Earth Collective’s ‘Interview with the Collective’ series is a collection of interviews with likeminded souls from around the globe, who are working towards a better future for the planet and people in it. In today’s chat with Pam Burnett, Fashion Designer and Founder of Cream Collection, we find out why one meeting with a cotton mill owner changed her whole outlook on the fashion industry, creating the colossal shift in her business practices that led to the creation of her environmentally and socially responsible brand.
What was your catalyst to diving into the world of sustainability?
Years ago, a business partner and I undertook a new venture. We launched a fashion brand. With stiff competition in the market, I needed to think of something that would bring our new brand publicity and recognition, to put us on the leaderboard. This was more than fifteen years ago and our answer came in a flutter of eco-friendly green.
‘Global-greening’ was the buzzword at the time and I thought jumping on the ‘green washing’ bandwagon with a range of clothing using organic cotton could carve us a distinct space in the marketplace. Armed with lots of ‘green’ store signage, natural looking packaging, and a great deal of enthusiasm, we launched our first organic cotton clothing range. It was a success. Our environmental values were in tune with the social climate of the time and our products, consequently, were quickly snapped up.
In short, sales were great.
We were quite smug with our first to market achievements and wanted to keep up the marketing edge we had created. This meant meeting with the owner of the mill who supplied our fabric to secure more organic cotton fabric for future orders. But the meeting came to mean a whole lot more than that; it would change my outlook on the industry I worked in and shift my business practices for the next decade to lead me to where I am now. I remember every moment.
This colossal shift in my outlook started with the owner of the cotton mill proposing a single question, he asked: “Do you know why so many cotton farmers in India commit suicide each year?”
The question left me so taken aback, that’s not the kind of thing you’re usually asked when sourcing fabrics. And I could hardly believe the answer.
“It’s due to their cotton crops failing.”
For many years, I had purchased thousands of metres of cotton fabric, meaning for almost 20 years I had been responsible for so many people in situations like this. That day, when I had learnt about the sad ending of so many conventional cotton farmers and the unsustainable cycle, I realised there was no other way forward.
We are all forever on the lookout for solutions and in the case of resolving cotton farmer suicides, we have a simple solution. By supporting organic farming practices, we’re supporting healthy lands and seas, and a healthy environment supports healthy and happy communities.
From then, there was only one way forward, my brand had to support organic farming practices for all future fabric orders and in doing so; support the families and fathers behind them. By supporting these practices, I am responsible for all those fathers, mothers, and children; but instead of causing their ultimate demise, I am supporting their livelihood. The change from using conventional to organic cotton meant children can be educated; mothers can be supported; and the mental health, financial stability, and personal dignity of fathers are continually reinforced. It’s daunting to think that our purchasing decisions have such far-reaching consequences, but it’s comforting to know that with an awareness of these consequences, we are able to have a positive impact that is felt far around the world.
Tell us about your business journey so far – what got you to where you are today with Cream Collection?
Launching a new brand in a new country did not come without its challenges, but through all the challenges we have remained true to our values. We took the decision to be pioneers in a mass market which is price sensitive, but fortunately the quality of our products, our customer service and what we stand for has turned our amazing customer base into advocates for our brand.
What has been your proudest achievement to date for Cream Collection?
Our proudest achievement came from a recent survey which we conducted with our clients, asking them to explain what they understood our brand to be and why they chose us over so many other brands. Their comments brought tears of joy to my eyes as everything we had worked so hard to achieve was loved and respected by our customers.
I guess making customers ecstatically happy without negatively impacting the planet is our proudest achievement.
What do you think is the biggest threat to our planet and the people in it today?
Overpopulation and the lack of education.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Knowing that each day is a new day offering new opportunities and that in all aspects of our business we are making a difference, whether it be through our supply chain or our customers.
Who/what has been the biggest influence in your life?
I have a few influencers: My dad, for educating me about respecting the environment, the agricultural pioneers who have educated me about regenerative farming methods, and Li Edelkort who is a trend forecaster.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton.
What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
Support and sharing.
What are your top five tips for people who are working to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle?
- Research everything and be aware of greenwashing.
- Question the long term effect of an action or purchase, as nothing can be thrown “away” as there is no “away”.
- Question if the products purchased support linear or circular economy.
- Stop using pesticides.
- Plant, plant, plant anything that can create “drawdown”.
Where are you heading to next in your journey?
Personally I’m planning to take a year off and go camping around Australia, but that’s a while off!
Business wise, after much research and assistance from various people, we’ve recently adopted two local charities to support, one is the Indigenous Reading Project (education, education, education) and the other is Sustain (educating consumers and farmers about the importance of regenerative farming methods).
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Yip, there is always a solution to a problem, we’ve just got to want to find the solution.
I think the word “passionate” is dated. My new favourite word is “pioneer”, as by pioneering, change happens and beautiful things evolve.
Pam Burnett is the Founder and COO at Cream Collection. Her goal is to educate consumers on the adverse effect of pesticide use in farming methods and to encourage consumers to adopt planet friendly solutions. Pam was the creative director of the South African fashion brands EARTHCHILD & EARTHADDICT. She designed and directed collections for these brands which grew organically from three to 23 profitable self owned stores within eight years. Pam’s entrepreneurial determination delivered results, in 2015 she solely launched the “first to market” brand of Premium, Sustainable & Fashionable Hospitality attire in Australia. In a price conscious market place, she steers the company to remain true to its values and ethics. Cream Collection proudly shares the Leaderboard of the Global Textile Exchange 100 Club with companies like Patagonia and Armed Angels. This leaderboard audits and publishes companies who use only organic cotton throughout their collections.
If you know someone who we should feature in Interviews with the Collective, please email our Editor at email@example.com.