Going Against the Grain: The Green Collective Founders' Story
From contracting a skin condition while living in a polluted environment, to an interest sparked by her grandmother, to an advice by his beloved mother in his formative years - these seemingly unlinked elements are the basic building blocks that sparked the journey towards the birth of what we fondly know as The Green Collective today.
What exactly is the story behind The Green Collective’s birth? What led our founders - Agatha Lee (Agy), Danielle Champagne & Mayur - to birth The Green Collective? What are their stories? How has the recent Circuit Breaker measures impacted them? If you’ve ever asked this question (in your heart), we heard you! And we are here to share our founders’ stories with you.
Our Birth Story
With a teaching degree in hand, Danielle has lived in many different countries in Asia where she taught at many schools. In a particularly polluted country, Danielle experienced much discomfort in her body. In searching for ways to relieve her pain, she discovered a larger problem at hand: Environmental damage.
“In one particularly polluted country, my health and skin condition made me look into alternative options to ease my discomfort and was petrified to discover the damages the fashion and beauty industries do to the environment and people.”
Spurred by her horrifying findings, Danielle embarked on a personal mission to educate and bring sustainable fashion to Singapore - the new home she was moving to - while teaching. With the project constantly kept on her mind, Danielle took a step of faith when she finally made the move to take over a local sustainable fashion brand. This was, however, not without challenges. But fueled by her passion, Danielle was determined to make it work - regardless.
“Singapore being hard on the wallet to small businesses, I reached out to other small business owners and proposed a short term experiment where we would share all the burdens of running a brick and mortar.”
And the rest was history. Two of the small business owners Danielle had reached out to and subsequently met was Agy and Mayur - who we know as the co-founders of The Green Collective today.
A former scientist and environmental policy maker-turned-textile artist, one of Agy’s first projects as she embarked on her journey as a textile artist involved clothing.
“One of the first projects I started as an artist was looking at clothing and how to make them last through repair and upcycling. Being such a new niche (this was 10 years ago!), it was difficult getting it off the ground.”
Mayur, on the other hand, grew up with the value of ‘giving back to society’ deeply ingrained in him. Having spent the first 10 years of his working life away from sustainability, his belief in giving back to society started nagging louder and louder at the back of his head, leading him to upskill himself in the field of sustainability. Subsequently, Mayur finally made the bold (and right) decision to leave his well-paying corporate job to venture into his passion - full time.
“I wanted to gather certain skill sets which are required in order to create a systemic change in a challenging topic like sustainability.”
Clear in the first few months of his journey as he pivoted from a stable corporate job to venture into the unknown to pursue his passion, Mayur’s journey was also not without difficulty.
“My first venture was an artisanal marketplace which was curated based on UN SDGs. We had limited success but learnt a lot over a period of time.”
Was it really just that one meeting between 3 like-minded individuals that birthed The Green Collective? What really brought them together?
The converging point of all 3 of our founders’ journeys is this: They met obstacles in their paths, while pursuing their (common) area of passion fearlessly.
It’s almost customary to think of obstacles in a negative light, but here in the birth story of The Green Collective, we see the beautiful silver lining of obstacles. After all, it was obstacles faced by 3 different individuals from entirely different walks of life that brought them into the beautiful union, birthing what we know as The Green Collective today.
Growing up in Hong Kong (also known as the city that never ceases from its hustle!), Agy and her family would go hiking to escape the city.
“It was a great relief from the crowds and the stress, and being only a 15 minute walk away from home, it made the walks very accessible.”
Observant by nature, Agy would observe and take note of her surroundings - even as a young girl. It was through these seemingly unassuming walks that kick started her environmental advocacy journey:
“I remember noticing how the colour of the sky changed over the years and became murkier - a sign of air pollution - and that was when I decided to volunteer for Friends of the Earth (HK).”
Besides being a lover of the environment, Agy was also a lover of making and creating. Inspired by her grandmother, Agy enjoyed repairing and making clothes (aside from the art).
“My inspiration is my grandma - she was the maker in the family. I watched her use UHT milk cartons to make a sun reflector for her roof, and she would also upcycle various textiles into gits for us.”
