Looking back and looking forward, GDS' origin storyBy Jianna Robinson |
Unbeknownst to either party involved Geana and Jianna actually met at a training for business entrepreneurs in January of 2021, clearly there were aligned interests, only to cross paths again in October of 2021 as Geana was looking to solidify her first hire. With all transitions there is ample room for reflections. Join us as Jianna interviews Geana as we spend some time discussing how Geana got from beginning to current and what is in store for the future. As a new employee, it was so exciting to learn about the history and vision.
Jianna: Where did the idea for GDS come from?
Geana: It’s not easy to answer because I never had an idea for a business. It was born out of my life and eventually evolved to entrepreneurship. I had a full time job and was tired of the 9 to 5. I felt like I was giving myself to a system that I didn’t believe in and that felt like something I had to get myself out of. So I started to make things and sell them at the local farmers market, where I was connected to my community in this way that felt fundamental and gave me purpose. It also reminded me of the way that I grew up in Brazil. There were bakers, butchers, farmers and these small business owners who all lived in the city and provided for their neighbors. Not to romanticize. When people live that way life feels different. So that’s what I mean when I say, “it wasn’t actually an idea.” It came from the way I had lived life. One day at the farmers market, the sun was out, there were all these trees around–such an inspiring moment. I realized this was something I could do. I could just start selling on the weekend at the farmers market. I was able to have a creative outlet, but also purpose beyond sewing things for myself and my house. I guess I can say that the idea for GDS came from a place of dissatisfaction, and realization that here/now is a place I could start.
I think for me I have a passion for creating products from textiles and so I am going to make sure that what I make is not just safe but is also going to be made in this way that can truly be celebrated.
Jianna: What made you choose the fabrics/materials that you did?
Geana: I’m a result of the time that I am living in and the information that I am flowing through. Meaning, we are living in a time of environmental crisis, and I happen to love textiles and continue to pursue and learn more about the industry. So knowing what I knew, it would be heartless of me to have made any other decision. Some of the information that I learned for instance is just how toxic most everyday textiles are–nearly all of the textiles in our lives have been processed with chemicals that are known to be harmful. The fact that most people don’t know this is deeply concerning. I think for me I have a passion for creating products from textiles and so I am going to make sure that what I make is not just safe but is also going to be made in this way that can truly be celebrated. I think the most important thing is that people know and have a right to know that products can be made in a different way. People have a right to know that most products have harmed people and the planet, and even though that feels like a lot to process, it is important to know because there are better ways of making products. Part of making better products is choosing better materials, less impact on the environment and less harm to people.
The other part of the answer is, I like beautiful things, as well as functionality. The products can't only be sustainable without adding or contributing to our aesthetic sensibilities. At the same time, these are functional textiles designed for a specific purpose. Impact, beauty, and function are all things I value and base my decisions on when choosing fabrics.
At the end of the day I believe in what I am doing. It gives me purpose. It’s fun. I get to be creative, challenged, and I get to grow.
Jianna: What support have you had over the years within GDS?
Geana: I have had so much support over the years from business education from non-profits and boot camps to strangers who have shared how much they appreciate what GDS is. Like the time I was telling someone about “this little thing I was doing, but that it wasn’t enough,” only to be met with, “it is enough.” There are so many kinds of support; financial, business skills, customer feedback, my partner cooking when I don’t have the bandwidth left, my sweet mother who is always going to tell me I can do anything that I want. I don’t think I could have done it without all of those support systems. All of that adds up, and it’s all support.
I’m trying to build it right. I think there is an immense amount of potential for positive impact. That’s why I’m trying to grow and that's why these types of businesses should be supported.
Jianna: What motivates you to continue?
Geana: At the end of the day I believe in what I am doing. It gives me purpose. It’s fun. I get to be creative, challenged, and I get to grow. Even though I have had some hard days, especially during the pandemic, the commitment runs deep and I don’t want to imagine myself doing anything else.
Jianna: How do you know if you are making an impact?
