More sustainable headwear for fashion, promotion, and workwear

Sharon Lee

Sharon Lee, a fashion, workwear, and promotional headwear brand based in Essex, got in touch with Grain in September 2021 for help improving its corporate sustainability. Founded in 1947, it grew as an innovate family business offering branded headwear over three generations, with new ownership from 2022.

Sharon Lee prides itself on quality and commitment to clients, putting people and family at the forefront of its values. Its Essex base holds strong partnerships abroad and has been importing from the same three manufacturing partners in China since 1968.

Grain has been helping strengthen social and environmental sustainability in all aspects of the business ranging from the company’s supply chain to its day-to-day office life. Sharon Lee has been highly motivated to set a standard of change in its industry with a desire to not only make changes that benefit the planet, but creating positive knock-on effects for all employees, suppliers and customers.

The company had already commissioned a four-pillar SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) to ensure that it was actively operating and trading in an ethical way across its supply chain. This audit covers labour standards, health and safety, an assessment of environmental standards, and business ethics, incorporating the monitoring of management systems, entitlement to work subcontracting and home working.

We began our work alongside the Sharon Lee leadership team starting with stakeholder mapping followed by a series of eight interviews: two internal, three with customers and three with suppliers. This allowed us to gather information and a broad range of insights and opinions to base our work on, as ongoing stakeholder communication is key to successful strategy implementation. This formed part of the materiality assessment, where we identified and prioritised sustainability topics within the areas of ESG — environment, social, and governance — to build a strong foundation for action.

Next was the benchmarking process where we put Sharon Lee up against a dozen different companies to see how they were comparing to their peers and competitors under the three ESG markers. This allowed us to perform a market overview of the fashion and accessories industry and conduct a wide-ranging comparison from fast fashion brands such as Boohoo, to leaders in circular and ethical fashion Baukjen and BAM. Our scoring system placed Sharon Lee in the middle of the group, allowing room for positive change.

Grain used all available data from the last two years as baseline measurements to create Sharon Lee’s carbon footprint. As a UK importer and manufacturer with a small facility in Essex using no gas and with no company owned vehicles, we found zero scope 1 emissions, and minimal scope 2 coming from purchased electricity. Because much of the manufacturing is done by suppliers, around 90% of the company’s footprint is scope 3, with freight and waste together making up the majority of the figures. Sharon Lee already has a positive impact on sustainability through their partnership with Avena, a textile recycling scheme for production waste and excess stock. Sharon Lee’s use of shipping whenever possible rather than air freight meant they were already using a lower-emission transport option.

Though Sharon Lee was uncertain whether seeking the B Corporation certification was the right choice for them, we developed the strategy using the B Impact Assessment as an evaluation tool for the five impact areas of governance, workers, environments, community, and customers. Choosing an appropriate ambition level in the strategy allowed us to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals, targets and KPIs. Through the process, the leadership team decided against pursuing B Corp. However, to boost the community impact area, the company joined B1G1 as a mechanism to give to causes chosen by Sharon Lee employees.

Through our work together, Sharon Lee has committed to carbon neutral operations, offsetting its scope 2 emissions (it has no scope 1) through a Gold Standard project providing safe drinking water to families in Laos. Furthermore, Sharon Lee has joined SME Climate Hub with a 2030 net zero target.

Grain wrote and designed Sharon Lee’s first sustainability report which includes details of all the company’s material issues together with key metrics. The 2022 targets include:

  • Zero landfill of pre-production samples
  • All cartons used for retail orders made from 100% recycled cardboard
  • Align the lowest wage rates with the UK Living Wage
  • New ranges of stock caps and beanies using recycled fibres and lower-impact yarns
  • Favour lowest carbon options for shipping and domestic transport

The company has developed a new mission statement integrating sustainability:

  • Sharon Lee’s mission is to help brands and businesses across the apparel industry to create headwear that delivers the best standards in quality and in service.
  • Sharon Lee’s products will be delivered on budget, on time, and within specification — regardless of global challenges.
  • At all times, Sharon Lee will act responsibly, creating a positive impact though sustainability, creativity, diversity, and high standards.

Our work with Sharon Lee is ongoing and we are proud of how far the company has already progressed. It’s a pleasure to work with Sharon Lee due to their long-standing history in this industry coupled with their enthusiasm and drive for change. The whole team is committed to enhancing sustainability within the business and we love helping transform their aspirations into a more planet-friendly reality, which is now visible to all stakeholders. We have recently helped Sharon Lee with their 2022 carbon footprint which shows great progress from reducing waste and freight emissions, and a switch to 100% renewable electricity.

“As a multi-generational family business established in 1947, here at Sharon Lee we have always put people first. We wanted to become a more sustainable company and to be able to communicate that to our customers. We chose to work with Grain because of their experience in fashion, and we’re very happy with the results, particularly the sustainability report which clearly sets out our goals and achievements.”

— Danny Butterfield, Managing Director, Sharon Lee

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