Most fashion brand’s supply chains lack transparency and accountability. While the industry has made some incremental improvements in past years, we have a long way to go. But what if brands just cut out the middlemen and reimagined what their supply chain could look like?
In this episode, we’ll be exploring a new approach to production with Sally Lim, the co-owner of 2°EAST. Sally is sharing:
- An insider perspective into what goes into making a watch — and what that tells us about the rest of the fashion industry, too
- What it’s like to co-own a brand with the manufacturer
- How this partnership enables far more transparency
- The challenges of marketing in an ethical way that feels good
- And so much more.
Note: this episode was made as part of a partnership with 2°EAST. But it’s not a promo episode — it’s still educational, inspirational, and useful as the rest of the Conscious Style Podcast episodes (hopefully!) are for you.
- Instagram Graphic on 2°EAST’s Pricing
- Sustainability Against Shame
- How Can We Make Ethical Fashion More Affordable?
- 2°EAST Website
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app
Read the Transcript From This Interview:
Hey there and welcome or welcome back to the Conscious Style Podcast!
So this season of the show is all about slow fashion and last season was all about unveiling the curtain on the businesses within conscious fashion.
In this conversation, you’re going to hear a bit of a mix of both.
I will be chatting with Sally Lim, the co-owner of the conscious watch brand 2 Degrees East.
2 Degrees East is a partner with us here at Conscious Life & Style and when I met with Sally, I was really inspired by what the brand was doing and how they were going against the status quo and I just felt like I wanted to get what we were talking about on the podcast. I wanted all of you to hear what I was learning and I wanted you to hear it directly from Sally. So I decided to invite Sally onto the podcast.
And although this episode was sponsored by 2 Degrees East technically, it is not a promo episode, it’s still going to be useful, educational, and inspiring, as the other episodes, hopefully, are for you.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Sally sharing some interesting insights — an insider perspective into what goes into making a watch (spoiler alert: it’s probably a lot more steps than you would’ve expected) and what that tells us about the rest of the fashion industry.
You’ll also hear about what it’s like to co-own a brand with your manufacturer.
And then we also discuss the challenges of trying to market in an ethical and sustainable way, getting our messages or products out into the world for those that need them in a way that still feels good to us at the end of the day.
And of course, since this season is all about slow fashion, we do tie it back to slowing down fashion as well.
So yeah, lots of gems in this episode. I think you’ll like it! As always, the transcript of this interview is in the show notes on consciouslifeandstyle.com.
Okay, now let’s get on to the conversation. Sally is starting us off here telling us a bit more about the co-ownership model of 2 Degrees East.
So she’s going to tell us about what Ron does, who owns the manufacturing facility in China, and then what she does running the brand side of things in Hong Kong, and what this whole partnership is like.
So it is a dream partnership, honestly. Ron owns the factory. And he started out in working in a factory himself and then he worked his way up until he got to the point where he bought a huge plot of land built a factory. And now his business is to manufacture and assemble watches.
He mainly in the past had worked for other big brands, maybe fashion brands that want to add a watch line to their brand, or, you know, you see watches everywhere, people like Ron are making these kinds of things.
He didn’t in the past have many brands of his own. He doesn’t know it beyond handing a watch to a client, he doesn’t know how to sell them to customers. He doesn’t know the branding, the marketing, the running the direct-to-customer business, he realizes that’s not his thing. In the same way, I know nothing about making a watch and how it’s done, and how to source the bits.
So he takes care of everything up to handing me the watch. And I take it and then I go to a built-out store and I created the idea, the brand, what it was that we wanted, and gave him the specifications. And he’ll find how to make this watch the way I wanted to make it look the way I want it to look. And he takes care of that one side and he doesn’t meddle in my bit. And I take care of this end and I don’t meddle in his bit. And it just works perfectly.
So Ron has 100% faith in whatever I’m doing. I have faith in what he’s doing. We just let each other do our bit. And it just, it runs perfectly well. And we’re really happy.
In the beginning, because he’s based in China, it’s just a short train ride from where I am in Hong Kong in Central. But we started this in the beginning of 2019.
So he could come into Hong Kong. Most Mondays, he’d come in to see other clients and things anyway. And we’d meet and I’d give him my list of questions and requirements as I was studying watches and how they could be made and what I wanted and, and could this be done sustainably? And what does this mean? And is it ethical.
And he would come back with all of his answers every Monday and make samples and find suppliers that met our criteria. But by mid-2019 is when there was a lot of protests in Hong Kong. So it became difficult to travel around. So he couldn’t really come into Hong Kong, into central so easily. By 2020, the borders shut completely. And I haven’t seen him since early 2020, which made things a lot harder. But you know, we do things by Zoom.
Everybody’s life, right?!
Yeah, so he’s had to do a lot more of the sort of going around and visiting all the suppliers and getting information for them that I would have liked to be able to do but yeah, so he’s really 100% now on that side of things. And I’m 100% on whatever I can do online.
Yeah and to get a little bit more insight into your process, I thought it would be really interesting to hear about what sort of the typical watch production supply chain looks like with agents, manufacturers, and so on, versus 2 Degrees East’s approach to how you manage your supply chain.
