It’s always fantastic to work with collaborators, partners, peers that share your values. In my career, it hasn’t always been that way but I am always energized when values and goals line up. The work is better, and feels effortless; less like work. When I’ve had the ability to choose partners–not always the case–I choose people with similar or complementary point of view to my own, to make the process more enjoyable. I’ve also run from projects and people that seemed at odds with my beliefs or approach.
This could be as simple as work style. But it could me more important, like political views that just clash, or ends with which I don’t agree. I had the pleasure of discussing aligning values and outputs with Rana Sidahmed from Avery Dennison. In this conversation, she tells me how her team works with partners and leads them to solutions in sustainability that were previously not possible at scale. It’s a lesson about leading and learning from one another.
This episode was recorded before things really changed. If it sounds like a conversation from another time, it sort of is. I’ve been holding it for a while, but found it so valuable that I wanted to share it now. Please send your feedback @apierno on Twitter, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen here: https://specific.substack.com/p/being-intentional-with-rana-sidahmed?r=n6j6&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=copy
Adam Pierno 0:44
Alright, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. We have a very interesting episode today because I’m joined by someone who was solving problems for partners and clients in a totally different way than what we’re usually discussing. So I’m anxious to To get going, talking to today’s guests, who is joining me, this is Rana Sidahmed. She is the senior global director of creative and apparel marketing at Avery Dennison. Rana. How are you?
Rana Sidahmed 1:15
Yeah, good, Adam. Thank you for having me today. I’m excited about our conversation.
Adam Pierno 1:20
Yeah, we had a chance to chat a week or so ago and almost almost had the episode there. While we were while we were catching up, so we had to press pause on just just talking and getting to know each other. So thank you for allowing me to get you back on the phone.
Rana Sidahmed 1:38
Of course, no, that was exciting. I was a little bit nervous talking to you last time, but then, you know, I think I I know what I’m in for today.
Adam Pierno 1:50
Hopefully I’m helping to make it a little easier.
Rana Sidahmed 1:53
Yes, for sure. Absolutely. Great.
Adam Pierno 1:56
Would you give people a little bit of your background and then we’ll get We’ll go into the conversation today.
Rana Sidahmed 2:02
Yeah, sure. So I mean, if I go way back I, I’m a gyptian. I was born in Alexandria, Egypt. I studied design at NC State in university in North Carolina, obviously. And I started my career in San Francisco. I first started in publication design. So I worked for Wired Magazine. I thought that was going to be my future, but I quickly fell into apparel. So my first real job was at Levi’s. And after Levi’s, I kind of stuck into the denim world and moved to Italy. I worked for Diesel Jeans for a few years. I worked for a brand called Rule as part of Abercrombie and Fitch. And then right before Avery Dennison, I took more of I kind of left denim and and did a little bit more in performance. So I was working for Nike for a few years I was the global director of prints and pattern for apparel and footwear. And currently, I’ve been at Avery Dennison for seven years. Amazing. It’s the longest job I’ve ever held. And I love it deeply. So yep.
Adam Pierno 3:05
And that’s my brief. No, that was great. That was a great rundown and talk a little bit when people hear Avery Dennison. I know that the picture of the brand they get in their mind. So talk a little bit about what you do there because that is not how I envisioned the brand.
Rana Sidahmed 3:20
Sure, so let me let me start a little bit higher. So you know, Avery Dennison is a basically a material science company specializing in the design and manufacturing of a variety of labeling materials, some pressure sensitive materials for the medical industry and industrial use. But the Division I work in is called retail brand and information solutions. And basically we work with you know, retail brands, the brands that we all know and love, and we help them with their basically their on garment branding. So if you’re thinking about compliance label hangtags tickets external embellish. radio frequency identification solutions are 5g. So this is this is the division in which I work. And and it’s so it’s very much about, you know, the apparel industry.
Adam Pierno 4:15
Yeah, it’s interesting when you get inside and you, you learn more about all the different tentacles or all the different units within a big company like that all the different ways they play and all the solutions that they offer. Because even just in the description you provided, there is, you know, exterior branded labeling, but there’s also RFID and kind of functional labeling as well.
