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Leading SMEs to Greener Pastures

Bags made from bamboo or organic cotton are more environmentally-friendly  
Bags made from bamboo or
organic cotton are more environmentally-friendly
 

Lizette Smook has had a lifelong passion for textiles, but with her science background, she’s also aware of the industry’s heavy environmental footprint. What better place than Hong Kong, a city with a long garment-manufacturing history, to start a company that could offer greener options?

Ms Smook founded her unique business, InnovAsians, in 2007. She began as a sole operator, but her vision was vast. Today, the South African-born entrepreneur is gaining a reputation as a sustainability pioneer. Her company employs nine in Hong Kong and four on the Chinese mainland, with a global network of strategic alliance partners in countries including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States, as well as in the Middle East.

Through its work, InnovAsians is tackling some of our worst environmental offenders. It is, for example, supplying raincoats for the Danish market made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles; helping hotel chains to switch to more eco-friendly bamboo sheets and towels; and showing how biodegradable corn starch is a better choice for food containers and supermarket carrier bags.

Saving Coral Reefs

  InnovAsians represents Carbon Tee, the world's first carbon-neutral T-shirt
  InnovAsians represents Carbon Tee, the world's first carbon-neutral T-shirt
Those ubiquitous daily throw-away items – polystyrene lunch boxes and disposable diapers – are also in Ms Smook’s sights in her quest for greener alternatives. Polystyrene “is a tough one,” she admits, because it is so resistant to the liquids that can turn pulp-made food-containers soggy. But polystyrene is also damaging the world’s coral reefs. So InnovAsians is involved in a pilot project being tested at a resort on Bora Bora Island in French Polynesia, using lunch boxes made from bagasse, a sugar cane by-product, instead.  

Her “total solutions in sustainability” are also a great fit for the fashion industry. “Take denim jeans: there are ways of using organic cotton, or blending other fibres, and more environmentally-friendly ways of dyeing to achieve the same vintage or washed look.”

Ms Smook says her business plan always targeted small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “When SMEs look to differentiate themselves from the big brands, marketing value and brand value become important. Green ethics can give them a competitive edge,” she explains.

And SMEs have been responsive to her ideas. “They’re not large engines of enterprise that can take 50 gears to click in. SMEs can make a decision, and make it happen quickly.”

Powerful Energy

Lizette Smook  
Lizette Smook, CEO and founder, InnovAsians  
Hong Kong, with its strong SME culture, was the right place, something Ms Smook says she observed when she first arrived as a visitor in 1991 on a fact-finding business mission.

“The moment I set foot in Hong Kong, I knew I could live here,” says Ms Smook, who moved to the city five years later. “Firstly, it’s the energy – it picks you up and you go with it. And there are so many opportunities – in Hong Kong there is an enormous richness of ideas that don’t just remain ideas. People will get together and start working on something that might have started as a casual conversation.

“And no matter where you are in Hong Kong, you are always aware of the ocean. I need water around me, and this city offered that to me.”

Ms Smook believed that consumers would prefer to pay more for greener options, if they were available. “If you bring it to people’s attention, they will act,” she says. Coffee retailer Starbucks, for example, is finding that more customers will take their coffee in reusable ceramic mugs, now that they’re being offered. When a leading hotel chain realised the environmental impact of cotton – which uses more insecticides than any other crop, as well as vast amounts of chemicals in the production process – it switched to linen made from fully sustainable bamboo.

  Stylish dinnerware made from rice husk
  Stylish dinnerware made from
rice husk
The Shangri-La Hotel Group also replaced the melamine dinnerware in its resorts with crockery made from rice husk – an agricultural by-product, which is an unlimited resource – sourced by InnovAsians.

Think Big, Act Small

Ms Smook’s aim was to “think big, act small.” With more customers and more strategic partners coming on board, her company is growing rapidly. Ms Smook is also in demand for speaking engagements as more SMEs look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint through a greener supply chain. She welcomes such invitations. “It’s information we need to get out there,” she says.

And her vision for InnovAsians? “My goal is to expand my network and build my brand into a globally-recognised one-stop shop of knowledge and really well designed eco-lifestyle products. Why? Because we need to preserve the resources we have. And because I want to give back to Hong Kong what this city has given me.”

Related Link
InnovAsians

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