“Sustainability is an inherently complex space and small businesses need help to get into it,” says Vanessa Brain, co-founder of V&V Sustainability Consultancy. “Sometimes it’s also about education when they need the knowledge to take those steps.”
Vanessa and her co-founder Victoria Waugh bring decades of experience in roles across the fashion, jewellery and accessories sectors to their consultancy service. They met while working at the Fairtrade Foundation, where Victoria worked on launching the standard for Fairtrade gold and Vanessa built her knowledge of the apparel industry alongside the Fairtrade cotton standard.
By the time they had both moved to Yorkshire and reconnected, the duo could bring together expertise in jewellery, apparel, and innovation. They now share their knowledge with brands seeking ethical, sustainable ways to grow. V&V works with businesses on challenges from product design and manufacturing to sourcing, mapping supply chains, and achieving certifications for their efforts.
“Usually businesses ask us how they can legitimise or be recognised for what they’re already doing,” Victoria says. “Certification isn’t always the right route for a small business, but there are other ways of proving what you can do with the right tools.”
This flexibility to work with brands to find the right path for them was part of the appeal of forming V&V, as well as the opportunity to support brands in the Northern Powerhouse. Though they still work with brands based in London and the South-East, they have seen growing interest from brands based in Yorkshire and across Northern England.
Supply chains and traceability are key questions for brands that want to work sustainably and demonstrate that success. After a challenging year for the industry, the business case has become clearer than ever.
“A traceable supply chain is also about resilience. Covid has shown that if you don’t know where your products are coming from, you’re stuck,” says Vanessa. “Often brands can’t get beyond their tier 1 suppliers and they need help to map their supply chains before they can become transparent.”
The pandemic has accelerated conversations about ‘building back better’ among brands as well as consumers, and Vanessa and Victoria are keen to support the companies that are committed to doing just that. For the brands that find certification is the best route for them, Victoria recently became a B Leader: undertaking specialist training to work with businesses aspiring to the prestigious B Corp accreditation.
“B Corp was a personal passion for me, because it looks at the business in its entirety including governance, supply chain, energy usage, even engagement with the wider community. It made sense to be ready to support brands on that journey,” says Victoria.
“It’s a movement in itself,” adds Vanessa. “A host of businesses committed to a holistic approach to sustainability.”
Meeting professionals from different industries on the training course offered fresh insights for the duo, while they were also able to spot areas of overlap on topics like animal husbandry and the challenges of transparent supply chains. Ultimately it deepened their knowledge and experience and left them better equipped to help brands become more sustainable – whatever that means for them.
“Sustainability shouldn’t be a trend,” Victoria says, “but often the big businesses set the agenda. Small businesses can have the advantage of closer relationships with their suppliers, working with smaller quantities and emphasising craftsmanship.”
Their role as B Leaders will become an important part of Vanessa and Victoria’s support for businesses. At the same time, they are looking to build out their Fashion Footprint tool, which helps businesses map the environmental and social impact of their operations. As the tool becomes more powerful it will be more supportive for brands, offering a wider range of in-depth insights at the start of their journey.
“It’s about democratising sustainability,” Victoria adds. “We want to share our knowledge and make sure brands can address the challenges they face.”