So it is all far more complex than I ever could have imagined. So I guess I’ve never really thought much in detail about any of this. I’ve never thought much in detail about how watches are made. But because I wanted to really try and be transparent and do everything as sustainably and ethically as possible, I’m like, right, I’m gonna open everything up and tell everyone how it’s done, record everything.
It’s like one of those, you know, those TV shows where the kids have never seen a tomato before or like they don’t know where their beef comes from. And they just, like they eat food, that sort of combination of stuff, and then they don’t really understand what food is like? That’s how I felt like going into this.
We’re so removed from the clothes we wear, our homewares, our watches, everything…
…like we don’t really understand what went into making them or like a person made them a lot of the time. So I was kind of surprised when I went to his factory for the first time, I don’t know. Maybe I expected to see like this machine just sort of spitting watches out, but I was kind of surprised. I didn’t realize what manual work it was.
So there was not these big machines of my imagination, spitting out watches. There was people sitting there by hand, putting in the indices, putting things together. And it was cool. It was really cool.
So all those parts that they were assembling together, they don’t make them all in Ron’s factory. Because his factory, he’s got the ability to make the cases, and he does the assembly of all the different bits. But I mean, I guess obviously, I just hadn’t thought about it, all of those bits, there’s a specialist.
I don’t even want to say factory — often it’s like a workshop, maybe. A workshop that makes each of these parts. So like the tiny little indices, or the hour markers come from one guy who makes the hour markers. The dial comes from a guy who makes dials.
So Ron took me to a few of these places. And I thought, that is not at all what I was imagining this is so cool, I’m going to come back, I’m going to record everything, show everyone how this is done.
And then then I realized like, the more I looked into it, the further it goes like that guy who makes the little indices, he has to buy the metal from somewhere. And then is he the one that plays it with gold or does someone else played it, and then where is the gold come from?
And so as far as like, it’s just this never-ending spiral of suppliers and a lot of them are really tiny. And then as far as the connection from the brand, like a normal brand, to that little guy and his little workshop, and wherever he buys his stuff from it’s, there’s a vast gap between a normal brand that you see and that guy. It’s extremely distant.
But I think the way that people are beginning to work now, like the Internet has allowed a lot of smaller brands to make connections with manufacturers. Whereas previously, you’d probably want to, if you wanted to go into business with a manufacturer in China, usually you would find an agent experience with dealing with English-speaking businesses in the West and Chinese-speaking manufacturers in China.
And that’s a very good idea. It’s a very sensible path. Because there’s language issues, there’s cultural issues, a brand doesn’t really know anything about manufacturing, they don’t know what to look for, or how to find the right people or what to look, what’s a good price, what’s the risk, all of these things.
So there’ll be the brand, then there’ll be an agent that will find a manufacturer. The agent will deal with maybe multiple factories like Ron’s assembly factory, and then there’s all the little guys underneath there.
So then you’ve got the little guys, the manufacturer, the agent, the brand, and then to get between the brand and the customer, the brand might have their own retail stores maybe or they might need to get into other retail stores. If they need to get into other retail stores, they will most likely have an agent that will then connect them to the other retail stores.
And then the agent will then sell on to the retail stores, and the retail stores will sell them to customers…. There’s a long, long chain of people. And even at the bottom end. If all these little guys in between like I found a supplier of the recycled yarn to make into the NATO straps for our watches. And I just Googled it and I found the supply, he sells the yarn.
So then I called Ron, like I found the supplier they are in Taiwan, you can use them, it’s really good. So he called them and they said, no, no, we have an agent, you have to call the agent. So then he had to find that agent. And then you had to get their agent to agree to work with our supplier that we’d already picked.
Like every step of the way, there’s someone potentially in between. Which makes sense, it makes everyone’s life easier. If there’s a person to go to, it’s sort of, there’s a reason for it, but it also really muddies the water if you’re trying to find out — If you want to do things in a certain way that’s done differently. For one, it can be difficult and it really matters muddies the water if you’re trying to find out where your things came from.
Because a lot of these people their business, it’s not in their business interest to tell you who their suppliers are, or to tell you where they get their business from, because they don’t want you to go around them. So that’s reasonable, but it makes it hard to know, at each point, what exactly happened and what happened at the point before.
So for us having, like you said, having Ron there, basically, there’s Ron, and then there’s our online store, and then there’s the customer. There is a very — there is not much going on in between.
So if people ask us, where was this? Is your gold ethically sourced? Is it conflict-free? Then I’ll just ask Ron, is it conflict-free? And he can ask directly the guy that plays it, rather than 10 people in between needing to pass the message on and they’re getting lost somewhere along the way?
Right. You can see how, as you said, all this sort of middlemen and these agents and all this stuff developed in a business sense, to sort of streamline the process of finding suppliers. And then you can also see from like a business sense why they don’t want to share too much information.
However, from a sustainability sense, from a transparency sense, from an ethical supply chain sense, it makes things very challenging. And it’s hard to imagine truly, trackable, traceable, ethical sourcing being possible in a typical watch supply chain.
It seems like the approach that you have, co-owning 2 Degrees East with Ron, who runs the assembly factory, and as you know, based in China can visit the suppliers of the components as well. It seems like that is really the only way that is even feasible.
