THE CHANGEMAKER

Meet Genia Mineeva, Founder of BEEN London

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Tell us about your brand. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the future? 

I actually never thought I’d ever be running an accessories brand! Through was prior work as a journalist and campaigner, I came across some shocking stats on the amount of waste we’re all creating and I thought, wouldn’t it be great to create a product that would allow everyone to contribute to a waste-free future? And thus BEEN London was born. 

We make premium accessories entirely from what others see as waste and by doing so, turn the fashion industry’s biggest problem into a beautiful solution. And most importantly, everyone can be part of it! Handmade in London, there are now thousands of people around the world proudly using our totes, crossbodies and backpacks, and this community is growing every day, which is absolutely incredible.

What’s the most challenging part and how do you tackle that?

We just turned three years old and looking back, HALF of it was during the pandemic. This has posed some problems – naturally! – but the quieter time has also allowed us to dive deeper into understanding and measuring our impact as a brand. BEEN London definitely feels like a collective effort of so many people (we are co-owned by hundreds of our customers!) and measuring our joint impact and the difference we’re all making shows the responsibility of every customer.

What we have learned through rigorous data collection and a full Life Cycle Assessment is that our products have a carbon footprint on average 10 times smaller than anything on the high street! We compared CO2 emissions of our Columbia crossbody with a leather bag of the same design and the difference alone is the equivalent of leaving the lights on for a year. I think this is mindblowing and I’m happy the pandemic, as horrendous as it has been on so many levels, gave us the space to measure and share the impact our customers are making.

What’s the most valuable advice you’ve received in building a sustainable business?

When it comes to sustainability advice, I always refer back to the time I spent at Cambridge in 2018-2019 studying Sustainable Value Chains and the incredible people I met there. I definitely needed that scientific framework to build what is now BEEN London.

But to be honest with you, it wasn’t a particular bit of advice that was useful but instead the incredible support of the people around me and of our community that has been most valuable. Plus, I’m extremely lucky to be working with the smartest, nicest, impact-driven people ever! (Hi Ellie, Hannah, Mal, Jana and Esther!)

In your personal life, what do you do to be more eco-responsible?

I’m a recycled-everything kinda girl – even our glassware at home and in the studio is recycled. Knowing that virgin material extraction is one of the driving sources of climate change and having seen how using recycled materials shrinks our bags’ environmental footprint, makes it a straightforward and easy decision to make.

I’m really hoping to move towards being zero waste at home these days. Even though it’s tricky with children, I’m working on it. Definitely a long way to go though!

Which sustainable brands do you admire and why?

Too many to name them all! I love what Allbirds are doing in terms of sharing their sustainability measurement tools. Birdsong are brilliant when it comes to working with disadvantaged communities here in the UK. Stella McCartney is amazing at seamlessly marrying real sustainability initiatives and reporting with her aesthetic.

Everlane’s price transparency is awesome and Patagonia’s values really resonate with me. I can go on forever! So many amazing brands, big and small.

In a world of fast fashion and overconsumption, what message would you like to put across about sustainability and its importance?

Very simple: if you don’t NEED it, don’t buy it. But if you need a bag, one made by BEEN London will be your most sustainable option.

How do you personally overcome the sometimes overwhelming feeling of striving for sustainable practices in an unsustainable system?

Oh that’s a great question. I’m a big believer in changing systems from within. I’ve seen it work while covering politics as a journalist at the BBC, then watching the success of campaigns when I was working at Change.org. I think the best way to change fashion’s absolutely unsustainable system is to become part of it and lead the way from within. Someone will listen.

What do you do to disconnect from it all?

My husband and our two girls. A small Greek island called Serifos. Cooking for friends (the bigger the group the better!). Yoga. A long bath. Ideally all on the same day!

What are some of your favourite sustainable, eco-friendly spots in the city where you live? (hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops, markets, experiences etc.)

Everyone should check out SILO, an amazing restaurant just around the corner from our studio in Hackney Wick. Same concept as ours – they turn what otherwise would have been discarded into something beautiful. The food is heavenly.

Any advice to share for someone looking to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle? 

Reduce, reuse, recycle (when the other two options aren’t available)… and get a bike!

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