Rana Sidahmed 4:41
I mean, it’s so interesting because I remember when I was first introduced to Avery Dennison, I didn’t really know the company, obviously as much as I know now and I remember first thinking, Okay, why am I talking to David events and I come from an apparel background. And now that I’m here, I totally get it right. I really think that you know, so my team, I I like you mentioned earlier I, I lead the creative and apparel marketing team. And basically, it’s a global team. And we’re working with brands all over the world, from Asia to Central and South America to obviously the US. And we’re really helping them with the design and almost like the craftsmanship behind their branding. So it could be it could be a small up and coming brand and it could board could be an established brand that’s reinventing themselves. And our team is amazing at really kind of partnering with those brands to help them realize their, you know, their branding dreams.
Adam Pierno 5:39
Which, I mean, what did they bring to you thathat your team responds to? Is it kind of flat design that they bring and say, okay, we want to produce something that looks like this. It’ll be this kind of material, and we’re looking for help and hearing a logo or we’re looking for help with this overlaying these two pieces, you know, connecting these two ideas or what is the how rough is the idea that they bring you? Or do they have it fully fleshed out and you are more executing in meeting, you know, materials and cost guidelines.
Rana Sidahmed 6:13
It’s actually the book. I always say, you know, it’s the sweet spot of Avery Dennison is if you kind of come in and collaborate with us early on you’re thinking process, that’s when we’re really can, you know can help you with the thinking the materials, the technology. However, some brands come to us very much and it’s you know, they have everything, designed the ideas thought through the logos design, and it’s more about like an execution part right now not as much as design. So it’s just two boats. And I think there is if you are if you already have your brand established and you really know what you want, and you just need branding. I think our team is great at coming up with solutions for you that are going to be that can have that are going to work for your logo, for example. So it’s more like that craftsmanship behind it. But sometimes a brand could be brand new, or, you know, some of these brands have sub brands or private labels, for example, and they’re really coming to us to say, Okay, so this is, we’re thinking about this name, can you explore some designs, what is, you know, help us build the brand, from the actual color palette to the logo design, and we even come up with, you know, the, the even moodboard stage. So we have kind of both kinds of customers. And I think that I mean, of course, for me and leading the creative team, we love the ones that come with like, you know, white board and we all collaborate together that tends to be a lot more interesting, and I think a lot more beneficial for the brand.
Adam Pierno 7:55
And what makes that successful? When when because this is why I want You on the show because you’re you’re such a unique placement in, in the development of their products. And when a client comes to people listening to the show, I think people love the idea of being at the entry point where you can impact the shape of the product or the shape of the plan. And in your experience, I wanted to know what makes it work when you are in that whiteboarding session or, or from that session going forward? What makes it successful in your experience?
Rana Sidahmed 8:32
So in my experience, starting at that, you know, that whiteboard stage is, is very successful for two reasons. If we’re thinking even about sustainability, for example, and brands that care about sustainability and are thinking about the long term impact when we’re all sitting there in the room together, brainstorming and thinking about Okay, it’s not really kind of a selfish Conversations very much like a shared value. How does everybody win here? It just it changes, the dynamic of the conversation becomes super collaborative. You know, what my team is? digging into the archives? I mean, we’ve been at it for for, you know, years and years. Right. So, you know, we think about their, the brand is sharing initial ideas, whether it’s design aesthetic ideas, or ideas around sustainability and the process of making the apparel that’s slightly different. And so we’re sitting there looking through the past and thinking about the future. So we’re thinking about, you know, all the hundreds of thousands of projects that we’ve done in the past, and how we, you know, what we can pull to bring into this situation, as well as thinking about, okay, what what are our technologies or how can we innovate together right now? So I’ll give you an example. crucifer rayborn. Yeah, yeah. So Christopher Rayburn is, is a brand from the UK. We’ve been working with Christopher for a while. A few years and his brand is really, you know, started with this idea of sustainability was born around that idea and he’s very much into using deadstock materials right so either current fabrics that are sitting there somewhere in a warehouse or reusing You know, he did this jacket a few years back that was made from parachute old parachute material. We’re sitting there with Yeah, it was with Christopher and now we understand he wants to kind of use the deadstock and, and really pushing us to think about sustainability in a different way. And there’s a great story where he came to visit one of our facilities in Italy, which is a weaving facility. And we were weaving woven labels for him. And actually, we were using recycled yarns. We’ve been doing that actually for years using recycled yarns in, in in the branding and the woven label. However, he was walking around seeing the machine you know, create the world later. And there is a certain kind of waste that comes out of the machine,
Adam Pierno 11:06
right? That’s it’s not 100% utilized every scrap of material doesn’t make it to the
Rana Sidahmed 11:12
Exactly, exactly. So he was actually challenging. He challenged us and he said, Okay, so how can I do this way back into my own labels, right kind of this idea of circularity, but he made us really, really think about that. And so actually through that experience, we innovated with him and we came up with this yarn that’s made from our the waist of our weaving chairs, right. So great, right. So it becomes super circular.