Right. And I mean, it’s good, because he’s very open, he’s open to this idea. I mean, especially now, when I would have been the one going around, checking everything and recording everything and doing that, like putting in the time. But I couldn’t because I couldn’t get into China. So he had to be interested enough to go and do it himself.
Like he has a factory to run as well. He doesn’t have so much time to be going around and doing it. So if he wasn’t, if he wasn’t invested in the business, he would be far less likely to be interested to answer all my constant questions about little details that have just popped into my mind.
Mhm. Yeah, totally. And I imagine it’s very different for Ron as well. His experience working with other brands and supplying other brands versus working with you, and he has this sort of stake in the game as you mentioned.
And you know, for listeners, there’ll be answers from Ron to various questions in the show notes that you can read because he was unable to join us.
But Sally, if you had anything that you could say based on your conversations with Ron, what is different maybe from his side of things, working with 2 Degrees East versus other brands?
I mean, if he was being very honest, it would probably be a big pain in the butt for him working with 2 Degrees East as supposed to other brands. I know early on often he would automatically try and find me the cheapest supplier. And he would give me the price.
And I mean, if he often with especially other established, say fashion brands, a few cents here and there difference on a component per piece is huge to them. It’s like, I think when an airline decided to remove the olive from the inflight meal that no one was eating, they save like a billion dollars a year or something, which seems ridiculous.
It’s kind of the same for big brands that are making like, hundreds of thousands of these fast fashion items that they make. And I mean, watches are kind of fast fashion for a lot of brands. They can be made really cheaply if you want to — and almost disposable if they’re made badly.
So for these brands, like if he could find something like a few cents cheaper, they’d be super happy. So he would look around and find like, this is the cheapest one I could find, like no, no, no, no, no. We don’t need the cheapest one, one, I’m not making that many. A few cents is cool. It’s okay. And I’m like, I want the best one. What’s the best one? Let’s find the best way to do it — we want it to last forever.
We don’t want corners cut, just find the best one. Honestly, the price isn’t difference wasn’t huge per piece. You can make watches very cheap. I know a lot of people will see when I first started out, I would look up reviews on YouTube and things of various brands. And people would be saying look, you know, I can buy this very popular fast fashion watch copy on AliExpress for $1. They’re ripping you off; like you can buy it for $1.
And it looks the same. It does. Some of these fast fashion brands are very cheaply made and can be a huge markup. But I think we can talk about the markup later. But also you can make something that looks similar very cheaply.
But it’s not the same. You know, every little component, there is a variation in quality. So you could buy a mineral crystal, the glass, but it will scratch and once it scratched, you don’t want a scratched watch. It looks ugly, you’re likely to throw it out. Where you can get a sapphire crystal, which is really difficult to scratch, it looks exactly the same until it gets scratched.
That is such a good point that these things can look the same but the quality and the actual wear can be vastly different.
Very, very different. And the same goes for the method of plating, the gold onto the watch. Is it going to flake off? Is it even gold? Is it, you know, the leather strap, is it gonna fall apart and flake off? Because it’s just sort of made of like crappy components or bits of leather? Or is it gonna get nicer the longer you wear it?
And on a photo online, it’s gonna look exactly the same. You can’t tell the difference. So I went off on a big tangent there. But I feel like traditionally, Ron would be like, trying to find the cheapest way to make like a kind of okay product that it’s gonna look nice and people will buy it.
Because that’s what brands probably have been wanting up until now.
Right, right. Especially like the ones that just sort of want to make something that will catch someone’s eye in a shop and they’ll just buy it. Not for someone who’s particularly looking like I need to buy this. You know, it’s like the fast fashion thing.
So for him, it was like, every sort of habit he may have built with these previous brands, I’m like, stop. Nope. Let’s not do it that way. Let’s do it this way. So… I’m lucky. He’s been really, he’s interested in it. And he’s keen to understand this new, different way of doing things. This is the future of doing things — hopefully, this is the future of how things will be done, rather than the traditional way.
So he’s, and, you know, sometimes I’ll speak with some of the suppliers as well, depending on if it’s easier. He’ll just hand me their WeChat details and I can chat to them directly with some of my questions.
And they’re the same way like I’ll ask them things and that they’re confused. Like, why are you asking me this? No one’s ever asked me that before. Why would you want recycled paper? It’s so ugly, you know, a shiny new one. I’m like, no, no, no, no. Like, oh, yeah, I guess it save some trees. Okay. But it’s just sort of a new way of thinking for a lot of people that are used to the demands of like big oh let’s make things cheap and fast companies.
Yeah, that’s super interesting. And it reminds me a lot of the conversation I had with Zoe Hong, who was a fashion educator
Oh, I was watching her YouTube videos over the weekend. That’s hilarious. She’s so cool.
She’s amazing. Oh, my gosh, I was so excited to get to talk to her for the podcast. But she was talking about how designers would literally be told, like, at these fast fashion brands to like buy products from the store.
Literally, you know, give them to their pattern makers to trace, like, copy exactly, and then return the product. So like, it might look the same. But it’s cheaper fabrics. It’s cheaper construction, it’s not going to fit as well. It’s not going to be as high quality. So looks can be deceiving.
