How to launch a carbon neutral brand, with Days of August.

"Reclaimed materials, handmade and carbon neutral are the pillars of Days of August."

Starting a small business is hard. There are so many elements to consider, and it's often only one person doing them all.

I'm always inspired by small business owners who founded their start-up without compromising their core values - and in the case of jewellery and accessories brand Days of August, these values are what drive the business forward.

Founder and maker Marie-Pier Labelle shares what it means to launch an ethical brand, and the best ways to go about lightening the footprint of any business, big or small.

You use reclaimed materials, everything is handmade and you're carbon neutral. Could you have started Days of August without these elements as part of your brand?

I don't think so. Being eco-conscious is a fundamental part of who I am. If I hadn't landed on reclaimed stainless steel as my primary material, I would have found something else to work with that had little carbon footprint. 

I would definitely still have found ways to completely offset the carbon emissions the business produces, and make pieces in an ethical manner. I am a big fan of the "First do no harm" oath, and I believe it should not only be reserved for medical doctors, but for any kind of project or endeavour.

Where do you source your reclaimed stainless steel from?

There is a machinist down where I live that cuts very large pieces - anything from signage to heavy machinery parts. His off-cuts are not large enough for him to use, but more than big enough for me. It's a win-win! 

He makes money on materials he would have previously thrown away, and I save them from landfill. This stainless steel is quite specific, and not meant to be used to make jewellery. It is over 3 times thicker than what's commonly used in the jewellery industry, which means it's much stronger and durable, but also much harder to work with. 

How can a small business become carbon neutral - what are your top tips?

I think the best thing to do would be to take a step back and look at your business overall.

How much waste are you producing?
How much power/gas/water are you using?
Are the materials you are using harmful to the environment?
Is there anything you can change in your production methods to reduce your footprint?

Using recycled paper and packaging is a very easy place to start.
Then try to think if there is any way you can source things you need for your business locally.

Can you reduce your footprint by using rain water? 
Solar panels? 
Public transport?

I do all of the above, and to offset all other gas emissions I produce, I am a volunteer grower for Trees for Life - an organisation for whom I grow 300 trees a year from seeds. Once grown, the trees are planted in rural areas in South Australia.

What are the positives and the challenges of starting and growing a business with such a focus on sustainability?

The best thing about starting a business in an ecological way is that systems are built on that foundation.

Production and tasks are done a certain way from the start and become second nature. Making an existing business more sustainable may take more of an effort, as it can be harder to change all the systems that are already in place. This, however, should not be an excuse to not do it!

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge will be scaling Days of August. As any business that grows, the workload becomes overwhelming and there comes a time when you need to hire extra help and outsource some of the tasks that need to be done. In many cases, to save on costs and stay competitive, product-based business will decide to move production overseas. 

As manufacturing offshore does not align with my ethos, I will have to find a way to grow my business at home, with the materials and values I have chosen, even if it means a smaller profit margin overall.

What advice do you have for other makers/ designers/ creatives working on a side project and looking to 'take the leap' like you did?

Taking the leap is a very frightening thing.

First, do your research, test the market and try to plan ahead. Once all of that is done, you have to back yourself. You have to be absolutely certain you are happy to live and breathe your business every minute of every day, because that's what it will be like. It is all consuming, especially at the start.

Also, if you wait until you feel you are ready, you might never jump.

What is next for Days of August?

I did my first show in New York in February, and went back there for the August edition to continue expanding the business. It's quite exciting 😊


Popular Posts