Adam Pierno 11:43
And when you have someone who is out in front of it, like Christopher Rayburn says he is thinking about sustainability he is thinking about, that’s part of his, what’s important to him, his mission and his brand is built on that and then Let’s say a brand comes that is traditional brand that has been doing things in a developed way that they have a process. How do you then apply some of the innovation from really forward thinking brands to, you know, a more traditional brand that says, No, this is I’m putting in an order I want this, you know, I want XYZ at this price point and is not asking for a sustainability.
Rana Sidahmed 12:26
Oh, yeah. I mean, I think you asked a really great question. And we do work with some of these really massive brands, that that really could change. You know, that could have a huge impact on the environment, if they kind of switch to more sustainable solutions, right. And the question comes down to usually cost Can you do it at cost or, you know, can you can you be as innovative as Christopher raber and I mean, Christopher rayborn. actually quite a large brand now, but it’s not a massive brand, right. So we can Can, it can kind of go into uncharted territories and waters over kind of an established brand that needs hundreds and thousands of labels, let’s say. However, I think we always I mean, right now, every project that we embark upon, we’re always looking at it through the sustainability lens. And we have in our portfolio of products, you know, different ranges of products that and different price points. So a big brand that has kind of price and cost pressure, we can we can definitely explore options like if you think about price tickets, right? This is, you know, a lot of times people take that ticket, that’s the first thing that they kind of cut off of when you buy a garment right off and you know, and you throw it in the recycling, so simple as that we, we advise these brands to use FSC certified paper which is paper made from renewable sources. Is renewable for it? Right. So like, there are really simple shifts that you could do even using recycled yarns in your world and label, it doesn’t really change the look and feel at all. And Emily, doesn’t impact cost that much most of the time. And do you?
Adam Pierno 14:16
Do you find that when you have success with you know, starting with the price tags that they they kind of are willing to hear the next step and over time you have success? introducing more sustainable ideas, or they are they’re kind of different brands and different companies have different rules and even different designers, I guess.
Rana Sidahmed 14:36
Well, I will tell you that right now. I mean, it actually it’s been very positive and and very inspiring for me because maybe five years ago, we had to go in and push and think about and push the brands to think about sustainability. Have you thought about this, you want to use recycled, you know, do you want to you know, and maybe there’s a little bit of pushback, you know, Kind of, but right now, actually most of the brands, you know, because of the pressure from investors around to think more sustainability and, and really the bottom line these brands are coming under pressure from their consumers, right, not only the investors, so it’s actually very much in the forefront of all the conversations we’re having now. So it’s actually really easy. They’re really open they want they want to understand what are the best practices when it comes to profitability for branding? And, and becomes a much easier conversation right now. It wasn’t like that five years ago, but it really is now. So So yeah, I mean, so yes, they are open and and and it’s easy to, to collaborate this way. But it’s still you know, when you think about some of these brands, it’s still very transactional, like here’s the design have already done it. We’re thinking about this. Give me the best, most like most sustainable solutions for opposed to like, let’s cook it let’s let’s cook together in the kitchen and make this happen. meal?
Adam Pierno 16:02
Well, we all we all want that, that shared experience of creating together. And whether you’re a provider or whether you’re, you know, it’s your product, and it’s your responsibility, there’s always boundaries, and some of them are clearly demarcated, and some of them are invisible and you just trip over them, and cause a fence or break something in the process. So it’s, it’s interesting to hear how you guys are navigating it.
