Big Tony Alvarez wears many hats. It’s clear, however, that he’s a protector; namely, for the sake of this episode, he’s the protector of the brand Volcom.
Big T, as many of us call him, took some time out of his busy, world-traveling schedule to walk us through his long career in the surf industry which has wandered from beach marshal (Bud Surf Tour, ASP, anyone!?) to packing boxes for Billabong, and, ultimately now, to heading up the compliance and responsibility program at Volcom.
As the VP of Global Supply Chain and Compliance, Big Tony is in charge of a team that makes sure that Volcom’s products are made in a socially responsible manner, in compliance with some of the highest labor standards in the industry, and that they test safe and are free of restricted chemicals. He’s been at it for years, and it feels like his role is in a really sweet spot right now.
Start simply but be sure to start
Back in 2008 Big Tony and Volcom colleague Diana Braden went to a conference on Prop 65 and chemical management and they realized right away that Volcom needed to make moves and prepare for a new future in manufacturing. Big Tony got some advice from a respected source, penned some notes on the back of a cocktail napkin and Volcom’s P.A.S.S (Product And Social Safety) Program was essentially born. The two of them came home and got right to work.
Since then, the program has expanded and Big Tony has become a sought-after guide for building a social & chemical responsibility and compliance program in an industry that is known more for fun trade shows, surf breaks at lunch and skateparks built into the office headquarters than it is for social responsibility and compliance.
Volcom launches Farm to Yarn
Earlier this month, Volcom launched Farm to Yarn, a socially conscious raw materials initiative in India that features certified organic cotton that’s traceable back to the farm and that provides social and professional education programs for the farmers and the women in the farming villages of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where the cotton was sourced. Late in the conversation we dive into this a bit to get Big Tony’s perspective and hear about what makes it so special. I was lucky enough to play a part in the development of that program and in fact, visited the farms and the communities late last year - it was awesome.
We talked about this and much more. Big Tony’s passion for the brand and passion for the work he does comes through loud and clear - very inspiring. If you’re interested in social responsibility in the apparel industry or the fashion industry, sustainability, global business, long careers, building a network, pursuing passion, or working in the surf industry, you’ll appreciate our conversation.
Topics we touched on:
Building a long career
Taking early jobs (you never know where they’ll lead)
Letting your career develop and wind in ways you may not have expected
Building a network
Getting buy in from the top
Recognizing your mentors
The future is now
3rd party audits
Finding good partners
Volcom’s Farm to Yarn initiative
Love of travel, appreciation of culture
Know Your Roots (that’s Big T’s mantra)
Early Industry professionals who moved his career along:
SGS - https://www.sgsgroup.us.com/
Bureau Veritas - https://group.bureauveritas.com/
Fair Labor Association - http://www.fairlabor.org/
Farm to Yarn - https://www.volcom.com/blogs/campaigns/farm-to-yarn
CottonConnect - http://cottonconnect.org/