Date posted: 29/04/2019 4 min read

Little Yellow Bird takes flight

The ethical NZ startup disrupting the workwear industry.

In Brief

  • Samantha Jones saw there was a niche for ethically sourced and manufactured uniforms and workwear
  • She started her company Little Yellow Bird in 2015, and revenues have doubled every year
  • The company is expanding out of NZ and is selling into the US and Canada

When Samantha Jones was a young girl she remembers writing down a list of ambitions and one of them was to be operating her own business by the time she was in her 30s.

Now 29, she beat that by several years when she founded sustainable uniform and corporate wear company Little Yellow Bird in 2015, while still at university.

"I remember thinking 'why am I waiting, I'll just do it now,'" she says of the company, which has doubled its revenues every year since it was founded.

While Jones' background wasn't a direct line into the clothing industry she says her six years as a supply chain and logistics officer with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, which she joined at 18, set her up for her own business.

Much of what Little Yellow Bird does is about sourcing sustainably and ethically produced fabric, and being able to trace and authenticate its origins.

"We still have a lot of products made in slave labour conditions, which exploit the planet, and most people don't even have a general awareness of the true cost of clothing."
Samantha Jones, Founder, Little Yellow Bird.

"I probably wouldn't have this business today if I hadn't done that with the Air Force," she says.

"The job that I have done for the last couple of years is very similar to managing an aeronautical supply chain, it's just that the products are very different."

From the Air Force, Jones competed Masters' degrees in two areas: engineering management and international security, both of which she says were also relevant to Little Yellow Bird.

"International security focused on things like human trafficking, modern slavery, and environmental risk, while the engineering management helped with an entrepreneurial approach to project management," she says.

The specific "light bulb moment" came when Jones and her sister were both struggling to find corporate workwear which they liked not only in terms of design, but which was also traceable and ethically sourced and manufactured.

It kickstarted the beginning of Little Yellow Bird, which began as a women's workwear brand but has now evolved into a uniform company, with sustainability as a differentiator. Today, the company supplies around 50 NZ clients, including Wellington Zoo, SAFE and the Wellington Chocolate Factory, and has secured a contract to supply uniforms to a sustainable building products chain in the US.

"Something like where we buy clothes from should have been something we solved a long time ago," says Jones.

"We still have a lot of products made in slave labour conditions, which exploit the planet, and most people don't even have a general awareness of the true cost of clothing because the big brands are so good at marketing."

"So I'm really motivated by disrupting that industry and proving that you can do it in a responsible way."

The startup was helped along after Jones "applied for every grant and competition" she could find and won funding from BNZ's Startup Alley and My Business Quest.

The company was one of eight businesses taking part in Lightning Labs' first female acceleration program, and has been certified with B-Corp accreditation for businesses which meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance.

Based in Wellington, Jones and her four person team create the designs which are manufactured in India. There is a 300 square metre warehouse in Wellington which handles NZ distribution, but orders are also fulfilled direct from India to a growing market of clients in the US and now Canada.

Little Yellow Bird is also diversifying its revenue streams with new projects and business lines.

Using her supply chain experience, Jones has created a blockchain pilot project for the traceability of fabric, which could ultimately be rolled out to other brands.

The company also supplies fabric to other NZ designers and has a custom manufacturing business, servicing a dozen other labels. There is also an online eCommerce store.

For the future, the goal is to become a nationally recognised brand in NZ, capturing the ethical and "values aligned" market as a uniform provider.

And what about the name? What are the origins of Little Yellow Bird?

"In the mining industry canaries are used to detect the presence of methane and act as a warning," Jones says.

"The mining and the fashion industries both have strong links with slavery and exploitation, and that is something we are trying to raise awareness of as part of our brand."

Women in Business Conference

Samantha Jones will one of the presenters at CAANZ's Women in Business Conferences in NZ, on 13 May in Auckland and 22 May in Wellington.

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