Rana Sidahmed 16:27
Well, I mean, it’s funny because I love breaking stuff, which is not always easy. When you think about, you know, I mean, obviously, I’m, you know, work on the creative team. And we’re always thinking, all right, how do we go rogue on this thing, right, but what can we break in the process? Just because then you uncover something new, right? So but at the same time, you know, it’s not always easy when you’re thinking about production and you don’t always want to break things, right. You don’t always want to have that challenge like that. Christopher Rayburn gave us a Like, I mean, it’s great, we love it. But we talked about this idea of, you know, the more sustainable brands, the more complicated they are, right?
Adam Pierno 17:09
And so what I found is you can break one one rule, but if you break more than one rule on it with a, an idea, it’s the whole thing usually falls apart.
Rana Sidahmed 17:21
And you better know what the rules are right before you break. So then you can really be prescriptive about which rule you break and why you breaking it, you know, so, but I think it would be, you know, us as the creative and marketing team, I think if we do kind of push the boundaries and break stuff once in a while, right, then we wouldn’t be doing our job, I think,
Adam Pierno 17:45
is the sustainability aspect of your work part of bringing in new clients and partners, are they coming to you for the sustainability or sustainability just one benefit, you know, one part of the solutions that you offer And it’s it’s a, it’s a nice to have, but it is not the lead thing that they’re calling you for.
Rana Sidahmed 18:10
Um, I think they’re coming to us for a variety of different reasons, you know, we are global. So if you think about brands that, you know, we always say we try to be close to the needle, right? So if they are manufacturing somewhere in Asia, right, most likely, we have a facility very close to them. So it’s like bringing down no co2 emissions of shipping and so forth. So I think that’s kind of the number. One of the biggest reasons why brands come to us as kind of our global capacity and the fact that, you know, some brands are actually producing apparel in Asia, as well as in Central America, for example. And so how do you how do you ensure that consistency in both places right, when you’re working with a, with a, with a company like Avery Dennison, we do have that global consistency So, we’re global, we have global consistency. And then another layer is sustainability. And quite frankly, you know, sustainability and the products that we have, and, and the solution are evolving all the time. Right. And and we’re always trying to think about, actually, I had a question recently from an individual around stickers, but and then, you know, stickers for apparel, and are there sustainable stickers out there? And you know, the answer is yes, we’ve come up with some innovations, how to make the sticker thinner, and you know, ensuring that the glue is more sustainable and right, so you’re always trying to think, okay, from material science perspective, right, if you have to, you know, if you remember, we are a general science company. So we’re always thinking about that science of the material, and how to make it the most sustainable. So yes, I think a lot of brands are now coming to us, because because sustainability is important. them, it’s important to their consumers into important to their investors. And they’re looking for those partners that can help them through that navigate through that challenge and with sustainability. It’s not always cut and dry, right? Not like I want to, it’s not always like I want to use less water or less energy. So you’re constantly as a brand. Thinking about, you know, there’s a great, there’s a great quote by this woman, her name is Carol Smith, and she’s currently with fashion and exchange organization. And, you know, she says, she says, perfection is the enemy of good, right. And so and she’s, you know, she’s a huge promoter of sustainability and very inspiring person to listen to. And, and the idea is, you can’t get everything perfect and you really have to make some decisions, right as a brand, like What do you care about? What do you What are you willing to trade off? Right? Are you going to try to use birth water Are you going to try to make sure that your any kind of paper you use is going to come from renewable forest? One of the biggest issues right now in the apparel industry is the idea of plastic right? And if you think about it, every garment shipped from any garment manufacturer is put in this plastic bag to protect it and right here anywhere right so
Adam Pierno 21:24
so even if you’ve you know, figured out every possible solution there’s still a point where it is wrapped in plastic or uses plastic anti theft or a hanger You know, there’s there’s going to be some point where it’s out of your hands and what you can control or what what hasn’t been addressed yet.
Rana Sidahmed 21:41
Exactly. So even when the plastic example right there’s so there’s some options that you can think about, from flex Do you use a bio plastic bag made from you know, that with food waste, or do you use the social plastic? There is this organization that we partners with plastic bank and plastic bank, what they do is they set up all these recycling centers in underserved communities. And right, so basically you turn in the plastic that would have ended up in the ocean, and then they give you money for it. And the idea is that we, you know, eventually we love to be able to use that social plastic and create these bags. Right? So not only is it stopping it from going to the ocean, it’s great. It’s lifting I think he said, each recycling center lifts over 100 families from poverty, to go bioplastic and go social plastic. Do you use recycled plastic? Or do you use virgin plastic so you know, even just want so just kind of show you the complexity of it, right? If you’re even thinking about one solution, there’s so many different routes that you can take.
