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High Street Hero | Meet Damian Hopkins, POC's Retail Ambassador

Fri 28 Jan 2022 | 01:14 pm GMT
Rob Hutchins | Products of Change Writer

Damian Hopkins, MD of Radius Group joins POC as Retail Ambassador

An entrepreneur and expert on the global retail landscape and the efforts to improve ethics and sustainability across the scene, Damian Hopkins – Managing Director of Radius Group – knows a thing or two about effecting positive change across supply chains. It was in the early noughties, after all, that Hopkins played a fundamental role in introducing Fairtrade Cotton to the UK retail space, helping his apparel business become one of the first to develop an end-to-end supply chain buying African cotton from Fairtrade farmers. Since then, Damian has been working towards expanding the parameters within which business is conducted to help improve situations for people and the planet has been a key focus. You’d likely understand the excitement, then, with which Products of Change can now introduce Damian as the platform’s first Retail Ambassador, a role through which he will raise awareness of working closely with licensees, retailers, and partners to deliver products with sustainability at their core to help shoppers live lower carbon lifestyles. With all this in mind, we thought it was about time we sat down for a catch up with Damian to find out what he had to say. Hello Damian, and thanks for catching up with us. We know you, of course, as a retail expert, entrepreneur and for your role in the licensing industry for many years. But for those that may not be aware, can you talk us through your relationship with the ethics side, and your role as Retail Ambassador with Products of Change? I have always taken an interest in trying to improve the lives and livelihoods of those working within the retail and manufacturing space, and throughout my career looked at how we can consume more responsibly, both ethically and sustainably. I was an early pioneer of recycled Polyester and the introduction of Fairtrade Cotton, so when I was approached by Helena and she explained what the manifesto of Products of Change was about, I was of course, happy to support and help raise awareness within the retail community. And we are chuffed to bit that you have take on the role, but before we move on to that, can we unpack your involvement in the introduction of Fairtrade Cotton, this seems too big a conversation to let pass us by… In the early noughties, I owned an apparel manufacturing and supply business, and I was aware of the good work that the food industry was doing working with the Fairtrade Foundation, so I met with them to discuss the opportunities with Cotton growers in Africa. I was delighted to learn that they had already started working with African cotton growers in 2004 to develop Fairtrade Cotton. I then began working closely with the Fairtrade Foundation and we were able to develop one of the first end-to-end supply chains buying African cotton from Fairtrade farmers, through to approving our yarn spinners in India and our garment factories in Bangladesh. We were already a large supplier of cotton products to Sainsburys, and so I approached them with the plan to move our production to ethically sourced Fairtrade Cotton, which they agreed to and we launched the range in 2007. And what learnings did you take from that, that have helped shape your approach to retail since, and indeed, your approach to the role of Retail Ambassador for Products of Change? It quickly became evident that persistence is needed when trying to be a disruptor. Never take ‘no’ or ‘it can’t be done’ as an answer, and also that while ethical or sustainable solutions are important when sourcing, we can’t lose sight of the fact that ‘profits and value’ are still the main drivers for businesses and the consumers, and we mustn’t lose sight of this. Absolutely, often it seems to be finding the parameters within which change can be effectually approached, and then nudging them wider and wider in the right direction. So what is it about the retail space that excited you, particularly when it comes to supporting the ethical practices and sustainability of the sector? And ultimately, what are you setting out to achieve in your role with Products of Change? The retail industry, including product supply chains, is one of the largest contributors to UK Greenhouse Gas emissions, with goods sold to consumers accounting for over 30 per cent of all emissions. This gives the industry both a huge opportunity and huge responsibility to play its part in combatting climate change. I believe that all of us working in the industry have a responsibility to lead by example, driving change in the retail sector and the licensing industry. I intend to help Products of Change raise awareness working closely with licensees, retailers, and partners to deliver products with sustainability at their core. In turn, we hope that will help shoppers live lower carbon lifestyles and make more environmentally-conscious choices to assist the retail industry reach its goal of being Net Zero by 2040. OK, so there’s a winding road towards that goal right now. What are some of the first steps or points that retailers can – or should – address to improve their sustainability measures? Retailers and brands need to look closely at what they are doing, how they are doing it, and then consider carefully if they can do things differently and in a more sustainable way. They should also actively seek advice from the likes of organisations such as Products of Change regarding best practices. These are a few starting points. The good news is that unlike 15 years ago, when I first got involved with Fairtrade and recycled polyester, the world has moved forward and the climate change conversation and ethical message has now been widely adopted by global governments and organisations to raise awareness of this important cause. We are in the best position we have ever been to perpetuate that message and effect change for the future, today. A wonderful and positive note to end on there, Damian. Thanks for chatting with us and we look forward to taking this all to the next step.
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