another model that we're working on and it's a business model, although I'd like to be richer on it. The model is we take clothes from people who use them..the business model is that we get clothes donated to us and then we sell them. It's pretty easy, but we could collect say in a year, year on year is different, lets just say 20 tons in a year, 15-20 tons in a year, But we can probably only sell about 3% of that through our popup shops. so it's a goo funding mechanism. It doesn't really kind of touch the sides of the budget, but it does help a little bit. and Of course, it's not, when you run a social business or a social enterprise, it isn't about the money. Yes, you've got to grow, you've got to make money, but you also have to change people so you can't always value things by the dollar.

CONVERTING CONSUMERS IS DIFFICULT

It's not easy to convert a fashion consumer. It's really difficult because if you look at organic food, it's obvious right? People are selfish. They want the best for themselves, so if you eat organic, you're going to be healthier, hopefully.

But people, to be really a conscious fashion consumer, you have to be very altruistic and you have to be able to think beyond your wardrobe and your daily life. You need to be be able to think of the cotton farms, of the garment workers, of the people living their polluted rivers.

To do that, it requires an emotional kick up the you know what. And you can't do that in one second it takes a lot to really inform someone like that. Inform someone to be able to change, and you have to..the problem with fashion as well as that its so deeply emotive. You know, what we wear is so important and so to ask peole to really make big changes over the outer appearance of their clothing, is actually to ask quite a lot.

The way to convert people is to make them understand that 1, the fashion industry is so polluting. It's not just causing problems with the environment, dirty, dirty rivers, it is literally killing people. That's number 1 and of course, this huge amount of social issues that comes with our clothes.

If you can lodge those two things into people's minds and certainly nail it home by saying every time you buys something, you're actually part of that. Because you're buying that. You're paying for all that suffering and if that's what you want to do...well, no one actually wants to do that. That's the good thing and I do think that most people are great and they truly don't want to be a part of that. They just don't understand that its' that bad.

So the way to change them is that you've got to make them realize that they're part of that. It's changing people and we changed so many people because people who come to our pop-up shops are on the hunt for a deal. They are not kind of green, they don't have a halo shining as they walk through the door. They're looking for clothes. They want nice clothes. They become very inspired that you can actually get great second hand clothes. So we do convert people while they're in our stores.

CARROTS AND STICKS

Now I think, its a carrot and a stick. I think you have to paint the harsh reality of the truth. That is, you know, the stick. The carrot comes in the form of saying, what fundamentally is fashion? It is the most beautiful, creative, expression of who you are as a human spirit. If we can capture that positive, that positive thread of fashion and make it ethical, make it value the planet, then you can actually love dressing in a more sustainable, ethical way. In fact, when you become more in tune with the fashion industry and you dress more ethically, what you...I've discovered that you actually start to enjoy style so much more because it has meaning.

I would love to say that our message resonates with Millennials, because you know that is such a powerful group, but I actually think we are talking much more to the more sort of older group of 25-45ish more woman than men. We talking a lot, I think to people who are searching for something else in their life.

CHANGE THROUGH COLLABORATION

At the end of the day, we're just 10 people. We ya know, we have a huge mission. We are 10 people and we are up against one of the biggest industries in the world, which actually look at the fashion and textile industry, it's the second biggest economic trade. So, are we going to be able to dent that industry if we work alone? Of course not. You have to work with industry to change industry.

So one example of one brand that we have been helping is Shanghai Tang, obviously China's leading luxury brand. We partnered with them for a couple of years on one of our projects, which is the sustainable fashion design competition. Basically competition, we find a winner, the winner goes work with Shanghai Tang, designs a collection and the collection is made using up cycled fabric waste. It's all of the fabric inventory and excess that is lying around from previous collections from Shanghai Tang's business and with our designers who we've trained, we've targeted, we've found them, they create a collection for global retail. Now, why that is great? On the one hand, you're educating emerging designers, you're transforming the ethos amongst emerging designers, but then we flip over and we effect the business. So we are looking at transforming supply chains of some big fashion brands in order to put upcycle products into their store. Ultimately because we want consumers to buy more sustainable options.

Shanghai Tang's reason for getting involved with us is because I think number one, they are a very responsible company who actually like doing good through their business. But much more than that they see the opportunity of working with our designers, who are ya know, Central Saint Martins standard. Incredible designers as reinvigorating the brand with a much edgier collection, actually that's just in-store and also integrating sustainability into their collections. So a refresh invigoration is probably one of the unexpected benefits that we also give to these brands.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Timing's everything. Timing in connections is actually very important you know. We've, had a very big partnership with a Esprit that went on for four years, big global rollouts of very mass mainstream fashion collections. People chop and chains.

These big fashion companies...their CEO's change everyday it feels like. And you can't actually make a long...it took about 20 mins over lunch. Well I went out, see he's a chairman, not executive direction, chairman now. I went out with the chairman Rafa ___, he is a friend of a friend. Sat down for lunch and said do you want to partner with us on a sustainable fashion design competition. And he said yes before I really finished the sentence. And that's because you know what I find and I you know, we speak a lot of fashion brands is that I don't think fashion brands are like, you know the evil people in the world. It takes us all. It's about catching them at the right time, getting in there with the right people, and selling them the right message.

