After a year of developing the idea of GreyC2, we took the decision to run our first project in South Africa and came to Cape Town with a clear goal: In the spirit of “Think globally – produce locally”, we want to cover the whole supply chain of potential products in South Africa – from the beginning to the end, without importing goods or outsourcing work. It’s a vision, an idea … The following paragraphs are dedicated to show the daily challenges which implementation brings along.
We spent our first ten days in Cape Town looking at the different steps of the supply chain and checking how they could be covered within South Africa. This left us with quite a challenge: The initial idea of producing our garments with organic cotton is not feasible since all the cotton produced in South Africa is not organic. This lead us to look at various alternatives:
- To import goods from abroad sounded like the easiest solution. We knew that countries such as Tanzania offer a fair amount of organic cotton, and importing the raw material from there wouldn’t be that difficult. Although this option would allow us to proceed with our operations and go straight into manufacturing after the import, it would mean that we have to compromise on our values. We believe in a world where most of the steps can be covered in one place, and therefore importing from another country wouldn’t make us any different from all the other supply chains.
- As there is no organic cotton in South Africa, we could also reallocate ourselves to a country like Tanzania, and aspire to cover the whole supply chain there. But this would imply that we first have to get to know the reality of that place, and although step one “organic cotton” would be a given, we might face similar challenges with the manufacturing that comes after the fabric is provided.
- If we explore alternative products such as jewellery to avoid the fabric issue, this might give us quick insights as we imagine the production process less complex than actual textile manufacturing. But then we didn’t do much research on it, and the actual raw material of jewellery, be it metal or leather, would imply a whole new story, as this also has to be aligned with our value concepts.
- Last but not least, there is the option of sticking to South Africa as our production country. If we decide to go with that, we have to invest our time and resources into finding a sustainable and ethical raw material within South Africa. This might imply a lot of time spent on the first step of the supply chain, and a lot of energy would be spent on collaboration with suppliers to either help shift their practice or start something from scratch.
When reflecting on the above stated thought process, there is one thing that eventually kept us on track: The reason why we came here, to cover the whole supply chain in South Africa, and that this reason is something we still don’t plan to compromise on. We decided that covering the whole supply chain is more relevant than ever. The fact that it doesn’t exist yet is a challenge in every aspect. And even though it’s scary to envision going into a field we have much less experience and knowledge than expected beforehand, we are in love with the idea as well as the obstacles that lie ahead of us. Instead of compromising on the vision, we have much more faith into just taking more time to change our business model; we don’t change the why of our business, we just change how we reach our goals and what concrete action steps this requires. The gaps of expertise are to be closed by on-boarding people with expertise, meaning to expand the team by the amount of people needed.
To wrap it up: Obviously a fair trade supply chain with organic fabric is not in place yet. We discovered a market gap – a niche market - which we are eager to close. The relevance of doing so is high in the light of making not only this country but the world more sustainable. Playing a key factor in this fills us with excitement.