Gemma Gratton, 38, Founder of Manchester based responsible clothing brand The Bee Thrive. A true advocate for not only conscious consumerism but also a campaigner of equality.
Her unapologetic political fashion statements highlight awareness and fairness throughout the entire supply chain.
Gemma has travelled the world researching fashion manufacturing, meeting with UN Labour representatives and Fashion revolution members. Fighting for equality not only in fashion but across the whole current economic landscape. Focused determination has seen her run 2 marathons and make it to basecamp at Mount Everest. With a fire in her belly and her dedication to make a difference she really is a force to be reckoned with.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My name is Gemma and I’m founder of responsible clothing brand The Bee Thrive. I’m a real advocate for conscious consumerism and want to support the spread in education to support people in realising the impacts of fast fashion and how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. After travelling South America I returned with a real purpose and passion, I just had to figure how I was to align the two. It came to me slowly over a period of six years, and cemented the vision when I spent 3 months in SE Asia experiencing the factories out there first hand. All The Bee Thrive garments are UK sourced fabrics and trims, and produced right here in Manchester. I spend a lot of my time ensuring the full provenance in what I am doing and creating.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I never planned my career. I ended up falling into construction after not knowing the direction I wanted to go in. I made a success of this over a period of seventeen years becoming a Project Manager in Abu Dhabi managing the build of the worlds tallest mastclimber – but this career did not serve me. Always having a real flare for fashion, and passion around sustainability, I took the leap of faith and here I am now. Skills are transferable so building a whole new fashion brand with a difference made in Manchester has made dream become reality.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Yes, I have faced many challenges – this is what we grow through. In my previous career in construction experiencing gender inequality. In entrepreneurship starting my business and being new to fashion. I’ve experienced people trying to take part of business, and even rip off my vision through me sharing too much at a stage I was searching for external validation – all of which are lessons and blessings, I need no validation – but through these situations is how we learn.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Getting this far in my business. There have been many times I’ve felt extremely overwhelmed, at burn out – but with a burning fire of passion in my belly – i’m no quitter! I’ve definitely got that fighter spirit, completing two marathons, one which I had no training for. It took me 7 hours and 36mins to complete, it was like tumbleweed when i reached the finish line, scorching hot in the Dubai Sun! It wasn’t a good move looking back, my hip still pains to this day – I don’t have a giving up bone in my body. This is a blessing and a curse
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Raising awareness – I think it’s important on how you measure success – to date I am still trying to grow my business, financially – but after hosting several events around fashion and sustainability in the city – I have had great feedback from complete strangers, who have each taken something away from the talks shared – this is success to me, if you can change the slightest of habits within one person in our community – collectively we can really make global difference.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is vital when finding your feet in your field. I have had a couple of mentors, in holistic leadership and a business coach that have supported me with my structure, like many creatives i’m not best organised – setting frameworks up has been difficult. I see a therapist fortnightly to support my health and wellbeing – I see it as a gift to myself, to keep learning and working out perceptions, with so many shifting realities happening now all at once.
I had an intern also Kitty Cole from Manchester College who joined just before COVID, she is an amazing young lady who fully supported me the time she was in placement. Hopefully she will come back one day – I learnt from her as she did me. I think its important now more than ever to inspire and be inspired, and if you want to pursue something, then do it.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I believe the number of women in Parliament. If our government doesn’t exemplify equality, then how can this filter through society. Since women winning the right to vote back in 1918 we have gone from 1%-30% females in parliament in the year 2020. This has to change – a woman’s view, opinion and perspective is vital in this new era we are entering. Within any structured organisation rules apply from the top down – with zero women selected to be on the UK team hosting the UN Climate Summit for COP26 raises serious questions in my eyes, and with only one black male – zero diversity! The fact it has now been cancelled as COVID is more important than the survival of our planet and inhabitants shows the kind of decisions that are being made in these teams.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Stop doubting yourself, don’t take anything personal. You’ve got this! Haha that’s three – it’s the magic number! 🙂
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I want to expand The Bee Thrive – to sustain the business financially, build brand loyalty from consumers who align with the values of the brand, to enable me to employ my wonderful team of freelance workers so we can develop and support manufacturing back to Manchester.
Developing jobs to bring fashion manufacturing back to its birth town, growing this economy back from its roots. I want to advocate the support of equality – speaking out for those silenced, where fashion exploits women in countries where laws are unlawful and support the dismantling of such exploitation that is so rife throughout the industry.
We cannot preach female empowerment in one country and turn a blind eye when it comes to where our clothes are being manufactured.
I hope to achieve a successful brand in spreading much needed awareness – I hope the way The Bee Thrive operates inspires other brands to follow suit – we are more than a fashion brand, we are unapologetically political, and will be sharing information and research around women and girls gender inequality, in our own country and globally, with an aim to share a message which supports communities near and far to raise much needed awareness.
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