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Supporting local economies through international supply chains

1 March 2021: ICAEW Insights talks with Charlie Vickery, Managing Director of UK-based sustainable material firm Haeckels, about how the business has established local supply chains around the world.

After gaining his chartered accountant qualifications at PwC, Charlie Vickery left to join a menswear fashion business. From here, he was approached by Haeckels, a 100% natural material science company based in Margate which produces sustainable materials from locally sourced seaweed, including skincare products. 

“I joined Haeckels in October 2019 and had my first year in the Managing Director role trying to tackle the effects of COVID-19”, said Vickery. “We opened our London flagship on 15 March 2020 and then had national lockdown come into force 10 days later. Initially, it had quite a big impact on cashflow as we spent a lot on the fit-out of the shop, along with the stock.

“The year 2020 was supposed to be the year of retail as we had a shop in Osaka, Japan, to open, as well as other shops in the pipeline. Initially, it was a shock because if you looked at our numbers, 50% was coming in from retail. Then almost immediately we saw a natural transition to online.”

In-store to online

During lockdown, people invested in their homes, with items like candles and incense proving increasingly popular. Noticing this trend, Vickery said Haeckels put its efforts online and released more skincare products which resonated with their customers and boosted their online profile.

“In 2020, we were up 60% in the year compared to 2019. We had really good growth online which helped carry us and the costs of operating online are lower. This offset the initial blow to wholesale that lockdown had because a lot of our retailers were scared to buy more stock because their stores were closed”, he added. 

Supporting local economies and ecosystems worldwide

A key part of the firm’s DNA is sustainability. Haeckels picks all of its suppliers in their respective local economies, which benefits each area individually. For example, their first supply chain was established in Osaka, where they pay local fishermen to pick the seaweed and employ a local workforce to make the products.

Los Angeles will be opening at the end of this year where American seaweed will be used, and there will also be a supply chain in Sri Lanka to follow. Another reason for this is to cut down on a huge amount of carbon mileage. Supplying and selling in the same economy decreases the need to ship the heavy glass containers in which the goods are stored, improving efficiency while contributing back into the biosphere.

Vickery added: “We had a two-stage plan: step one we launched last year was to condense our products into pills so you add the water to it in your home and it will grow into the product. Step two is to have all the local supply chains set up around the world. 

“Because we use different types of seaweed all over the world, it allows us to make a different product. All the seaweeds have a different effect on our skin, so it enables us to grow our skincare offering in all the different localities.

“A lot of people say that retail is dead,” added Vickery, “but we completely disagree and believe it’s only dead if you don’t know how to innovate.”

Benefits of an accounting background

Vickery mentioned how a strong accountancy background and the training they give at PwC keeps people level-headed, a vital skill for any MD bursting onto the business scene during a pandemic. 

He added: “There is the practical side of things where you’re using the numerical skills and some understanding of accounting principles. Cashflow was the main one and accountancy training to do models of scenarios, as last year we had to prepare for every eventuality to talk to all our stakeholders.

“You just need to keep a level head and understand that every day could bring a new fire that you have to put out,” he concluded.

Read more interviews from ICAEW’s business spotlight series.