Welcome to another enlightening episode of the Bright Minds of e-Commerce. In today’s conversation, we sit down with Kelly Barrett, the visionary founder of Underwear for Humanity. As an advocate for sustainability, Kelly has taken e-commerce to new heights with her profound commitment to ethical and eco-conscious practices. In this episode, we delve into the fascinating journey of Underwear for Humanity, Kelly shares her experiences, challenges, and triumphs, offering key takeaways for e-commerce entrepreneurs.
In today’s episode you’ll learn:
- The importance of approaching business with a thoughtful and deliberate mindset, avoiding rushed decisions.
- Why sustainability should be a top priority for your brand and how to prioritise it even if it means facing delays.
- The journey towards B Corp certification and the benefits of working with a consultant in this process.
- Strategies for educating your customers about sustainable practices and managing their expectations, fostering a cultural shift.
- How to implement recycling initiatives and the impact of repurposing old underwear and bras.
- Incorporating socially regenerative business practices, from working with underrepresented suppliers to ethical manufacturing and fair wages.
- The concept of one-for-one donations and how it leads to continuous charitable contributions.
- The idea of living in “flow” in business, embracing possibilities, and avoiding excessive control.
- Embedding sustainability in various aspects of your business, including sourcing, supplier relationships, office practices, and charitable initiatives.
[00:00:00] Kelly Barrett: I didn’t want to put something out that I couldn’t take back. I think if you’re making a product, if you’re a brand producing something, you should know what’s happening to it at the end of its life. Once it’s bought, that’s not the end of your responsibility.
[00:00:12] Dahna: Hi, and welcome to the bright minds of e-commerce podcast. I’m Dahna founder of bright red marketing, and after helping so many businesses in the e-commerce space over the years, I wanted to bring you the best advice Australian experts in e-commerce and e-commerce store owners had to offer. If you want relatable stories and actionable advice and the latest Facebook advertising strategies, you’re in the right place. so let’s get into today’s episode
[00:00:33] Dahna Borg: Today, we’re here with Kelly from Underwear for Humanity. Welcome, Kelly.
[00:00:37] Kelly Barrett: Thanks Dahna. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:38] Dahna Borg: So good to have you on the show. So you’ve had quite a business journey. Tell us a little bit about how Underwear for Humanity started.
[00:00:46] Kelly Barrett: I already had another e comm brand called Silent Arrow, and it was coming to a natural end where I wasn’t able to do product as diverse as I wanted to. And it just, everything just came to a point where it was like, I think it’s time to move on to something else. And yeah, so then the next business came to me, I took a break.
[00:01:06] And I wanted to do something more sustainable. And so yeah, underway humanity was the next step for me.
[00:01:11] Dahna Borg: Wonderful. What was that transition like? Because I remember Silent Arrow and they’re quite different brands. I mean, they’re both in the underwear lingerie space, but they’re very different brands. What was that sort of transition like?
[00:01:22] Kelly Barrett: It was really difficult because I loved Silent Arrow and I loved the work we were doing with women. I just found it really fulfilling and seeing women express themselves and find their voices. It was a really interesting time. It launched just before the Me Too movement. And there was a lot of change happening for women.
[00:01:37] And yeah, it was really difficult to walk away from. I didn’t want to, it was like leaving a relationship, you know, when you go through that grief, it was a bit like that. But I knew I had more to do. I’d learned so much. And I knew there was a next step for me.
[00:01:50] I’d learnt a lot around e com I learnt a lot about people, and I wanted to do something that had a greater impact, and Silent Arrow did have great impact for individual women that we had feedback from, which was so beautiful but I just, I wanted to go bigger.
[00:02:06] Being a really strong feminist brand and around women expressing themselves. At times I felt I painted myself a bit in the corner. So working with people that were transgender, I just felt like we weren’t able to accommodate. It was a great journey, but it was a little bit narrow and I really wanted to go the next step with humanity and how do we move forward now?
[00:02:27] Dahna Borg: Yeah. I love that. And you’ve done it so well. I mean, the whole principle behind Underwear for Humanity is beautiful. And so, so well done. Before we move on too much, I just want to ask, obviously you’ve now had two very successful e commerce brands. When you started Underwear for Humanity, what was some of the biggest lessons you took from Silent Arrow that really helped you launch Underwear for Humanity for the best?
[00:02:49] Kelly Barrett: I think not going too fast was really important and Really thinking through the brand and how I want it to be presented on a website what were our values, what were our pillars, what was really important to speak about and take my time with that. I think I went really fast with product with Silent Arrow and then found my feet over time.