Yeah and especially now that we’re also comfortable buying online. A photograph does not tell you all of those details. It can look amazing. I mean, they probably use the original photograph as well, the places, that kind of thing.
Right, right. That’s such a good point. Yeah, but no, your watches are so high quality. I was wearing it earlier, but I was recording Reels, and I was changing to like 10 different outfits. So I had to take off because I didn’t want things to get caught. But it’s such an exceptionally made watch. It’s like, it’s so beautiful. It’s like getting me into watches.
Because, yeah, I don’t know, I never wore them before, but it helps me like not look at my phone every time that I want to check the time and like get sucked in. But yeah, you can tell the quality and your commitment to quality. So it’s really interesting to hear what went into that to make that possible. It takes effort, it takes doing things a different way but it’s worth it. Like I’m excited to have these for a lifetime, so.
But they’re also not expensive. Which brings me to the next question that I had for you regarding, you know, cutting some of these layers of the middlemen allows you to sell the watches at a much more affordable price than if you were to sell them through a few extra layers.
So can you tell us about the typical price structure of watches and jewelry and maybe kind of like fashion overall, versus your approach to pricing and selling to your end customer?
Yeah. So I mean, this does, again — it varies a lot. But there is a sort of big standard in the industry. I think being able to run a business online is what is changing this drastically. So it is really beginning to change.
But a lot of these traditional businesses are still in the market, and they’re not going to have to like they’re not going to drop their prices when their costs drop. If they’ve got their set price, they’re gonna keep a hold of that. And then keep doing and then keep doing things in a cheaper way.
But so not so long ago, we would have needed either a huge amount of money to pay for our own storefronts and stuff to work in them. Or we’d have to enter into agreements with established stores, department stores, this kind of thing for them to sell our products. If we didn’t know any of these established stores and department stores, I think I mean most likely there’s like an agent for any big department stores as well. So we would need to have an agent to help us find the places to put our products.
So the final retail markup like if I want to put my watches into a retail store, now, I will need to give them probably 50% of the sale price. Obviously, you’ll need to have the same sale price everywhere a retailer isn’t going to be happy if I’m undercutting them on my website. So whether I’m selling direct to customers or if they’re selling through a retailer we all need to agree on what the established recommended retail price is.
So a brand will set that recommended retail price based on whatever their most expensive channel will be. If they know they’re going to need to give a cut to say, you know, a business that takes a big chunk, because maybe they will get a good return from them. So they’ll have a big percentage that goes to that retailer, they’ll have a percentage that goes to the agent, sales agent, or distribution agent.
They’ll have then the brand that is sold to the sales or we distribution agent, there was a little bit of a cut in there, then there’s the often like the agent for the brand that found the manufacturer for their brand, there’s another one in there, that’s another step. Then there’s your assembler or manufacturer who sold that to the agent for the brand.
And there’s all you know, the countless little tiny guys that supplied… There’s a lot of steps in there from the customer walking into a store and buying something to the guy in his little workshop, sticking indices together or something.
So each of those, like we said, like it’s reasonable, and it’s a necessary — or it was previously a necessary — part of business, to have each of these steps in place. But each of these steps, there is a price bump so that they can earn their living.
And that’s significant. It really is significant. So there could be sometimes 10 times doubling of the price by the time it’s gone from like the beginning that’s the product to the customer at the end, it’s usually not that high, but it’s not unheard of that it is in some industries extremely high, depending on what that chain looks like.
This is really changing a lot because of the fact that we can, I mean, I use Shopify, I think it’s $29 a month. That’s my storefront! Very cheap rent. And the other significant savings for brands like ours is the amount of things you can automate.
And so not only are we removing all of these steps in that chain of people, between the customer and the manufacturer, we’re also removing the costs. So the cost of running a business are really small, now. Plus the fact that we’re dealing directly with Ron to customer basically.
Yeah, that’s great to get that insight into where all the additional costs are coming in, and what leads to the price that we see when we purchase something.
And I’ll also link the Instagram graphic that I did on 2 Degrees East and your pricing approach. I’ll link that in the show notes so people can check that out in case you want to sort of see it visually.
I created like these charts that sort of show how the markups add up to a way, way higher price. I think it was something like if you were to sell through the typical like, agent, retailer, all that stuff, the watches would have cost, I don’t know, like four times more or something like that?
Oh, it was more. It was, yeah. I remember calculating it, equivalent, equivalent things easily sell for around $500 instead of $100 and something that we sell for.
And there’s not a big difference in quality, anything else. There is a lot of lower-quality products, that sell for significantly higher. Which again — it’s not like they’re, they’re not cheating you. It’s just necessary to run a business in a certain way to have those costs built into the business.
Yeah, they maybe have a less efficient business model.
So something that we talked about before is your approach to marketing and navigating how to sell your watches, but mark it in a thoughtful way that feels good to you. And this is a very tough balance to find.
So can you tell us a little bit about how you try to be intentional in your marketing?
It’s really awkward. It’s really difficult to make — like I can justify my product. Because although the world doesn’t need more watches — definitely, from what I’ve seen at these massive watch fairs, there are plenty of watches on Earth, already. What it does need is better options.
So if there’s people that want to buy a watch, they need to buy a watch and want to know about, like, I want to educate people on what to look for, if you’re buying one. To save them all the time that I went through trying to work out. Where does this come from? And what’s that? And is this an issue?
