Ethical supply chains: creating beautiful products in partnership

We work with highly skilled craftspeople around the world to turn our Cornish designs into clothes and accessories to be treasured.

Our Director of Product Technology, Compliance and Ethics Lucy Panniers shares how we’ve kept our commitment to doing business the right way at the heart of Seasalt.

I joined Seasalt 12 years ago.

I had my interview at Neil and Sophie’s [our founders] house in Falmouth − they called an hour after I left to offer me the job! I was hugely excited to bring my experience to a family run business in the South West, where I grew up.

There was a much smaller (but ambitious) collection of products back then.

In my first 6 months I was out on the road visiting all our global suppliers to understand how they work, build relationships and set out our production quality and factory standards. Back in Cornwall we worked to establish a Garment Technology Department and a Quality Control facility at our Distribution Centre.

As we have grown, my Product Technology and Compliance and Ethics teams still inspire me daily.

We’re now one of the biggest employers in Cornwall, and I have immense pride in maintaining our product integrity. I’ve always had a passion to deliver wonderful product to our customers (I delight in hearing about how wearing our product makes them feel fabulous about themselves!) and this is only possible by maintaining the best relationships with our suppliers and through the work of a dedicated, highly skilled team.

We work with global suppliers.

The world is a wonderful place, with so many skilled and varied cultures capable of producing fabulous products. As a brand that thrives off creativity and has quality at its core, we’re committed to working with the best people in the world. The skill that we had in the UK for manufacturing garments in particular in volume isn’t readily available anymore unless it’s with very high-end manufacturers, but we are always looking out for new UK suppliers that can meet our high compliance and ethics standards.

We used British suppliers for our new sustainable Concept Shop in Norwich.

That included beautiful Yorkshire-made wool upholstery. Our Bath & Body, Fragrance, Chocolate, Stationery and Art products are all made in the UK.

Working with suppliers across the world has implications for our carbon footprint.

Our largest environmental impact sits within the supply chain. In 2019 we reached out to our suppliers to understand their environmental management systems. We now know that 70% of our suppliers monitor their energy usage and have installed LED lighting, 55% of them monitor their water usage and 65% have processes to reduce fabric waste. The next step is helping our suppliers set environmental targets: making improvements to the environmental impact in our supply chain is a continual process of working closely with these factories.

Some of our important suppliers are in China.

Behind the piles of cheap plastic and poor-quality products that are often associated with China, there is another China, one that offers fabulous quality and highly skilled factories.
We have worked with our Chinese suppliers for many years now to produce highly technical products like our Rainwear and knits. I have personal relationships with all our factories there, having visited many times. Their innovation in technology, highly skilled staff, product quality and fabric innovations are second to none. The products we have created together set us apart from many other bands.

Our membership of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) is just one way we connect to a wider community of fashion brands and stay ahead of human rights issues in the global apparel industry.

One of the many areas we are currently addressing is the potential for human rights violations in supply chains. China is one area of key focus. We start with open communication with our factories, but also internally risk assess independent audits that detail if there are any migrant workers or a large percentage of ethnic monitories in any of the facilities we work with. Our relationships with our suppliers and collaborative working is key when we are reviewing topics like this, as are our suppliers’ own business ethics. It is critical our morals are aligned to ensure that everyone is looked after.

We started working in Vietnam a few years ago after a factory there achieved certification to the Soil Association’s Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

GOTS is close to our heart – it’s recognised as the global gold standard of organic cotton, covering all stages of garment production, from field to shop. Sophie and Neil helped trailblaze this initiative and we were the first fashion company to achieve GOTS certification in 2005. It’s rewarding to still be leading the way, becoming one of the first brands to invest in GOTS certified product in Vietnam.

Garment manufacture has been swamped for many years by the ‘fast fashion trend’.

Many businesses choose suppliers based on lead times, price and speed to market. I’m proud that Seasalt does things differently. Long term business security, product quality and supply chain integrity are all important considerations for us.

New suppliers go through a strict vetting process.

The criteria include: can they make great quality product; do they offer sustainable fabrics; can they work with our design teams on new innovations; are they a responsible and ethically compliant factory? If anything concerning is found, they are rejected.

We have an extensive checking process for the compliance and ethics of our suppliers.

Suppliers confirm that they agree to our terms and conditions for supply chain ethics, including membership of Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX). They provide us with independently-verified audits that are often more than 100 pages long − no stone goes unturned!

We’re fortunate to have strong relationships with our suppliers.

We can always talk candidly about challenges and work together to resolve them and our suppliers are as committed as we are to doing things the right way. Our long-term relationships are one reason why I love my job. We’re often able to take learnings from one factory to support others. Before the pandemic we visited suppliers regularly (which we’re looking forward to getting back to) and are in daily contact.

Our long-term strategy for working with suppliers is built around sustainability – in our product, supply chain and wider business.

We are committed to only working with like-minded new suppliers and to supporting our longer-term suppliers. Seasalt is a family business where we love what we do and what we create. The people who make our product are an integral part of that, and just like us, they should be able to earn a living creating the beautiful products that make our customers happy.

Look out for more content this winter spotlighting our amazing suppliers.

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