Geana: That’s an interesting question and not an easy one to answer. Many of the practices I’ve put into action won’t have significant impacts until we operate at a larger scale. I’m talking about our environmental, labor, and redistribution practices. Right now the focus is in building a supply chain that we believe in, that supports the environment and workers, and is scalable.
The one area where GDS’ impact is measurable is in that money flows through it to provide employment for 2 people (myself and Jianna, our studio manager) and around 5 more contractors (from the factory we work with to writers who contribute to our blogs).
In a less measurable way, I know I’m making an impact through conversations with people–small individual impact. Founders of the non-profits we’ve redistributed to have expressed gratitude for the way we have highlighted and shared their life’s work here in our Journal. I also think about the community of business owners I’m part of. I suspect (or maybe I’m just hopeful) that businesses like mine inspire others to take deeper looks at their sourcing practices. One of the things I’ll be doing a lot of this year is reaching out to customers to learn about what’s working, what isn’t, where we can improve, and where there has been impact for them.
But ultimately, I'm not living in some alternate universe, where I imagine my tiny company is making some huge impact. I’m trying to build it right. I think there is an immense amount of potential for positive impact. That’s why I’m trying to grow and that's why these types of businesses should be supported.
In the future, GDS will have deeper commitment to sustainability and continued commitment to labor and manufacturing, but in a way that offers more solutions and isn’t just trying to survive in a system designed with inequities built-in.
Jianna: What have been some of the major transitions for GDS since its inception?
Geana: The very beginning and starting to sell at the farmers market–from my house into a community–was the first meaningful transition.
The Ebb Filter kickstarter was definitely a transition. I was really afraid to put myself and my products out into the world publicly. I worked really really hard on the campaign and it was over funded. I was amazed by the outcome. I was amazed that so many people were interested and so many people I knew showed up. The success of the campaign brought on a much needed mindset shift.
These funds allowed me to purchase the fabric for Ebb Filters, but it also allowed me to travel to origin. It was the first time I was truly making a product from scratch. As soon as the campaign was funded, I went on a road trip from California to visit the farms in Texas and the mills in South Carolina. I got to meet the coop manager, learned about how the cotton was grown, processed and about the history of the coop. I got to meet all of the people who are part of making our textile. It was foundational to building these relationships I have today.
We’re actually in a big transition now. Being able to hire our first employee has been huge, full of learning and growth opportunities.
Jianna: You mentioned your most recent transition around hiring, what was it like to hire as a small business owner, primarily being a solopreneur?
Geana: I’ve known that I’ve been needing to hire someone for a while, over a year. I think that taking my time and having a plan was really important for me to balance some of the fears I had around this responsibility. Luckily I had a great support system of mentors, coaches and advisors to guide the planning and hiring process.
So far I’m so incredibly excited about the opportunity this creates for the business to grow. The training has been hard, I won’t downplay that. I’ve been doing most every job on my own and the systems are all my own. Training on the wholesale and marketing strategies I’ve implemented has been a process of reflection and refinement in addition to teaching. It’s been a lot. But, after almost 3 months we are finally starting to have a rhythm and I’m excited for you to soon have a mostly autonomous job!!!!
Jianna: Are there any dreams you would like to share about the future of GDS?
Geana: In the future, GDS will be even more integrated into its community, have deeper commitment to sustainability and continued commitment to labor and manufacturing, but in a way that offers more solutions and isn’t just trying to survive in a broken system (designed with inequities). From today what I think that will look like is having in-house manufacturing, having a team of probably less than 10 workers, being in a space that is comfortable that people enjoy working from, having a garden, a café, and educational center where visitors can learn about how we manufacture, all in a building that uses solar energy. The other really important piece that I am just starting to cultivate, now having an employee, is an intentional work culture. A work culture that feels safe for everyone, where people can be proud of their work, create work that is meaningful to them and that the business needs. As GDS grows, as the team grows, there will be a lot of intentionality. That’s the vision for the future.
First two photos were taken at the SF Coffee Festival in November 2021. The last was taken at Geana's previous studio in 2019.