An Interview With Our Responsibility OfficerWritten by Gavin Humphreys
Adela Cardona is the person in charge of guiding Beckett Simonon on a responsible path.
This is not all about airy-fairy concepts of being virtuous, pure, and noble. It is Adela’s role to make concrete changes and implement policies that ensure we are doing good as a company.
I got the chance to chat to her this week, and was fascinated to learn more about her role.
Since I often write about the process of the shoemakers and artisans on the studio floor, I was ready to discover all about the bigger picture from Adela.
What is your role at Beckett Simonon?
I don’t like the title Responsibility Officer, it sounds way too military. I much prefer the name Responsibility Coordinator.
Responsibility is something that has to be achieved together. What I do is work with people, to make real the things that we want to do to make our company responsible.
If you want a dictionary-style definition, I would say, I am responsible for working with the team to determine and evolve our philosophy as regards social and ecological responsibility, as well as making sure that every aspect of the company is as close as possible to that philosophy.
In reality, however, Responsibility Coordinator is a role that is so new that we are building it from the ground up.
I am trying to make the vision of our founders, Nicholas and Andrés, into a reality - that their company is a force for good every day, for both people and for the planet.
It’s a broad concept, so we have to think about the theory - the way we think, our values - and then it has to be brought down to the reality of our scale, as a small company.
My job is to bring that grand vision into the real world.
Can you give me some examples of what that means in your daily job?
This is an ever-evolving role, and one task often leads on to the next. When you think you have something solved, there will always be a new challenge that lies around the corner.
For example, we want to bring the UN Sustainable Development Goals into our workplace - above all, Responsible production and consumption and Decent working conditions.
One aspect of this is writing the Human Rights Policy, which I completed last week.
After writing it, however, I then have to think about ensuring it’s implemented - not only in our office, but also down our supply chain.
I am currently researching an app that gives every worker a voice, which is an example of how one might do this. They can tell us their priorities, what the companies are doing well, or even anonymously whistleblow. This allows better communication and for us to analyze improvements and changes in the workplaces.
What’s important to remember is that we are all connected - humans, animals, the environment. My role is to coordinate and to improve our impact at all levels.
What does responsibility mean to you?
Responsibility is really a guiding principle - so it’s not about just what it means to me. Defining our vision of a responsible company is a journey that is ongoing.
Ownership is one of our core values - as a company, you have to own the consequences of what you do, whether positive or negative.
People have been making products for decades without appreciating that their products have an impact - on resources, on people, on the planet, on the way that people live, through to the way that the product is used.
For me being responsible is about what you do in the world. For a company, that means the practices that are part of making a product, and, moreover, the whole cycle - from the origin of the materials through to the length of time a product lasts.
I think the term sustainability was useful in its time - but it has some issues. It comes from the idea that we want to sustain the same resources, the same food, the same quality of life for the future. But sustaining the same conditions is not enough!
We want to think about leaving the earth better than it was. The responsibility to have a positive impact is more than just mitigating the negative impact.
The Iroquois talk about the seventh generation. When the tribe council met, they always had a representative of the seventh generation in the future - so every decision they made had to take into account the effect on the long term. When we make decisions as a company, it is essential to consider the future and aim to make a positive impact.
Why do people want to buy responsibly?
We definitely grow more conscious every single day of how the things that we buy, and the things that we do, have an impact.
People want to think of themselves as good people who do good things, and to be able to transmit that identity to their group - to your parents, your husband, your wife. You want to be able to help with every action you can.
The reason why many people don’t buy responsibly is, firstly, because there isn’t clear information. Some of that is lack of transparency - it can be difficult to find out about the product you are buying. Another factor is greenwashing, where companies project a responsible, environmentally-friendly image, but we don’t know all the information.
Since the birth of fast fashion, we have been taught that clothing is disposable, and the cost of fashion is artificially low. Sometimes people are not able to buy responsibly made things because of the price-tag - but I do believe they want to buy responsibly.
This is a larger conversation than Beckett Simonon, but it has to do with how much things should cost - and the levels of wages that are paid. That is why I say this is not a job for one person, not even one company, not even one government.
What practical things are we doing as a company to become more responsible?
I think it is important for people to know that this has been part of the DNA of the company since the start. Andrés and Nicholas realized at the beginning that the fashion system was unsustainable. There were high mark-ups for things that people shouldn’t be paying for.
Beckett Simonon has deliberately built a different business model: the made-to-order model that ensures that every shoe has an owner, even before it is made. This means that we don’t have overproduction, which is what happens in the traditional retail model.
This cuts out wastage in the crafting stage, but also avoids incinerating or putting shoes into landfill, producing CO2 or methane that are greenhouse gases, that in turn raise the global temperature.
We create products using quality materials and solid construction methods, so that they stand the test of time. We encourage our customers to care for the products and repair, rather than immediately replacing them.
We make sure that we pay our workers fair wages, that they have benefits, and that they have vacations. We consider them to be partners, not just employees - it’s not charity, they are incredible craftsmen and women. What we are doing is offering them a market that values their work at a fair price.
During the pandemic, we have supported our high-risk artisans, while they couldn’t work, with their full wages and benefits, such as health care.
This all means lower margins for Beckett Simonon, as a company, but it builds us on a strong foundation by creating a Beckett family that works together and shares the same vision.
Our craftspeople know that we will be there for them. This allows them to be able to support their families. Since they work reasonable hours, they can rest - and therefore, be better, happier workers.
We try to use ecologically responsible products in production. We use creams and waxes from natural ingredients. The shoeboxes are made from sugarcane fibre, a by-product of sugar extraction.
We are constantly innovating and looking for new ways to evolve as a responsible company.
For example, I am providing training to the team on issues such as recycling. A few months ago, we began a partnership with a charity, Soles4Souls, where we supply free postage for our customers to donate old Beckett Simonon shoes.
What is in the pipeline?
I’m not sure how much information we can disclose… It’s Top Secret!
Something I can say is that we are always trying new materials to see what other ways we can help, in terms of environmental impact.
As I mentioned, we want to develop a method to have a direct line with the workers in our factories.
We would like to be able to trace the leather back to the cattle. Something that is not easy, but that could be true at some point in the future of Beckett Simonon. We already chose to source leather that is more transparent - we began buying from the gold-rated Gruppo Mastrotto tannery this year.
What are our biggest obstacles? We are only a small company. There is only so much we can do with our resources.
Even though we would like to make an impact everywhere, our priorities are to safeguard our artisans and our team.
We have looked into mushroom leather, for example, which has been under development for a long time but it is not scalable yet. We don’t have the financial muscle to invest in these areas.
You have to consider trade-offs. We look for leather that is long-lasting. We educate in leather care through blogs and the updates. It all contributes.
A big thank you to Adela. I feel like I learned a lot!
It’s a fascinating topic of conversation, and something I can’t wait to see developing in the years to come.
We are hoping to include responsibility more and more into this blog, so look out for interesting topics in the future.
You might want to check out previous blog posts that we wrote with responsibility in mind, addressing issues such as ethical fashion, resoling your shoes, looking after suede and Vachetta leather, and taking care of your footwear.
Do you have any questions you would like to ask Adela? Please write me a comment below, or write to the team here via the contact us function above, and Adela or one of our team will be able to answer your question.