And I’m still learning, and I’ve been doing this for a while now, there’s always something else someone might ask me, I don’t know, I haven’t looked into that there’s always something that I might have missed. So for me, I’m happy if I can help other people to save the time and understand – this is what you’re looking for.
This is how you can deal with a brand. If you like something, you can ask them these questions, they might have the answers, maybe they call and they just. I mean, that’s the other thing, it’s hard to, it’s hard to express the huge amount of information that you have on things.
So maybe your brand is doing everything great. They just can’t find a way to tell you every single detail of everything that they’ve done and all the processes they’ve been through.
So it’s always good to ask, because they might be very happy to tell you, I’m always really happy if people ask me questions about the brand. Because either I get to tell them or I think if I hadn’t thought of that before I get to go and look into it. And I’ve learned something new.
So I like to think of the marketing is like, even if people aren’t buying a watch, in the market to buy watch, because if they’re not, I don’t want them to buy one, don’t buy one if you don’t need one!
But if next time they do need one, they can at least think of the things that they heard when I shared this information.
But my background, like I think I said before, my background is not in business, or marketing or any of these things. So every step I take I have to Google – how to start a brand? What is marketing?
So I think there’s some really creative and entertaining and intelligent marketing out there. And like it can be an art, it can be really fun and make your day if you see good marketing.
But there’s also if you Google how-tos, I’ve found just all these marketing bros selling their methods of selling and it was just it was gross. And it was so off-putting and so I feel like I don’t want to even try and sell these!
It’s so… so I was like, I just want to be sincere like I think my product is cool. It’s good. It’s cheap. Like how can you go wrong? Obviously, you still need to get it in front of people.
So when I was building the brand I was looking into, like, what do I want it to be? I want it to be real. I want it to be for everyone. You know, we want to live with purpose. We’re not perfect. We don’t want to try and be perfect. I don’t want to preach.
I just want to be, like, celebrate the fact that we’re all giving it a go. You know we’re not fully sustainable — there’s no such thing as fully sustainable, but we’re trying. And here’s a tiny bit of a way it can make it easier for someone who’s trying.
And then I was looking at all these other brands and like, how do they share their message? And how do they do it? And there were sort of two different, two different things that I could see.
One side, they were a lot of traditional watch marketing, they were women watches, and they’re beautiful. And they’ve got their flowers, and their latte and a big hat. And they’re gorgeous and very Instagrammable. And then men have like a jacket, and a motorbike and some stubble, and like, it was just repeated over and over. And I’m like, I don’t look like them. I’m just a normal person.
And I found like that sort of marketing, it’s like, sure it’s pretty, but it seemed to have this sort of underhanded message of like, maybe if you buy our stuff, you can look like this. You know, it’s sort of aspirational stuff, but I think it’s rubbish. Like, I don’t like it. It didn’t make me feel good if I see this kind of thing.
Then there was this other, there was a whole series of different kinds of brands, all in different areas, not necessarily fashion brands. But they were, they were not very obviously like this set of marketing is for women and this set is for men. And the women’s one looks like this. And the men’s looks like this. It was just sort of bright colors, and happy images, and everyone’s all mixed in there together.
And they’re not, like, necessarily super beautiful people, not even necessarily like they weren’t even using the people’s bodies and images to sell stuff. They were selling the product.
And it was just you know, they might have kind of witty comments on their things. Like it was a sort of thing that made me smile when I came across it. And I feel like that’s more, that’s how marketing should be.
Even if I don’t want to buy their product, if I come across their posts on Facebook, and it makes me smile or laugh, or I learned something from it, then that’s cool. I’m happy to follow them on Facebook, and they’ve added something bright to my day.
And I came across Marika Eyskoot. I don’t know if you’ve come across her, she’s got this program would you call it movement called Sustainability Against Shame. And she’s so cool. She sort of said everything that I’d sort of noticed but couldn’t quite put my finger on.
And so she’s got this movement. She’s like all of us, whether it’s the brands that can sign up and agree not to use this sort of marketing or the people to just realize, like, you can be free of this. They’ve been doing this to us for years, you know, trying to sell us things by shaming us like, Oh, you’re looking a bit wrinkly there, you better buy some face cream, or inventing something else for us to feel bad about. So we need to buy something to fix it.
Like, it’s just been relentless for so long that marketing has done this, that we don’t see it like it’s the norm. I don’t even notice that they’re doing it to us. And it sucks. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world where she’s being relentlessly told she needs to change something.
So this is sort of all about like, don’t use shame as a means to sell the products. That’s like unsustainable because you’re forcing people to buy stuff that they didn’t need in the first place and you’re making them feel bad while you do it. Ugh!
So I try and always keep that in mind. Like because it’s so normalized. I feel like you could do it without even realizing that you’re doing it. So I have to try and be really mindful, like, is everything I’m doing not accidentally just going along with this crappy norm.
Right, like if you sort of emulate or copy what other people are doing, you can very easily fall into that trap. But also I think in this sense is good that you didn’t have a business education because I have a business degree. And I feel like I basically had to unlearn everything anyway, because it was like, a lot of these marketing techniques are so harmful.
