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2017 Edmund Hillary Fellowship profiles: Samantha Jones

First of all, can you tell us a little about your background — how you got to where you are today?

I’m a Kiwi that grew up living overseas for most of my childhood and finished high school while living in Indonesia. I joined the military at the age of 18 and was a Logistics Officer in the RNZAF. I spent a lot of time studying, travelling and meeting people in developing countries and I became really conscious of the impact consumerism can have. When I left the military I finally had the freewill to decide where and how the clothes I purchased were made and I noticed a gap in the market for ethically made corporate workwear.

Tell us about your innovation, venture or work. What are you doing that is different to others in your field? How are you pushing boundaries?

My vision is to eliminate exploitation in the garment industry. Child labour and unsafe working conditions are two problems that particularly resonate with me. I’m also passionate about the environment and I see the fashion industry as a sector that is quite wasteful but has huge potential to do things differently. Some examples of how we do things differently is through sourcing organic rain-fed cotton. Over the last 12 months we’ve saved over 7 million litres of water by simply choosing to source our cotton in this way.

What draws you to operate out of Aotearoa?

I was born in NZ and while I’ve lived overseas and continue to travel for my job, I’m always drawn back. New Zealand has a beautiful Mana about it that you can’t find anywhere else.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of applying for the Global Impact Visa through the Edmund Hillary Fellowship? What drew you to apply for this, as a native Kiwi?

I was drawn to apply for this programme to be part of an international community of people that has roots or ties to NZ. Starting a business is challenging and being able to share these experiences with others and learn from what they have done is extremely valuable and helpful. I’ve been given so much support while starting my business, which has helped me grow an awesome local network that I hope to share with international fellows. I think that the Edmund Hillary Fellowship could create a really interesting ecosystem of people pushing the envelope in a wide range of sectors, but who can still connect on important common ground.

What do you find inspiring about New Zealand?

I’m always inspired by nature and I love the hikes and natural landscapes that NZ has to offer. We haven’t always protected our environment to the best of our abilities but I’m inspired by people that are working in this space to make improvements and ensure that what we do have is around for future generations to enjoy.

With your exposure to people doing interesting things all around the world, what has been the most surprising thing about New Zealand’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem?

Sometimes when I look at how Kiwis manage to perform internationally, I start to think of NZ as this big international hotbed for business. Other times, you realise just how small and interconnected everyone and everything is in NZ. It’s a bit of both. Which I think makes for a perfect mix if you’re a company with a strong vision and the attitude to grow.

What would you say to other entrepreneurs or investors thinking about building or supporting startups in New Zealand?

I would highly recommend it, it’s a supportive and collaborative community already, but initiatives like Edmund Hillary Fellowship are only going to continue to support and foster this. I hope that programmes like the EHF start to take off and help more New Zealand startups reach their potential.

Tell us about a couple of people who have helped shape the journey you are on right now?

Laurie Foon, a pioneer in ethical fashion has been a huge supporter for me. David Clearwater has been a mentor pretty much from the beginning of our business journey and continues to help and challenge me to ensure that each decision we make is maximising our impact. Hannah Ross-McAlpine is the person at the end of the phone to share highs and lows with. She helps me to outline and navigate our strategic direction and mull over and analyse any crazy idea or crisis that comes along.

What do you think the future holds for you and your work in New Zealand?

I think opportunities like the Edmund Hillary Fellowship will help define this future for myself and Little Yellow Bird.

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