[00:03:11] It was really stressful to do it that way.
[00:03:14] Dahna Borg: I find it so fascinating that one of your biggest lessons was to go slow because so many people in the e commerce space are like faster, like do it quick, it’s like a race to get there as quickly as possible. So it’s really great to hear that you’re like, actually, the biggest lesson was to slow down.
[00:03:26] So I love that.
[00:03:28] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, that’s a bit of a combo, isn’t it? There’s that what’s that famous, I don’t know who said it, that if you aren’t embarrassed by the first product you launched you launched too late. And I do think that I absolutely agree with that. So it’s a bit of a balance that you don’t want to overthink it, but you do want to not.
[00:03:45] Completely stress yourself out because really , unless you’re saving lives, which underwear is not, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a month later, it doesn’t matter if it’s six months later, actually, as long as you’re moving where you need to move.
[00:03:56] Dahna Borg: Yeah, I love that. So obviously one of the big things for underwear for humanity was that you recently became B Corp certified, which is very exciting. Can you tell us a little bit about that process? What was like for people that are considering doing the same?
[00:04:08] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, sure. It was a big dream of mine to have, to be B Corp certified. I’d seen it overseas with B pending for years. And I thought that when I started the business, I would become a B pending business. And I went through some training, some rigorous training with B lab. And then I found out that actually there isn’t that category in Australia and New Zealand.
[00:04:29] You either Certified or you’re not, there’s no pending status. And so I was told I had to wait a year after launching the product actually operational. So we’d already been, we’d already been doing research for a year and a half. And I had to wait a year then I knew because I’d done the training, how. Difficult it was and not even that you’re super sustainable because we were how difficult it was to work through the questions and set up your policies in writing, not just be an idea, you know, like everything has to be in writing. You have to have you have to be able to prove what you’re doing, which of course you should.
[00:05:00] So. The second time around when I went to go for B Corp certification, I found somebody to help me a consultant. That was amazing. I would highly recommend anybody who wants to be certified to work with a consultant. It’s just so much easier. It was fast. It was easy. It was fun.
[00:05:16] Dahna Borg: Yeah.
[00:05:16] Kelly Barrett: It was great. It doesn’t make this certification any faster because it just goes in the line like everybody else, but it does help you prepare and look at your business and start learning the whole certification is a learning process and a way of improving.
[00:05:28] So you submit it to get certified, but it’s not a stagnant thing. This is an ongoing opportunity to improve. Cause you start to notice your weak points when you do it.
[00:05:38] Dahna Borg: And I suppose if you’re filling out parts and it says, oh, you need this, that’s a really great opportunity to look at the different parts of your business and go, okay, how can we make this more sustainable? How can we make this better? Yeah.
[00:05:48] Kelly Barrett: Exactly. It makes you look at your water usage, everything, every single piece of paper that you use what you’re tracking, not tracking employee rights. I mean, we don’t have employees yet, but. And we scored really highly, but once we have employees we’ll score even higher because there’s a whole section we weren’t able to be certified on because we don’t have employees yet.
[00:06:05] Dahna Borg: So obviously being sustainable is super important to you. Why is it so it’s, I hate asking this question because it makes it sound like it’s silly, but why is sustainable so important to you?
[00:06:15] Kelly Barrett: yeah, it’s, I think it’s an important question for sure. So, Underwear for Humanity is me living out what I think needs to be in the future and what I value. So, because of that, there is no room for compromise. And I think it doesn’t take much study to know that we are in strife and that there’s so much carbon already up there.
[00:06:36] So we’re at the point where we need carbon draw projects we need to not be making more as much as possible, you know, and so, it’s incredibly important to me to be sustainable. Like I developed my own recycled elastics and so many things that I do like that cause huge delays and make me as a business, quite a hard business to function for a young business to have six months delays on my best selling product.
[00:06:59] It’s well, what’s most important. Is it more important that I sell it and I have the donations and all of the impacts that I do? Or is it better that I wait? And I can live by the product that it’s as sustainable as I can possibly get it. And I’ve personally decided that yes, the impact is why we do why I’ve got the business, but it must be sustainable.
[00:07:17] I actually just can’t be contributing more to using fossil fuels. Yeah, I just can’t do it.
[00:07:22] Dahna Borg: No, I really respect and appreciate that. And I think that’s why your brand is the brand it is. How do you balance that with things like profitability and customer expectations for a brand? Because I feel like that’s something that a lot of people really struggle with when they they’re going down the same path as you, they want to be more sustainable.