Adam Pierno 22:49
And that’s cool, you know is that the the complexity of addressing the problem means that there are complex solutions that can solve addressing More than one problem at a time. So it’s that social plastic that’s helping get people out of poverty and provide, provide jobs and touch on a few different really complex issues. And you start to see, okay, this is this is now something that is, can scale and something people will invest in, because there’s a lot of positives to it.
Rana Sidahmed 23:26
You know, exactly, but this idea of social club is very new. So social plastic is not a commodity product, right? So right are when it go down that route, you’re gonna have to pay a little bit more, we’re also seeing some brands that are, you know, think like, you know, thinking about this long term impact and really thinking about how they can collaborate with other brands. So it’s an idea also that if you had thought about this five years ago that maybe competing brands will work together and pull their about buying power to you By the, you know, more sustainable products to make them, you know, more of a commodity, right? Because the prices are really hot. So that is actually something that’s been very, very inspiring to me nowadays to see those brands think so long term, right? and really think about the shared value. Everybody, right? Even though competitive. Yeah. So to me, this is very, very, very exciting. And I love to see more of that. And I think that if we have brands come together like that in the future and different companies, we will have more products like this idea of social plastic. Why can’t everybody went?
Adam Pierno 24:37
Yeah, what what did the sustainability offering look like when you got there? When you got to Avery Dennison. I’m imagining the innovation that the way it’s evolved and probably exploded in the last three years. What did it look like when you got there were you scratching your head trying to find solutions or were there already solutions that were there and you just just had to find an audience in a way to communicate them better to your, your clients and your partners.
Rana Sidahmed 25:11
I still want it when I first got here seven years ago that I think sustainability is really part of the DNA of every dancer, right? If you kind of go back in the history, right, Stan Avery’s that individual, you know, I’m not going to go dig deep, but really, it’s kind of it started with this idea of maybe like lifting people up the communities in which, you know, we work where we really care about, like the social compliance aspect. So that, you know, there’s so many different levels of sustainability as far as product. Yes, we’ve actually patented this idea of using recycled materials and woven labels years ago. So So, you know, we there has been some deep thinkers here and people that cared about the environment that have already We’ve had those ideas FSC certified paper, you know, maybe we had 60% of our paper was I don’t want to really get into the numbers because I don’t know exactly when it was about 60% was, and now we’re really trying to make sure that almost 100% or at least close to 80% is all FSC certified. So I think there’s always been sustainable products in our portfolio. However, the s the audience wasn’t always there. And maybe the cost was it was a little bit from his prohibitive, but right now, you know, they’re there, right there there people are asking for them. And if you know, we talked about social plastic, but there’s no paper or, you know, recycled materials in in woven labeled or, you know, so those things are always there. And even if you think about this idea, we really didn’t talk about tech that much right, this idea of RFID and we have a product called janella Which basically, if you think about QR codes, and that now you can have every garment that you make has kind of is born digital and has this digital identity and if you think about transparency, right, and you want to talk about the whole transparency of the supply chain, so there is a solution that’s been actually out there for a few years, where you can you can add that to a label and then you can use it to either communicate with your consumers about your sustainability ideas and and message or you can talk about where the government was born, yeah, where was made who made it close and is there a demand
Adam Pierno 27:41
for that because I know consumers are demanding. There some segments of consumers I should say, are looking for and demanding more sustainable everything. from food to clothing to everything. Are they looking for solutions like the finding the where the product was produced? Kind of transparency through technology.
Rana Sidahmed 28:03
Well, so when we were talking about you know, how has a readout and has attainable solution, so something like that has been around for quite a few years, right and, and not till recently, to this idea of transparency really start to level up in this idea of blockchain, we did this great collaboration with a with a brand called a leak where it was kind of the first ever blockchain on a parallel. So using this janella technology, working with a few partners, you can have the blockchain and you can really see that every step of where the government was made and how it got there. Yes, there’s consumers are finally now asking for this and demanding it. So now the brands are getting it and understand and trying to wrap their head heads around. Okay, how can they use this this idea, this transparency and tech to you know, to meet these consumer demands?