They really are.
Like finding reasons for people to buy things. And I see it all the time, people just making up occasions to buy stuff. And it’s like when did this holiday and that holiday mean that you needed a brand new outfit? You know?
But it’s kind of how marketers have been trained, you know, their job is to get people to buy things. And so it’s really requires just totally rethinking the entire system, similar to the supply chains, which we were talking about a lot before. It’s like the marketing is similar, you sort of have to rethink everything that you thought you knew, or that other brands are doing with their marketing strategies.
And then like another, like a huge part of the marketing strategy now is influencer marketing. All right, so you just send out all your products to everyone. And then they post about it.
And then, one, a lot of the influencers when I started looking through, like, I’ll send it out to influencers, like, the ones that align with what I’m trying to do, like, I’d be saying one thing, and then sending something to a girl that’s gonna be posting this one day and then posting her like, massive haul of fast fashion stuff the next day. That feels to me very insincere.
So then, I’m like, what I need to find people that align with my thinking, that understand what I’m trying to do, that want to also don’t want to try and sell stuff. I’m like, what am I doing? Like this is so ridiculously difficult.
So there’s like this tiny handful of people that, you know, like I wanted to create, to get people like yourself to like, create content, to help, to educate, but also like to line up with what I’m trying to do, but not make it feel like I’m trying to sell something.
It’s a weird, it’s a really awkward space to be in. Yeah. And then I find like, then when I started looking into this sort of influencer marketing as well, there’s a lot of it’s funny, like, I’ve helped out run with a previous brand that he had, that was a very, like, dudes kind of, like, while I was working on this, I was helping him out with a different one. It’s really like dudes watch, mechanical watches like outdoorsy. Like the opposite of this.
And so I had a lot to learn about that kind of thing. And it’s, it’s like a real hobbyist thing like guys that just love watches and all the bits of stuff that they do. So in one way, it was much easier.
And there was a lot of guys that like have Instagram accounts that are just photos of their watches. There are thousands of them. And so they would really happily like I could send them a watch. And they would very sincerely give it a really good review. Like not as in like say it’s amazing, but detailed, they will review it in detail and, and I didn’t have to pay them, they got a free watch, everyone’s happy.
But then when I get into this space, I realized that’s a lot of work for them. And it’s a lot of value for me as a brand and sure they did it for fun. But they’re underselling themselves. And so a lot of the women that I work with, now, they know not to undersell themselves, which is amazing.
And have, recognized that as a content creator, it takes skill to make the content they make. It takes, like — they’ve invested money in like, the equipment, they need to create the content, they’ve invested time in learning how to make good content. Their experience in making the content is valuable. And their audience is valuable.
It’s not about the number of followers that they have. It’s about the work that they put in, and the quality of the content that they create, like your podcast, your blog, this kind of thing.
Content creators, I will say, deserve to be paid for the work that they do. And in some areas, they’re still very much undervalued. There’s a lot of really well-paid influencers, like it’s a weird market. But there’s a lot of people that will do this for nothing, or for product or for maybe other sustainable brands will give them a discount for sharing their stuff or pay them in product like it’s, again, it’s kind of a weird and murky.
Yeah. It is like you said, there’s this huge gap between like, influencers pulling in millions of dollars, huge audiences, and then, you know creators that well yeah, just do it for product or I think that’s sort of falling away is there’s been more and more talk about it. And as I think this like, being a content creator has been more legitimized, like as a career.
But it is very, I think it’s different in each space to how much and how big your audiences and all that stuff. But that definitely was something that I had to learn. Like, when I started out, I wasn’t charging, I was just really excited about getting free products.
But then after a few times, I realized, oh, my gosh, this is like a lot of work! I’m spending four hours of my Saturday to do this, like, I need to start getting paid for this.
Yeah. And it’s a very, it’s an area that’s ripe for big companies to take advantage of. And even like, I could unknowingly take advantage of it. Because traditionally, you’ll just send the product, and people will do all the work for nothing. And they’re happy because they got a free thing. Everyone’s happy, so it’s okay, right?
But like, because there’s nothing sort of set yet. It’s a weird, early path that you’re walking, like, I should do it this the right way. I should pay people what they need to be paid, and not just in people’s. It’s hard. There’s just so many things to learn each step of the way to try and do it the right way.
Yeah, no, but it’s so refreshing to hear your approach to A, of course, valuing content creators and secondly, I loved what you were saying about like wanting to find content creators that were providing like educational content, and it wasn’t just about pushing and selling.
Because that is also something also difficult as, like a content creator in the sustainability space when I want to create very educational content and I don’t want to just do a pure promo. But that doesn’t inherently mean that I have fewer brands that like, either reach out or that want to work together, because a lot of brands just want to push the product. But even if it’s a sponsored post, I don’t feel good about that. I want to also make sure that my audience is getting something out of it as well.
Exactly. Yeah I’m so bummed that I haven’t been able to go into China and like I record all of the processes and things, because it’s legitimately really interesting to see the people and the processes and the, you know, behind the scenes of everything.
And I feel like that would have been really interesting for everyone to see how all of this work. So hopefully, maybe in 2035 or something the borders reopen we can do that, but, but I feel like that sort of content is really like I love to see it. I love to see how things work and how things are done.
