Sharon Lee: a head for sustainability

Promotional headwear brand Sharon Lee got in touch with the Grain team in September 2021. Woolf Davies founded the company in 1947 and named his company after his daughter. Her son Toby is now the managing director and has ambitious goals to bring his family’s company forward.

Sharon Lee is based in Braintree, Essex and has been importing from China since 1968. The company has been working alongside the same three factories in China for generations and continues to strengthen its partnerships abroad.

As an intergenerational company, the team at Sharon Lee puts people and family at the forefront of its values and priorities. The business prides itself on its innovation and commitment to its clients.

Sharon Lee contacted us with the desire to strengthen social and environmental sustainability in the company’s supply chain and their day-to-day office practices. The company is built on high moral standards and this has been evident through their enthusiasm and attitudes towards evolving their business in a sustainable way. Sharon Lee wants to set the standard of change within their industry, in turn having positive effects on their employees, suppliers, customers, and community — and on the planet.

The company had already commissioned four-pillar SMETA Sedex audits on itself and its three key suppliers in China. Sedex is the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange and SMETA stands for Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit. The two-pillar audit covers labour standards and health and safety, plus management systems, entitlement to work, subcontracting and homeworking, and a shortened environmental assessment. The additional two pillars add an extended environmental assessment and business ethics.

The sustainability working group is the leadership team: Toby Pache, Danny Butterfield, and Victoria Baker. We started our work with stakeholder mapping, followed by a series of eight interviews. Two of the interviews were internal, three were with customers and three were with suppliers. These allowed us to gather a broad range of useful information and insights. This is part of the materiality assessment, when we identify and prioritise the sustainability topics within the company along the lines of ESG: environment, social, and governance. We then benchmarked Sharon Lee against a dozen different companies and we have been measuring the company’s carbon footprint over two years. With some of our clients, we were using 2019 as a baseline pre-Covid year but as time goes on, we find that 2020 is the baseline year and then 2021 is the comparison year. It’s the new normal!

Because the Sharon Lee team had expressed an interest in possibly becoming a Certified B Corporation, we used the B Impact Assessment as a strategy framework. We’re currently formulating the strategy and after that, depending on the agreed ambition level, we will help put into place the appropriate goals, targets and KPIs, using our own expertise in the fashion industry together with the B Corp operational impact areas as a guide.

It’s a pleasure to work with Sharon Lee: the team are enthusiastic in their drive for change and it’s a privilege to work alongside a company with such a long-standing history in this industry. The whole team shows a real commitment to evolving their business and we’re excited to help transform their sustainability aspirations into reality, and to communicate about the progress to all stakeholders.

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