WORKING WITH INDUSTRY

The benefits for us or working with...so for example, Shanghai Tang is immense because through them, we're able to message that China's taking sustainability more importantly and that upcycling is a business solution and that is important.

Through working with a company like Esprit for a number of years, we're actually able to say look, Esprit, one of the biggest players out there in the more mainstream industry is looking at waste reduction in their supply chain. And that actually pushes a lot of the agenda across the industry and of course, reaching consumers as well.

EVOLVE, GO TO THE GAP

I actually think, I know this might sound really unstrategic, but the end game keeps moving. Ya know, we need to be going and doing the hardest work possible so there's no end to this. The fashion industry is always going to be disgusting. It is. I mean, you know who are we kidding. It's always going to be a massive, massive problems, and yes, we can try and do our best to make just some if it better, but I'll go to my grave and it will still be really bad.

So, the end game is to evolve with the deeds of the industry and that has already changed in the last ten years. Like ten years ago we started collecting clothes and selling clothes, trying to inspire people that second hand clothes are okay. Now everyone is doing. The market is crowded with entrepreneurs, startups, for profits. Everyone is collecting clothes. You barely luck to leave this office with your shoes on. Everyone wants your old clothes and everyone is flogging clothes. So there's not a gap in the market for us anymore, but that's fine we are still doing it. But we need to move to where it's harder.

One example of that is for, for example, we provide teaching materials to universities. Because universities around the world really realize that they really need to teach their design students sustainability, but most Unies are way too busy to even think about it. So we've created a teaching module so all they have to do is download it and teach it and I like to say any monkey could do it because...there's your pack, read it out, teach the students.

Now, why did we do that? Because we are addressing a gap in the market. The gap is there's a huge need to educate young designers. The universities don't quite know how to do it. We're there in the middle and that is what a successful social business does. It goes to where there is a gap. There is no point hanging around the gap if it's filled up.

CELEBRATING SUCCESS

It's very difficult and actually quite sole destroying if you're a social business or enterprise because you can have a success every day, but the challenge is still so big. So I'm very proud of a lot of our successes, and even yesterday I felt really happy about a couple of things. Which is quite rare. Because really, if you're pretty driven with your cause, the cause remains this monkey on your back and this monster. And so, yeah small successes along the way, but the challenges are still so big. There's no point in patting yourself the back that much really.

MOVING BEYOND THE FOUNDER

CD: Sustain...no our current challenges are actually strategic, man power, internal systems, efficiency, management and funding. Always fudging, funding is always there that's taken for granted.

RRB: So how do you overcome these challenges? Is it you against the world? Do you have a board that helps you?

CD: Yeah.

RRB: Or do you talk to other entrepreneurs? Like, is it wine?

CD: No, I think...so having...I started it almost 10 years ago and I've been winging it for all of this time, but now as we're growing into a big organization, we can't just winging it. And so about a couple of well, a year ago issues we set up a new board and we've got a much tighter team structure with a new executive director who is reporting to the board. So what we are trying to do is move beyond a founder into a proper set up of a business with an active board, which we do. We have that now.

The problem of course, with anything is that things take time. You can't just set up a board and expect it all to work the next day. You can't just employ an ED, an executive director, and expect that to just happen over night. And so we are in a deep transition stage of moving beyond the sort of passionate founder to a sort of top management board structure. It's not that difficult, it just takes time. You've got to keep working at it. You can't ever really expect it to just happen. It constantly needs attention.

Well, a few years ago, must have been six years ago I went to INSEAD in Singapore and I learned so many things. But the one thing I learned was that the founder can ultimately kill the growth of an NGO and that really stuck with me as my abiding lesson from that entire INSEAD course. It was on social entrepreneurship. So I'm very conscious of being a founder and enabling the team to take it on. Personally, I can't separate my life from Redress because I love it. But I think, I think I can that, I can walk away because I'm not really walking away, I'm just walking away to other opportunities.

IT NOT EASY, BUT IT'S WORTH DOING

CD: Yes, definitely..

RRB: What happened?

CD: Well, you know what, sometimes you can be working on a project slogging your guts out and it's so demanding plus I've got, ya know, three young children. So I work really, really hard and yeah...It's just soul destroying sometimes.

RRB: Why do you beat yourself up?

CD: I think you, I mean it's easy to beat yourself up because when you've been doing it for so long, it's your second nature. You're not going to give up. Anyway it depends on your character. I'm not someone who gives up anyway. Yes, it's not fun. Anyone who says its fun is definitely lying. It's true. It's hard work. Yeah.

PERSISTENCE AND UTTER DETERMINATION

I think another thing I've learned is just how long everything takes. Back in the early days, I was talking from a shaker when I was setting this organization up. You've got to take a 10 year view on it. I thought that's ridiculous. I'll be done with this with in a couple of years and 10 years on I've barely scratched the surface. I think a lot of people who are staring up don't realize A, that they're going to work themselves so hard for so long before you even see impact and even when you start to see impact, you haven't really scratched the surface. So, persistence and utter sheer determination. Otherwise, I don't think there is any point in starting.


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

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