Yeah, I love those Instagram Reels where they’ll show like embroidery or someone’s sewing or someone mending or you know, painting, dyeing, it’s so cool. I would love to see even more of that.
Because I think as you said before, and you know, what we say a million times in this space, we are so detached from what we wear and what we buy. And I think that if we use, you know, social media for a good purpose, obviously it can have a lot of negatives, but perhaps it can be an opportunity to reestablish that connection through videos and photos. And things like that.
So it is, yes. And because previously, it would have been so hard to get that information, and then record it and then like, put it on a documentary or something like now we can just be there and share it with everyone while we’re there. I think it’s great that we now have the tools to do that sort of thing.
Totally. So going back to something that you mentioned before with the marketing discussion, is, you know, it’s, you’re not perfect, there’s not 100% sustainable.
So can you tell us, uniquely for 2 Degrees East, what does that mean for you? How do you strive to be more thoughtful and mindful while acknowledging that you’re not perfect?
I mean, it’s so, I think it’s trying to be sustainable, and ethical, and transparent and do things right. It’s gonna be hypocritical, like, you can never be perfect — ever. There was always something more that you could do, or something better that you could do.
I’m the sort of person that tends to try and get something perfect before I do it, which is very frustrating for my husband. He’s like, just get started, just do something and work it out as we go. I’m like, no, no, it’s not right yet, just wait, I’m just gonna make this.
So for me, it was very hard in the beginning to, it was hard to get started on this brand. Because it is never gonna be perfect.
Like you can always take a step back — unless we change the entire economy. And like, I weave and watch out of grass and trade it to the guy next to me for a piece of cheese or something. Like, there is no way that we can do this without somehow being hypocritical. We’re not going to be perfect. There’s something that we’re going to be doing that isn’t right. So that, for me is incredibly difficult.
I’m forever terrified that someone will confront me because there’s a lot of people that are very, and I understand it like adamantly angrily advocating for sustainability and for doing things correctly. I mean, I never would have got started, if I was aiming for perfection, and I never would have, I would have given up.
Like, if you’ve just gotta have enough confidence in your ability to do your best and understand your best is going to be different to someone else’s best. There are certain things that we can do very well in our personal lives for sustainability, in our business for sustainability. There are certain things that other people can do very well. Like everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses.
And it’s something that constantly bothers me, because I’m not perfect. And you always have this sort of a bit of self-doubt.
For example, like these batteries in our watches. And that was a very difficult decision in the beginning. Should I make a mechanical watch, so there’s no battery? And you just have to, like, wear it to keep it going and rewind, like wind it?
And I realized mechanical watches are very specific part of the market. Some people love mechanical watches, they love getting up. They love winding it in the morning, it’s part of their routine, part of their thing, but it’s actually it’s a pain in the butt if you just want to put your watch on and go out the door and know what time it is in the morning.
So do I want to be a very niche bunch of people that want to be perfectly sustainable? Or do I want to be providing just a better option for the person that would have bought the fast fashion watch?
And really, I want to try and change things to make a new normal for the normal. And doing that means not being perfect, I have to use a battery. Because most people aren’t gonna buy a mechanical watch. It’s chunkier, it’s heavier, it’s a pain in the butt. You go out halfway through the day and realize you hadn’t set it in the morning, and you’ve got no idea what time it is.
So we’ve got — there was a lot of decisions that I’ve made along the way. And I realized, like, if I’m challenged, I can actually justify what we’ve done and justify that we’re not perfect in every way, but we’re doing our best with what we can.
And I don’t want to be shaming people who aren’t doing things right. I don’t want to be making people feel bad. The other part of the marketing, right? Like it like you don’t want to be all doom and gloom like the world is ending you guys. That’s not going to help anyone. We need to be positively trying to motivate people to want to be better.
Yeah definitely. And it was really interesting to have that tangible example of one of the decisions that you have to make as a brand regarding the sustainability versus perhaps the usefulness of the product.
And then also when it comes to sustainability as a brand, or in our personal lives, it’s a journey and not a destination.
SoI know that you are working on some future plans with 2 Degrees East to further improve the sustainability of the watches that you have. So can you tell us a bit about that those plans?
Right. So we have I mean, there’s a lot of dreams that we have of what we can do. I mean we talked about the method of marketing and how like, we’re doing this really ethical marketing, and I don’t want to do things like all the marketing bros do on their YouTube channels and I don’t want to send all my watches out to influencers.
To be real, this is a very slow growth method of marketing, right? Like, sadly, the marketing bros and the marketing that you learned that’s what works. And that’s what moves product.
And if we were focused on like just selling our stuff, we’d be selling a lot of stuff. And we’d be able to, I mean, in one way, then we’d have more money to be able to speed up the process of our development and making new products. We’re doing things the slow way. So we’re not developing our new products as quickly as we would like to.
Things that we would like to do in the future, we have samples now, which I’m just sort of wearing and testing out of the mechanical watches, because there are some people that like the mechanical ones and it’s nice to have it as an option.
And solar-powered, so they have a battery in them, but they also have a solar-powered panel underneath the dial that makes the battery last for way, way, WAY longer.
So those are the two sort of extra options.