Agy also believes that the act of making enables us to slow down and reconnect our minds with our eyes and hands. Agy notes:
As someone who learns her lessons from past mistakes (you’d be surprised because there are people who don’t!), Danielle recounted an incident (and what she learned from the incident) she encountered 34 years ago which is still vividly etched in her mind today:
“The very first time I drove my very first car, I hit a squirrel. I had to pull over because I was crying so hard! That seemingly banal incident taught me a few lessons;
Life is short, and (unfortunately) not always fair.
My actions may have an impact on others. Be responsible for your actions.”
From that incident onwards, Danielle lived life doing her best to create positive impacts in a bid to live by the lessons learned from her very first driving experience. You might be wondering: how much of an impact did that unfortunate accident have on Danielle’s life?
Unsurprisingly, Danielle is a vegetarian, have a few pets, and would honestly be the happiest if she could live on a free range farm!
“But for now, The Green Collective brings all my passions together: sustainability, education, community, helping small brands grow their businesses which in turn helps the makers and artisans, helping people make good purchasing decisions and ultimately, making sustainability mainstream. All this, with my 2 co-founders with whom I share many passions!”
That, folks, is what our founder Danielle really meant when she said that she’s living her life, doing her best to create positive impacts!
“It’s not only a transformative activity, but it’s one that empowers us and connects us with people. Being able to make also allows us to appreciate the things (including our environment) and people around us!”
Growing up in the lower middle class in central India, Mayur’s family may not have been the wealthiest in terms of finances, but when it comes to the inculcation of values, Mayur’s family is a family we’ll consider to be extremely wealthy in.
“My mom always told me to step into the other person’s shoes when looking into a problem, and change the frame of reference. In short, she taught me to be empathetic while solving issues and problems that we all face in our daily lives.”
Applying this simple advice from mum to his daily life, Mayur started looking at the world differently. As Mayur observed the lives of the people around him in his formative years, his passion was being stirred up: he wanted to improve the livelihoods of the most marginalised communities across the world.
“The hunger and passion to channel my skills to fuel this relentless chase of getting better and finding solutions to some of the biggest problems that our world faces today often takes me back to the core values as a kid I was asked to practice”
Having lived life from attending meetings in fancy board rooms, to tilling the ground with farmers in Malaysia and even living in slum rehabilitation colonies in Mumbai, Mayur is passionate about creating an impact at the bottom of the pyramid of society.
“I am a firm believer that if we need to have systematic change in the way things are today, we need to firstly deliver this through businesses with a purpose, and through business models and digital innovations.”
With these basic principles of building a profitable business in heart, Mayur has been able to lead The Green Collective to create a positive impact in the world at a scalable level. Mayur notes:
“I always say this - it’s ‘BUSINESS WITH A PURPOSE’. Don’t forget that business comes first. Otherwise, you will only have a purpose - and that’s not scalable at all!”
Make Or Break
Even as we gradually ease out of the Circuit Breaker measures in Singapore, its after effects can still be tangibly felt. Arguably the most trying and defining make or break period of time for most businesses in Singapore as consumers get shut indoors and work shifts from office to home, what are some of our founders’ true thoughts? How did they adapt to the sudden mandate to change the way they lived their lives and conducted their businesses?
Unanimously agreeing that the announcement of the Circuit Breaker was a huge setback from a business point of view with having to put many artists and future plans on hold, the trio swallowed the hard pill by a simple tweak of their perspectives: It was for the greater good of the community they have been working so hard over the years to make a positive impact on.
“I think the most important thing is to be calm, accept the situation we are in, and make the best out of it - more importantly, I ask myself what I can do to make it better for me and my family, and for others.”
With the mandate to wear a mask whenever out-of-home and the ban on consuming food in stores, various adjustments such as making reusable fabric masks and using reusable containers have been adopted in a bid to reduce the impact of the measures on the environment. Moving beyond just adjusting their own lives, the trio made a decision to extend these adjustments to daily life to the community, too.
“We are trying to innovate by moving to a delivery model and focusing on helping people adopt certain lifestyles during this time at home.”
While some of our founders were more impacted with the fact that they’re no longer able to head out for dinner or drinks to connect with friends during the Circuit Breaker, others found it entirely manageable.
“By nature, I like to work from home. I admit that my routine has not been changed drastically with the circuit breaker…”
But all in all, something that all 3 of our founders can agree on is that in life, we all have to be able to adapt to whatever life throws at us. There’s a cliche but true saying that goes “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”. After all, when you focus on the right things in life, you get to live life enjoying lemonades! #PerspectiveMatters