Adam Pierno 28:58
Yeah, they’re definitely not simple problems to be solved so it’s, it’s cool to hear how simple some of the solutions are.
Rana Sidahmed 29:09
And you know what this idea when when we first kind of launched this idea we we worked with this platform called everything and and this brand called roshambo in New York City and the roshambo. is a is a wonderful brand and duck and we talked about Christopher Rayburn and how fun it is to work with, with brands that kind of push us with with roshambo they had this one jacket, the bomber jacket. And basically in the bomber jacket has this little secret pocket in the sleep and it and it was it was either through NFC or through QR code that when you bought this jacket I think there was only 15 made this jacket was launched it with your phone. You know you just kind of unlocked it with your phone and what happened was it created this kind of very New York City experience for you got to make reservations that really hard to do. To get restaurants you know, if you’re wearing at certain clubs in New York City, if you’re wearing the jacket, you know the the you jumped the queue, the bouncer would just kind of scan your jacket, you go right in. I’m trying to think about all the different experiences that we had with this jacket. I think the kind of the crescendo of this jacket is that it wore it to that was kind of your invite to the next roshambo I imagine showing
Adam Pierno 30:25
you the the garment becomes the credential to get you backstage or get you the VIP access.
Rana Sidahmed 30:32
And yeah, and just kind of unlock this experience. And and that was one way that roshambo was thinking about it was more kind of business period showpiece right as opposed to also leaks which was really thinking about that transparency and that sustainable route. Right so there’s and I think you can almost marry both right you can talk to your consumers about your your goals, right? You’re sleeping ability goals, or and not every brand wants to shout out right? That you know about their sustainability ideas. I mean, even though I think consumers are demanding, and it’s very important to be transparent of it, sometimes you don’t want to be kind of like,
I don’t know, greenwashing or Yeah, not,
Adam Pierno 31:13
not every company that does, it has to lead with it and make it their whole identity. It can just be this is how we operate.
Rana Sidahmed 31:21
This is how we operate, right? And this is how we were born. And this is what we do. And if you want to find out about it, you can find out more, but we’re not going to shout about it. And then sometimes brands, you know, because when you’re out there as a consumer and you’re trying to make decisions right on the shop floor, sometimes it’s actually great to have that little hint like, hey, this garment is made of this or, you know, it was you know, nothing was hurt in the process of making it or you know, so
Adam Pierno 31:48
yeah, but also it looks really cool or it meets it meets the requirements that you have. And by the way, we did everything we could to make sustainable choices throughout the production and design process.
Rana Sidahmed 32:00
And I think, you know, I think very soon we’re going to be as consumers, we’re going to know and understand that, that what’s gonna make you feel cool, right? Not only vocal, but feel cool is to know that it was made in the most sustainable way, right as you wear this jacket, you know, you’re going to have this idea, this feeling that yes, I mean, you know, I, I’m, you know, I’m participating in a, in a, in a circular kind of idea here that’s gonna, you know, that, that everybody can can can be proud of right and i think that those decisions with consumers are probably very similar will see that right where they’re really going to think. And I say day but we just right. We’re all consumers really, really going to think about before we want to spend that money on whatever that thing is right. What What is, you know, where was this made? Who made the clothes? How did it impact the environment, how did it impact the garment worker that created it? And and you’re going to feel that as you put on that garment. Right? And you’re you’re going to want to support only brands and, and companies that are thinking that way.
Adam Pierno 33:14
Yeah. Yeah, this is Rana, thank you so much for making time to to chat. This is a great conversation. I appreciate your time very much.
Rana Sidahmed 33:24
Oh, thank you. Thanks for listening. We’re gonna keep on talking to you.
Adam Pierno 33:29
Yeah. Where can people find you online?
Rana Sidahmed 33:31
I think you should follow us on Instagram because we have a great Instagram account where you can really be inspired about what we’re doing from a sustainability perspective or brand partnership. It’s called the Made to Mention – @MadetoMention. So yes, look out for us there. And yeah, I’d love to have a conversation about inability or branding. Perfect. Yeah.
Adam Pierno 33:57
I will link to made to mention In the notes for sure. Alright, thanks again for joining us. This has been great.
Rana Sidahmed 34:07
Transcribed by https://otter.ai