By Erica Lee Schlaikjer
A group of foreigners doing business in Shanghai recently hatched a new idea to bring "design with a conscience" to the China market. NEST, as the retail collective is called, aims to unite "intelligent design" with "responsible manufacturing" through collaboration among eight different brands selling sustainable products, including Wobabybasics organic baby clothes; AOO recyclable furniture; and Jooi Design home decor and fashion accessories. The project is sponsored by Hu & Hu, a Chinese antiques company, and Arabica Roasters, suppliers of organic, fair-trade coffee.
The 100 square-meter loft space, located in the International Artists Factory on trendy Taikang Lu (think: Shanghai's SoHo) is slated to become one of the first "carbon-neutral" retail shops in China, in step with places like the island of Chongming's Dongtan, billed as "the world's first eco-city," and URBN Hotels, China's first carbon-neutral hotel (editor's note: despite positive intentions and leaders the likes of Bill McDonough, there are still myriad problems with the eco-city trend).
The NEST design collective focuses on three aspects: natural, renewable or recyclable materials; a manufacturing process that has a low impact on the environment, and providing social benefits to the people of China. Some of the product lines included are less obviously eco-friendly, such as Asianera's bone china tableware or Torana's handmade Tibetan wool rugs. But then again, sustainable luxury isn't usually associated with the whole tree-hugging, granola-crunching, hippie-loving thing. The people who helped launch the project plan to host talks with designers and sponsor other educational events at the venue, but the focus will be on the shopping, I'm sure.
"NEST is a perfect metaphor for what we envision. Like a nest, the sum is greater than its individual parts," according to a Rachel Speth, one of the founders of NEST and co-owner of Bambu.
Speth, who used to be Nike's regional director for corporate social responsibility, and her partner, Jeff Delkin, who previously worked for Ogilvy & Mather and Leo Burnett, broke out of the corporate world to pursue their own dreams of sustainable business. They talked to me last month, for an upcoming podcast on ResponsibleChina.com, about creating Bambu -- their so-called "renewable ideas company" -- in 2003. With an office in Shanghai, the duo works directly "at the source," interacting with Chinese and Vietnamese craftspeople. Already they are well-poised to help lead the NEST project.
"We began Bambu to create interest and excitement in renewable materials and we do that through imagination and integrity," says Delkin.
"Imagination" comes in the form of design. Because of the versatility of bamboo, which can be woven, pressed, coiled, and laminated, the company offers 120 different housewares, kitchen products and tabletops in seven different categories, from $2 sporks to $45 hand-coiled bowls.
"Integrity" comes in the form of a holistic approach to manufacturing, which gives Bambu products their unique "proudly made in China" label. The company's production centers are audited for working conditions, products are approved food-safe by the FDA, its raw materials are certified organic, and all its packaging is environmentally friendly. Beyond its products, Bambu is also dedicated to social responsibility. It supports the Grameen Foundation, which focuses on poverty alleviation through microfinancing, and it has contributed more than $50,000 to non-profit organizations through its association with the 1% For The Planet campaign. Speth and Delkin also support Lexus Hybrid cars.
Bambu has become a good example of responsible manufacturing in China, and I hope their innovative vision can stimulate all the baby ideas for NEST into full-fledged business practices.
For more information about NEST, contact Trine Targett, founder of Jooi Design, at (+8621) 6473 6193 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erica Lee Schlaikjer is the founder of ResponsibleChina.com, a blog about environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship in Greater China. She is based in Chicago. Email her email@example.com.
Images courtesy of NEST and Bambu.
Thanks for the story!