That’s really cool to hear, though, and really interesting to hear about those future projects. And I’m very excited to see the development of that.
And I resonate with that slow growth. I think just when you are doing things more mindfully, it is going to be slower.
There’s faster ways to grow, for instance, a blog or an Instagram or whatever, or make more money as an influencer.
I mean, you want to do something that makes you feel good about like, you don’t want to get challenged and then not actually be able to justify your decisions confidently, you know. So even if sometimes it seems like, like why am I doing this? It’s good to do things in a way that you’re like, actually, this is exactly why I’m doing it this way. Because of this.
Yeah. So Sally, this over an hour has really flown by. And I’ve just so appreciated all of your sort of insider perspectives into what goes into production and marketing as a brand. I found this so interesting. And I think listeners will, too.
So can you tell everybody where they can find 2 Degrees East to learn more and check out your watches?
Thank you so much. It’s been so lovely talking to you, too. So our website is 2degreeseast.com Another thing that I learned is that is a stupid business name for people to try to find you. It’s two, like a 2, not spelled out like two, and then Degrees east.
Yeah, we’ll make sure the link is in the show notes so people can easily find it.
Thank you. Thank you.
And then I have one final question for you that I asked all the guests that come into the show, which is what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
I think we need to take it back from the few old billionaire dudes that have turned it into the industry that it is.
My daughter is six and her current dream job is to be a fashion designer. She spends hours draping her toys and little scraps of fabric and making them little outfits.
It’s funny because I own like three white t-shirts and a few pairs of dark trousers so her creativity in fashion definitely doesn’t come from me. But I love it and I love her sense of style and to her, like fashion is creativity and expression and fun.
And it’s, I think it’s really cool and I love that so I think there’s like a place for long-lasting functional clothes for people like me. And for like, just to come back to this crazy cool creative expression that is fashion. Take it away from being a big business and just focus back on like what is it actually all about? How can we do it in a good way?
Aaand that’s a wrap for this episode with Sally of 2 Degrees East. If you enjoyed this conversation, please do share it with a friend who you think might get something out of it too or share it on your Instagram stories, tagging @consciousstyle and @2degreeseast.
And if you want to learn more about 2 Degrees East and check out their watches — which I wear nearly everyday — you can find all of the links in the episode description.
I also wrote an article diving a little bit deeper into 2 Degrees East’s pricing structure and their model and how that can be a blueprint for making sustainable and ethical fashion more affordable without sacrificing the ecological or social responsibility.
So a big thank you to 2 Degrees East and Sally for supporting our work here at Conscious Life & Style and this podcast, helping us get educational content out to all of you for free. And of course, thank you to all of you out there for tuning in today.
I’ll catch you again next Tuesday for another episode. So make sure that you are subscribed to this podcast on your favorite app so you do not miss it. Alright, take care and bye for now!
The other co-owner of 2°EAST, Ron, was unable to join us for the recorded interview. However, he sent through written responses to my questions. Read them below!
Elizabeth: Can you share your background? How did you start working for a watch
assembly factory and how did you transition to owning a watch assembly factory?
Ron: I have worked a lot of jobs since graduation, but the watch business was one of my favorites. Early on, I decided this was the avenue I wanted to pursue. I got into manufacturing to gain a better control of the processes so that we can make beautiful watches, better.
Elizabeth: How did you meet Sally and why did you two decide to work together? How is it
different from your partnership with other brands?
Ron: Sally and I’s partnership works because our backgrounds and our skillsets are so different but our ideals are the same; we are passionate about our goals and that is what allows us to continue on with patience. Sally is a formidable and thoughtful businesswoman, we work well together because she likes watches too, but also because we both are driven by goals beyond financial success.
Elizabeth: What do you do today as a factory owner?
Ron: In my factory, we manufacture watch cases and watch bands and assemble complete watches. Our team is built with workers from many different parts of China and of varied ages and skillsets.
Elizabeth: What is your relationship like with your workers?
Ron: I have a good relationship with my staff. We have differences of opinions sometimes, but we can always find a solution. It really is my goal that all my workers can achieve their dreams. Realistically, I know this will not always be possible, but we use this as a guideline. I think everyone wants their life to be meaningful and for their time to be valuable.
Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your factory and what the people working in your factory do?
How do you partner with other workshops that manufacture the components for your
Ron: I have been building partnerships with my vendors from the moment I stepped into the industry in 2002, and with this network have manufactured all kinds of watches for many brands.
Elizabeth: Do you think that your experience working in a watch assembly factory has
impacted the way you manage the factory you own today?
Ron: I do think that my experience working in a watch assembly factory has impacted the way I manage the factory I own today, but my character has the greatest impact. I always focus on learning, to recognize any possible areas for improvement and constantly strive to do better in all areas.
2°EAST began with one simple question: Is it possible to produce a quality, everyday watch that doesn’t cost the earth?
Finding the answer was a little more complex. It took years of seeking the right eco-friendly materials, the most ethical-as-can be practices, and makers who shared our belief that value and quality could co-exist before we finally came to a resounding ‘yes!’.
The result is a watch that fits your world. A watch that lasts. A watch for every day and every occasion. A watch that makes you smile. A watch that doesn’t just look and feel good but does good.