[00:07:38] And they’re like, if I wait six months, like this is going to be, this is going to be problematic. Like, how do you kind of balance that so that the business can keep doing these things?
[00:07:48] Kelly Barrett: I think customer expectations. I think there’s an education piece on that, that things can’t and shouldn’t be instant to be honest. That’s kind of where, why we’re, where we’re at, to be honest, if we were more patient, if we pre ordered what we needed they wouldn’t be, you know, in the fashion industry, 30 percent of things that are made and never sold.
[00:08:03] So. There’s just this massive excess of products that we just don’t need. So, yeah we don’t do express post is another expectation to manage because we have a work training program for pick and pack that we partner with. And so we don’t want to put pressure on them. And so we don’t promise people that we can be the fastest, but we can promise that we’re super, super ethical.
[00:08:24] And that the person picking that product is not under unreasonable levels of pressure, that they are valued and they’re getting trained in the right way. So that’s one level of expectations as well. And then the product itself will exceed expectations, I believe, because. So much has gone into engineering it.
[00:08:39] I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Like this isn’t a random kind of, Hey, I’ll do underwear, you know? So I expect that the product is better than anything else that they’re wearing. That’s the goal for me. It shouldn’t be because it’s sustainable just because it’s supporting people doesn’t mean that you should be compromising on comfort or fit.
[00:08:55] Dahna Borg: I love that so much. What do you find the best way to do that sort of community education in terms of setting those expectations? Is it just in the marketing material? Do you do anything in particular to help educate people so that they’re not expecting, Oh, it’s going to be in my postbox tomorrow because someone was packing until midnight tonight.
[00:09:13] Kelly Barrett: I think there’s a big cultural shift to happen and We put it on the website and we put it in our socials. But I still think we’ve got a ways to go actually with our level of education for people to understand. And it is really different than your average fashion brand. It’s so different that I think sometimes it’s a little hard to understand But I think that again, it’s a bit of a slow transition.
[00:09:35] People aren’t necessarily going to change overnight, but we just need to head where we need to head. And seeing something like under a humanity across all the different areas of impact. I think seeing it is what’s really powerful.
[00:09:46] Dahna Borg: Yeah.
[00:09:47] Kelly Barrett: than the success, even, you know what I mean?
[00:09:49] Dahna Borg: Yeah, I think the more brands that start to do it as well, the more normal it will seem. And. You know, you might be a little bit of a the groundbreaker in the space, but the more brands start to do these things, the more I suppose it will become the norm, which is, I suppose the goal.
[00:10:06] Kelly Barrett: exactly. Yes. It will become the norm. The more we see it, it’s like anything in life. The more we see it, the more things have the opportunity to change. It has to start, doesn’t it? We have to start somewhere. We have to keep pushing it.
[00:10:17] Dahna Borg: Yeah. I love that so much. You sort of touched on some elements that I know are really important to you around the recycling. You mentioned the recycling elastic, but you’ve also got a really great recycling program. Can you walk us through that a little bit?
[00:10:31] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, sure. So I didn’t want to put something out that I couldn’t take back. I think if you’re making a product, if you’re a brand producing something, you should know what’s happening to it at the end of its life. Once it’s bought, that’s not the end of your responsibility.
[00:10:45] So, we take underwear and bras back but all brands. So, once you’re a customer of Underwear for Humanity, you can send back your bras and undies. There’s no limit to that and we’ll have to see over time if we need to start to charge, but at the moment. The goal is that we sell enough underwear to cover that cost and it’s a free service and we take all brands there’s 204 million items of underwear and bras being imported into Australia every year.
[00:11:11] So there’s a lot that is going to landfill
[00:11:13] Dahna Borg: Insane.
[00:11:13] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, there’s nowhere for it to go. You can’t give you old undies to charity stores. There’s no end for those except for landfill. So, we take them back we pay the social enterprise that we work with for pick and pack to do the sorting. So that gives them more work as well which they’re really grateful for. And we love it too. So it’s win win like it should be. And Then any bras that are in good wearable condition go to support the girls. And that’s a charity in Queensland. That is all over Australia now actually, and giving bras for free to women in need and they do the fittings and they make sure they’re in beautiful condition.
[00:11:46] So, yeah we send bras to them and anything that’s not in wearable condition that gets sent to India and it gets broken down. So the wire gets recycled, the foam gets reused or recycled and the fiber gets spun into a thick yarn that’s used for blankets because India makes a lot of blankets actually.
