Sally Brochocka and Emma Robertson started out as carefree university friends, a bond that would see them through countless travels and shopping trips.
Then one day, they began to consider the provenance of their desires. Who made all this stuff? What's the impact of all this consumption?
They thought there had to be a better way to be a more responsible consumer without the pain of 1,000 Google searches. And voila, whitebook.co.nz was born – a curated selection of Fair Trade goodies and gift ideas for women and men alike.
Brochocka gave us the lowdown on their corporate escape, running a business when the co-founders are half a world apart, and the problem with the quest for ethical 'perfection'.
In a nutshell, what is Whitebook and what makes it awesome?
Our mission at whitebook is to promote the purchase of products from companies or organisations who have the planet and its people in mind when they make them. We sell some of these very products ourselves but there are many others we don't stock which we want to flourish for the benefit of us all.
whitebook is awesome because our products are fabulous in their own right, the social good is a bonus.
How did you wind up in this line of work?
We are both mothers (our other job) who have been constantly trying to find something that uses our brain and can balance with our home life. The further we got from the corporate world we both used to work in (Emma in the banking world of London, Sally as a retail/customer relationship consultant) the less we wanted to go back.
Back in 2009, Emma was living in Kenya and finding lots of awesome products which if we could find a market for would help the makers. That sowed the seed and we went through various ideas: Fair Trade children’s clothing, Fair Trade bed linen, to whitebook. During this time Emma had another baby, moved to Dubai, Sally to Singapore and Emma back to New Zealand. It's been a long old process.
Talk us through a typical work day?
At this point in our startup there really isn’t one. Emma is looking at microfinance projects and I’m dealing with our SEO company in India. We are both frantically trying to upskill in the world of social media.
Our customers are...
We hope anyone who likes beautiful products as that is our start point. Those with an interest in the ethics of a product though will hopefully seek us out.
Our philosophy is...
“beauty with a bit of good”. We went round and round to begin with trying to sort out how we could stock only ‘perfect’ products but these products rarely exist and everyone has a view as to what makes a perfect product so we have had to compromise and come up with our own standards. Transparency is super important.
How do you source items?
Largely through the web. I went to the gift fair in Auckland in 2012 and was underwhelmed by how few products had or were even talking about their social or environmental policies. I did find one of my favourites there though, Tikitibu.
And what do you look for specifically?
Products that are beautifully made and beautifully designed and have a supply chain that shows care and social conscience. We are particularly drawn to all the great products coming out of developing countries where wonderful people are working with local artisans to totally transform the communities there. Our jewellery line MADE is an example but there are so many others, even if we don’t stock the products we want to spread the word on them all.
Any particular trends you’re expecting to see in 2014?
We can expect the ‘buy one give one’ first begun by TOMS shoes to continue to grow. Our very own FRANK stationery (see the latest issue of Idealog) is doing it in New Zealand, providing stationery for underprivileged children.
And what lies ahead for Whitebook this year?
To be recognised as part of the sustainable / ethical landscape in New Zealand. Developing a customer base and interested audience ... and in our fantasy a sourcing trip to Cambodia perhaps so that Emma and I can actually be in the same place for once!