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Podcast: Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth talk about growing bambu

The folks over at ResponsibleChina talked with us awhile back. Erica and her team run a top drawer blog that highlights social responsibility in China. Thanks Erica, for helping us tell our story.

In fact, fellow CSR China blogger and director of Hands On Shanghai, Rich Brubaker who runs China Crossroads and All Roads Lead to China blogs cites on his China Crossroads last week, here that Shanghailist lists China Crossroads and ResponsibleChina as two of the top blogs in China on the subject of social responsibility and responsible manufacturing.

Here is our story, retold.

Podcast: Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth about the Rise of Bambu: "


This podcast is long overdue, but better late than never, right?

Back in March, when I was working as a freelance reporter for Taiwan Business TOPICS, I interviewed Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth, the co-founders of bambu, a so-called ‘renewable ideas company’ based in Shanghai that manufactures bamboo housewares, kitchen products and tabletops.


ResponsibleChina: Jeff Delkin and Rachel Speth, bambu

Music courtesy of MadMaxXB from Garageband.

Also, read my post on WorldChanging about their new collective, called NEST, that brings several of Shanghai’s environmentally and socially responsible retailers together with a mission to promote ‘design with a conscience.’

Image courtesy of bambu

Image courtesy of bambu

In addition to the podcast, here’s a short Q&A I conducted by email:

How many products have you sold, as of the end of 2007?

Over 200,000

What is the price range of your products?

We offer over 120 products; everything of which is made from bamboo. Our retail prices range from $2 for our unique Sporks and Snapstix chopsticks, to $46 for our large hand-coiled bowls.

How many employees do you have?

Rachel and I are supported by four full-time production staff in China and Vietnam. In the U.S., we outsource with a couple of firms who support us with sales and order fulfillment and inventory management.

How many craftspeople do you work with?

In China we work with several producer groups, in total, approximately 80 craftspeople. In Vietnam, that’s a more complicated question. Our woven baskets and hand coiled boils are produced in a cottage industry model. That means up to several hundred individual craftspeople are involved, working in their villages, and in some cases, supplementing their farming in between harvest seasons.

How many stores sell your products?

In the U.S. and Canada we sell bambu products in over 1500 stores. We also sell our products in Australia, UK, France and even Iceland.

Who are your major competitors?

In any one of our seven categories, we might have a competitor or two. But, we do not have any competitors who offer the depth and breadth of a product range similar to ours. And if there are any competing categories, the similarities end there. We take a more holistic approach to our brand. We have our production centers audited for working conditions.

We have our products approved food-safe by the FDA. We are the only company to have several of our raw material (bamboo) sources certified organic. We use only environmentally friendly packaging materials. By working ‘at the source’ we’re able to bring to market quality, innovative product designs.

How many dollars have you contributed to the ‘1% For the Planet’ campaign?

1% For The Planet was created with the help of Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, a company we have long supported and admired. We’re proud to have provided over $50,000 to non-profit organizations through our association with 1% For The Planet. Centered on the belief that companies can and should share a responsibility for the natural environment, particularly, when you consider that every business in some ways takes from the environment. It’s a sensible way to give back.

We’ve supported research work, consumer education, salmon protection, rainforest protection, initiatives in China through Conservation International, and wildlife preservation through WWF. The model allows us to choose pre-selected and approved organizations.

In fact, we include each of our staff in the process. Everyone gets a vote to decide where we make our contributions. open the selection process to each of our staff.

Please describe your contributions to the Grameen Foundation.

We were first introduced to the work of Grameen Bank which introduced the concept of micro-lending to poverty level women in Bangladesh. It’s a marvelous system that breaks the conventions of typical lending institutions and directly impacts individuals through small loans to help people start and grow a small business. That appeals to us.

The Grameen Foundation is relatively new to China. We have been wanting to find a way to ‘give back’ to China since this is where we work and live. The Grameen Foundation does that. The Foundation serves sister lending groups and individuals in rural China. While China’s economic growth is well documented, there are over 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day.

Rachel and I are involved with the GF Shanghai Volunteers Group, and also support Grameen through bambu. We are involved in several projects to raise awareness among our customers about the important work Grameen does.

Please describe your relationship with Toyota’s hybrid cars.

From bambu’s Web site: ‘We thought hard about this. Quoting myself: ‘We thought hard about this, the auto industry is a huge contributor to carbon emissions, but we applaud the efforts that The Toyota Company is making. They are out in front, making strides in changing the industry business model. The Toyota Company is one of the most admired socially responsible companies in any industry, and in the auto industry, their record and reputation is second to none.’ We realize that at least for the foreseeable future, and until mass transportation can serve the needs of most individuals, personal auto ownership is a fact of life. And we’re all for supporting the move to more energy efficient options.

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