[00:12:06] And underwear, which has got more health concerns get sanitized, washed, and then it gets broken down to fibers which get used for insulation.
[00:12:15] Dahna Borg: Fascinating. It’s just, it’s such a great initiative.
[00:12:18] What have you found, I suppose, the biggest benefits and challenges of putting that into place?
[00:12:23] Kelly Barrett: I had to sort out the challenges before I launched it because there were a lot of challenges.
[00:12:27] I had to sort through the sanitation and how it could be accepted. So that was a bit of a bit of research before launching.
[00:12:32] I don’t know. I actually love it. I feel like, again, I wasn’t going too fast so I actually did all the research and worked out how to pilot it and how to scale it quite early. So we’re ready to go. We’re ready to be bigger on this. Like it’s all set up.
[00:12:45] Dahna Borg: That’s fantastic. I think what you’ve said before, like going slow has given you the ability to really do these things well from the get go.
[00:12:53] Kelly Barrett: Is not my personality. I need add Dahna. It is not natural for me, but I, in my old age, I’m starting to learn it. Yes. I’m starting to learn.
[00:13:01] Dahna Borg: it’s a good life lesson for everyone. I think it is just to slow down, especially in the world these days it’s quite hard to slow
[00:13:07] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, exactly. It’s like counter culture in itself.
[00:13:11] Dahna Borg: Yeah. You’ve mentioned the pick and pack. Can you go into the initiative there?
[00:13:16] Kelly Barrett: Yeah. So when we launched, I did it with Donna from the National Homeless Collective, and we had worked previously with Silent Arrow. A lot of undies were donated through National Homeless Collective and we became friends. And I love Donna. And we talked about every single touch point, we want to try and get as much value from as possible. We want to work with underrepresented suppliers. We want to manufacture ethically. So we do all those things and, all that touch points, like we have to pay for picking back anyway. So why not that be socially regenerative, you know?
[00:13:46] And so, I spoke to Donna and we said what if we did our own pick and pack as a training program. So she did it with women who had experienced homelessness, and we did that for the first year, and then we started to grow out of that space. We had literally taken over their office and she needed to work on some other projects.
[00:14:02] She needed to go to WA because of some family, tragic circumstances. Timing wise, it was just the right time to find a warehousing partner. So that was the next step. And so, yeah, so then I met Mark from social engine at a social enterprise evening and yeah, he runs a warehouse. That’s like exactly what we wanted.
[00:14:23] It’s a charity, it’s a social enterprise. It’s working with youth that have fallen through the system to give them. The nurturing and support and structure they need to go to the next step in their career, build a CV, make sure they’ve got security, like somewhere to live clothing. You know, there’s all these challenges that they’ve come through over the years where someone can be late for work all the time because they’re actually don’t have a home, but they haven’t told them that beginning so it’s something that they’re hiding, which, you know, people do.
[00:14:51] Dahna Borg: I just love that. I mean, there’s so many brands these days that are like greenwashing and they like, oh, we do this one tiny little thing so we can claim sustainability, but literally everything that you do is for that purpose. And I just think it’s so wonderful and more brands need to really do that rather than just the one little thing to tick the little box.
[00:15:11] Kelly Barrett: Thank you. I think setting up from the beginning as a model with the intention. It’s a whole different economic view. It’s totally different than a normal business. So I think a normal business that’s linear and all about profit to do a little sustainability collection, it’s just totally different.
[00:15:28] And that’s what upsets me. Sometimes I can know people compare. Under a few many with other big brands and it’s like, ah, like, I know that’s all in the same consideration set and we’re seen as the same and we’re so different, but that’s okay. It’ll take time. People will catch on over time.
[00:15:43] Dahna Borg: Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit more about your underwear donations program, please?
[00:15:49] Kelly Barrett: Yes. So, I have another business that does house brand product for other brands and there was always excess samples and things and then we would always donate them. If there was anything canceled, we would donate it. And Over the years I had more and more direct contact with different charities and learned how powerful it was to be able to access underwear for free.
[00:16:10] And that charities because we can’t donate used undies they need to go out and buy new undies. So by doing the one for one, it’s kind of like an engine for constantly donating. Like there’s no end to that. The more that we sell, the more we donate.
[00:16:23] And it means that there’s. A very long list of charities that use that resource. I love it.
[00:16:28] Dahna Borg: That’s amazing.
