Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Eve Bastug Of Gelmart International Is Helping To Change Our World
… My travels overseas, specifically to China and India, helped spark my “aha moment.” Being exposed to the manufacturing side of apparel was shocking in some ways. Seeing the environmental impacts of these factories and dye houses due to their operations was concerning. After being in China for only two days, I distinctly remember experiencing an allergic reaction simply to the air. Coupled with visits to facilities that were producing materials such as foam, the chemical smell in the air was putrid. And then to see the people who work at these plants, day in and day out, exposing themselves to these hazards was genuinely disheartening. In this world of waste and harmful effects on the environment all coated in a thick, grey air that made me think, there has to be a better way.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”,
I had the pleasure of interviewing Eve Bastug, Chief Product Officer of Gelmart International and kindly -a new earth-friendly intimate and loungewear line sold exclusively at Walmart.
Eve Bastug is a 38-year intimate industry veteran. She has vast experience working across national brands including Warnaco, Maidenform, and Hanes, as well private labels brands. She joined Gelmart International in 2011 as their VP of Merchandising and Design and today is the Chief Product Officer.
Gelmart International has allowed Eve to grow and take ownership as a designer, product developer, entrepreneur, and engineer. At Gelmart International, she has pioneered the $3.98 program at Walmart, Feather Bra, and played a major role in the creation of the LIVELY product assortment, among many other things. Most recently, she created the first ever plant-based bra cup for the sustainable focused brand kindly sold exclusively at Walmart.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Poland during communist times, where there were many restrictions in place, including food rationing. To address the hardships that accompanied food rationing, my parents relied heavily on my grandparents’ farm as an additional food source. Spending time on that farm made me prematurely aware of the impact and importance of sustainable practices and living. At the time, I didn’t connect the dots, but it was through that experience that led me to become aware of the impacts and the collective impact our society can have on our environment. It is up to us whether that impact is hurtful or harmful.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I don’t know if it’s about changing the world overnight, but more about bringing awareness and increasing exposure to facilitate and (hopefully expedite) a series of gradual changes for the better. Changing people’s mindsets, habits and behaviors is not an easy task. Offering bite-size options can make that initiative for change a lot more palatable for most. People are going to buy bras, so with kindly we wanted to provide a simple solution for a more eco-conscious bra. The hope is for that simple switch to snowball and more sustainable switches to be considered and made. We are part of a global transformation that will take continued, collective efforts that can be achieved through small but profound steps.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
After moving to the US, I realized how the grocery shopping experience immensely varied. We would have reusable bags to fill flour or sugar in Poland. Fruits and vegetables were not covered in plastic. I saw how much garbage is generated from how the food is packaged in the US. This, of course, trickles into many other industries and how commodities are packaged. This was quite eye-opening for me and sparked an interest in how our company can join the pursuit of sustainability.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My travels overseas, specifically to China and India, helped spark my “aha moment.” Being exposed to the manufacturing side of apparel was shocking in some ways. Seeing the environmental impacts of these factories and dye houses due to their operations was concerning. After being in China for only two days, I distinctly remember experiencing an allergic reaction simply to the air. Coupled with visits to facilities that were producing materials such as foam, the chemical smell in the air was putrid. And then to see the people who work at these plants, day in and day out, exposing themselves to these hazards was genuinely disheartening. In this world of waste and harmful effects on the environment all coated in a thick, grey air that made me think, there has to be a better way.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I conducted a lot of research. I looked at different product categories. I searched for companies that produced eco-conscious products and what materials were being used. I took those gatherings and looked at them through an intimate apparel lens.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Meeting with companies who had nothing to do with our product category was certainly interesting. A majority of this audience was men, so I had to boil down our concept into terms and ideas they could understand. I had to explain the function of the cup and discuss how they may be able to help. I was definitely met with confusion and doubt, but luckily we found a partner who was just as excited as we were.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I think a simple fact that a bra company approached a sugarcane supplier who produced mainly footwear and plastic products was quite the entertainment. A match made in sustainable heaven, although the stairway was certainly not paved in gold. There is inherent risk when pursuing an idea “so crazy it just might work”. We had to find a partner who was that right amount of crazy. The perfect blend of open-mindedness, creativity, and expertise. It’s funny that an idea that was farfetched to some, was greeted with open arms and a joint fervor for success.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Giancarlos, who I met during the search for a sugarcane supplier, was an integral part of this project coming to fruition. He was a great partner because he was just as passionate about the project as I was. We leaned on each other for support. As we conducted trials and faced failures, we bounced ideas of each other and used our expertise and creativity to work swiftly and find solutions.I’d also like to acknowledge the Walmart bra buyer who truly believed in the mission of our project and helped provide the push and support to make it happen.
