Beyond a Sustainable Supply Chain

March 29, 2022 The Asia Foundation
Beyond a Sustainable Supply Chain
Show Notes Transcript

The adventurous Dutch fashion company G-Star, known for its sustainable denim, is also a force for development in Asia through its GSRD Foundation. GSRD will be honored April 6 with an Asia Foundation Lotus Leadership Award. Read more:

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (00:00):

It sounds perhaps a bit strange coming from my mouth, but we don't believe in charity. We believe in enabling people to take care of themself. We run the foundation like a business, only with social goals and not financial goals.

Tracie Yang (00:17):

How a denim company looked beyond its supply chain to give back to countries in Asia. Today on In Asia, from the Asia Foundation. I'm Tracie Yang.

John Rieger (00:27):

And I'm John Rieger. Joining us today is Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts, the managing director of the G-Star Raw Denim Foundation, or GSRD, philanthropic arm of a company that has become a leader in sustainably-sourced and manufactured cotton clothing. GSRD will be honored on April 6th with a leadership award from the Asia Foundation's Lotus Circle. Also, here with us is our own Jane Sloane, director of the Asia Foundation's women's empowerment program, Jane and Yung Joo, welcome to the show.

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (00:55):

Thank you, John. Thank you, Tracie.

Jane Sloane (00:56):

Thanks so much, John and Tracie. Wonderful to be here.

John Rieger (00:59):

Yung Joo, if there's one thing that unites the world, it must be that we all wear denim. But denim as a product can be very destructive, starting with cotton cultivation and on up the manufacturing supply chain. How did the GSRD Foundation, with its wide range of projects grow out of G-Star Raw Denim's quest for sustainable denim?

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (01:20):

It was quite a journey. We really started with collections who were very niche. We are a Dutch denim brand so we started with hemp and nettle as a separate collection, next to our conventional cotton collection. But then we thought, only focusing on the niche will not change the world. As you know, the fashion industry is known for producing in low-wage countries, and it is our sincere belief that you have to share the profits with those countries where it is made. So, whereas the corporate social responsibility department is working on improving labor conditions and limiting the environmental footprints in the G-Star supply chain, the foundation is working beyond G-Star supply chain.

Tracie Yang (02:08):

Well, why don't we talk about your own journey? You worked on the corporate side for many years. What drew you to the foundation side of the operation?

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (02:19):

Well, that's actually a funny story. I started at G-Star, 12 years ago as a intern at the corporate responsibility department. I was a business student at that time, a bit cynical, interested to see if big corporation can do good and do well at the same time. Well, I got the opportunity to see many different aspects of the company working at different departments, but the foundation has always been my true passion. So when I got the opportunity to fully work for the foundation, I was very happy and grabbed this opportunity with both hands.

Tracie Yang (02:57):

So Jane Sloane, next month, the Asia Foundation's Lotus Circle will be honoring the GSRD Foundation with our annual Lotus leadership award. Tell us a bit about the Lotus Circle and why it's chosen to recognize GSRD.

Jane Sloane (03:13):

Well, the Lotus Circle represents a movement of philanthropists, who are committed to our work to advance women's rights and gender equality in Asia. And so the Lotus Leadership Awards is an opportunity to honor those individuals and organizations that are really contributing to women's rights and gender equality in Asia. And GSRD is so brave and strategic in its grant making. GSRD has partnered with the Asia Foundation to make such important work possible. And this includes, giving women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh access to technology. It's provided my migrant women entrepreneurs in China access to business training and mentoring. And in Vietnam, it supported urban women farmers to access supply chains and support their agricultural production.

John Rieger (04:13):

Oh yeah. This project in Vietnam that you mentioned is quite interesting. A lot of farmers around Hanoi, many of them older women, have had their lands expropriated for urban development, leaving them with too little to profitably farm, which was the only life they knew. GSRD and its partners came in and taught them new, intensive farming techniques and new business and marketing skills. How is that working out?

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (04:38):

Well, the project started in 2015, exactly as you described. And we saw how their income improved by improving their production output and their marketing. But it's a interesting question because we saw a great improvement in income for the women, but we see it's also not completely enough. So therefore, the team in Asia did some wonderful market research about adding agritourism to this running project. So we're about to decide about this project in the coming month.

John Rieger (05:17):

So you were able to, not only make these remaining slivers of farmland more economically viable, but now you're also going to offer them as model farms for agritourism?

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (05:25):

That's the idea.

John Rieger (05:27):

That's a great idea.

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (05:27):

And these were very interesting conversations that we had with the team, like, "Okay, agritourism, how does it work? Who will be your target group?" And they did wonderful research, showing that for example, school kids can visit the farms and also learn about nutritious food and healthy food, but also young families going on a holiday, on a day trip to learn about the farmers. And I think they really made a business case for adding this agricultural module on top of everything that they're already doing.

Tracie Yang (06:03):

How does that program fit with a denim company? How's that come about?

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (06:07):

Well, I think it's exactly the entrepreneurial spirit of G-Star that we see in the project. It sounds perhaps a bit strange coming from my mouth, but we don't believe in charity. We believe in enabling people to take care of themself. That is where G-Star came from, and that's also how we run our foundation. We look for the best partners with a like-minded mindset. We run the foundation like a business, only with social goals and not financial goals.

Jane Sloane (06:39):

I think what's also really important about this project is it's not only increasing women farmers economic security, it's also increasing their voice in leadership. It's increasing their confidence. It's increasing their advocacy skills. It's increasing their ability to network effectively. And so, it's providing a whole range of other wrap around support for women farmers.

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (07:05):

It's funny that you say that Jane, because we see that in so many projects where we start with trying to improve income, a lot more happens than only that. And it's exactly what you're describing.

Jane Sloane (07:17):

Very much. Including at the household level, there's often a shift in power, where women feel more able because they have more income, to be able to negotiate who does all of the household work. So that shift in power for women is really profound when you're investing in programs like this.

John Rieger (07:35):

It's really remarkable how a modest initiative, aimed at exactly the right spot in a confluence of factors, can have these cascading dimensions of positive benefit.

Tracie Yang (07:48):

Yeah. And I see that really paralleled with particularly your work, Jane, with women's empowerment and how gender integration within all our programs is very key to lasting change.

Jane Sloane (08:00):


John Rieger (08:01):

Yung Joo, we often have guests on our show, who try to avoid the spotlight. And so we like to ask them this question, are you proud of your work?

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (08:12):

Well, I'm really Dutch at heart, so no. The Dutch are not-

John Rieger (08:19):

What does that[Crosstalk 00:08:20]

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (08:19):

... fans of the personal spotlight, but I am truly, truly proud of our partners. I worked from the foundation from 2010 to 2016, and then I returned again in 2020. And all of our partners were still there with a few new additions. So I think that really speaks to the character of the GSRD Foundation.

John Rieger (08:44):

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts of the G-Star Raw Denim Foundation and the Asia Foundation's Jane Sloane. Thank you both for joining us today.

Yung Joo Lockhorn Lamberts (08:50):

Thank you, John.

Jane Sloane (08:52):

Thanks, John and Tracie.

Tracie Yang (08:53):

That's our podcast for this week. On April 6th, the Asia Foundation will honor the GSRD Foundation with its Lotus Leadership Award for advancing women's entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.

John Rieger (09:04):

And BTW, if you're a regular listener to our podcast and you haven't subscribed, well, you're working too hard. Subscribe to In Asia and never miss another BOMO. Until next time, I'm John Rieger.

Tracie Yang (09:16):

And I'm Tracie Yang.

John Rieger (09:17):

Thanks for listening.