[00:16:30] Dahna: What help with your facebook and instagram ads remember you can always book in a free strategy firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash free dash strategy dash session we’ll run through all of your ads see what’s working and what’s not and no sales pitch i promise, so let’s get back to today’s episode.
[00:16:48] Dahna Borg: So what would you say if there’s someone listening that’s like, look, I am currently a brand that’s kind of sustainability tick, but they really want to become more fully sustainable. What would your suggestion be for someone who is not there yet, but that’s their goal? Have you got any tips or suggestions on how they can start to make those changes?
[00:17:09] Kelly Barrett: So from a textiles perspective, like one of the first things that people do is around their textile sourcing. So, for a recycled synthetic, for example, is on average, 70 percent lower in carbon than virgin. So something like that. The way you get your cotton is obviously, very polluting.
[00:17:27] There are better options. So that’s number one, I guess, if that sort of business and then I think about, your buying practices with suppliers. There’s a lot of offshore suppliers that, aren’t treated well, they don’t have security, doing things like never cancelling orders, holding hands all the way through things like, during COVID some factories were some real horror stories.
[00:17:47] I think that’s really unethical. And these factories are making, maybe 8 percent margin. You can’t just cancel an order on them. That’s. It kills them. And then the makers actually don’t get paid. So from a sustainability perspective, you’ve got to think about the people who are making the product.
[00:18:00] There are so many things your employees the way flexibility there’s a lot in B Corp that you can learn from that actually around making sure employees are treated well. And our factory is 60 percent over the living wage. I think living wage is a really important thing.
[00:18:16] And then right down to office spaces, depending how big you are, like we have six different bins in the office. So people can bring in things that are hard to recycle it’s convenient, like drop your batteries here, drop your undies there, it’s like. Your toner cartridges, like all those things, like beauty containers that, can’t go into council recycling. They’re just nice bonuses for people. You can offset their carbon for getting to work, pay for their train travel over using their car.
[00:18:41] Dahna Borg: Yeah. I love that so much. So what would you say are like your best business tips for those listening?
[00:18:48] Kelly Barrett: Well, I’m gonna focus on sustainability, I think. And I think it’s really important to think about all of your touch points just like I explained with the pick and pack. Like, think about where are you spending money and can that money do more good? Which is, it’s within anyone’s hands to do that.
[00:19:06] And I do think about, are you working with underrepresented parts of the population? I know in some areas it’s hard, like it, you’re often getting white men. That’s what I’ve come across. Like, what can you do to stretch yourself to actually look outside of that? Cause where you spend your money is really important and it’s really powerful.
[00:19:23] So I think about that to me, like we’re spending money constantly on different suppliers, aren’t we? So. Can we do that more consciously? Can we enrich someone else’s life?
[00:19:32] Dahna Borg: Yeah. I love that. I think that’s kind of your philosophy in business from what I can tell as well. It’s very much not just focusing on the customer facing pieces, but every aspect of your business and working out where you can do that better.
[00:19:45] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:19:46] Dahna Borg: Is there anything you think we’ve missed before we get into the last couple of questions? We’ve covered a lot.
[00:19:50] Kelly Barrett: Yeah, I think so.
[00:19:51] Dahna Borg: No, lovely.
[00:19:52] Do you have any strategies or habits that you follow each day to help you stay on track in business?
[00:19:57] Kelly Barrett: I learned from a good friend of mine, the same trust life about, I know, 20 years ago, and that’s been really impactful for me. I do think that working in impact, you need to be in flow and not try and control things because you don’t want to be in your ego. You don’t want to be in your mind because I think They’re not going to take you in the right direction and it’s limited.
[00:20:18] Your mind is always limited. Whereas, if you open yourself fully to possibilities and just try and. So if I can’t work with, what feels right and what’s given to you and what’s the next step, then it just prevents burnout, I think, to be like that. So that’s how I try to live.
[00:20:33] Dahna Borg: Yeah. I love that. And if people want to learn more about you, they want to have a look at your underwear. What is the best way for them to find you?
[00:20:40] Kelly Barrett: Please go to underwearforhumanity.com.au or Underwear for Humanity on Instagram and Facebook.
[00:20:47] Dahna Borg: Wonderful. I highly recommend. I have one of their crop tops and it is very comfortable, highly recommend. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Kelly. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show.
[00:20:58] Kelly Barrett: Thanks so much, Dahna. I really appreciate the opportunity. Lovely to talk to you.
[00:21:02] Dahna: Thanks for listening to the bright minds of e-commerce podcast. As always you’ll find the show email@example.com forward slash episode 49. thanks for listening.