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Politically speaking, implementing regulations against the usage of material that causes environmental damage will continue to nudge the needle in the right direction. As a society, continuing to encourage to challenge the everyday products we use out of ease despite their effect on the environment. Within the community, we need to continue to share the acknowledgment of responsibility our actions have on the environment. We need to continue to bring awareness about how there are small changes or swaps we can all make that can help make a change.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
When a business looks at sustainability, there is an initial investment. But that investment has a priceless return for humanity. In today’s world, one of the pillars businesses can focus on is the implications of logistics. The cost of shipping has skyrocketed so we need to start thinking about manufacturing geography, the locations of the supply chain, etc. If we can reduce the time of shipping, we are reducing the usage of fossil fuels. While a lot of the initiatives toward sustainability are easier said than done, it’s essential that we being to implement these practices in order to see change. Having entered the manufacturing world at a time that it occurred in the US with strict regulations, I went overseas and experienced that same manufacturing being done in countries with restrictions that were much more lax. Overseas saw the economic opportunity without recognizing the true cost these countries, and our world would face.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Patience — There was a cultural difference in the response times between China and Brazil. Embarking on this journey meant lots of learning and in working with Brazil, there is a different mindset around urgency. Brazil is completely self-sufficient in terms of the supply chain, so there was patience needed to endure as we worked with them through this project. We went through so many trials on the sugarcane pad until we got it right. Even when we did succeed, we continued to push the boundaries to try and achieve better. While the ultimate goal would be to have a 100% biodegradable bra, there really is no goalpost in the journey of sustainability. We will always be looking at opportunities to be better, chasing the vision of continuous improvement.
Drop the Perfectionism — It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection on a project that is as ground-breaking as this was, but knowing we’ll always be on the journey to improve is a reminder that helped shed some of the pressure to get everything perfect in one shot. Sustainability will never be about perfectionism considering the vast space for improvement that lies ahead of us as a society.
Persistence — While being persistent is not something I struggle with, this project required a new level of grit. Taking any variation of the word “no” was simply not a response I was willing to accept. I knew the puzzle pieces were out there, it was a matter of finding them and putting them together. I knew I was venturing down a path with plenty of resistance, but I also knew I needed to remain committed and determined to find the right partners and the right solutions to complete the puzzle.
Trust in the Power of Failure — We knew we were going to go through many trials and tribulations on the project, but the pressure to get it right as quickly as possible was certainly felt. We embraced the fact that we would endure many learnings and soon learned that the failures we experience were inevitable but, in the end, invaluable and necessary.
Never Stop Learning — Another sentiment that I was familiar, I knew embarking into an unknown world of sustainability would require me to become a sponge and soak up as much information as I could. I knew I was going to have to ask questions and push boundaries.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Because it they don’t, it’s going to affect their lives in a fundamental way that prior generations never experienced.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It is what it is, but it will become what you make of it. Whatever “it” is, has the opportunity to change, to get better. It’s about how you look at a situation and can see solutions or alternatives.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I think it would be interesting to have lunch with Greta Thunberg and Kylie Jenner. I would like to discuss with them how they could bring their platforms together and influence serious change. They are more “extremes” in their own ways which arguably important reach in their own ways. To combine their efforts would be interesting to see what kind of influence would come from their collaboration.
How can our readers follow you online? @teamkindly
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!