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Life of Alumni: Heather Portbury’s insights on working at WRAP during Covid-19

Heather working at a desk
Heather working at a desk
Heather working at a desk
Written by
Clorinda Prina
Published date
14 April 2020

We recently caught up with MSc Strategic Fashion Management Alumni Heather Portbury during the current Coronavirus lockdown. Heather has been doing an Internship at The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a charitable organisation whose objective is to get businesses, governments and communities to improve their resource efficiency and re-think how they use and consume materials

We wanted to find out about Heather’s experience at WRAP, her journey since graduating and how she is managing to stay productive and super-focused during these challenging times.

Heather working at a desk
Heather working at a desk

Hi Heather, it's great to talk to you. I hope you are keeping well. Tell us about your time since graduating and what led you to your internship at WRAP?

After graduation, I wanted to take some time out to really think about what I wanted to do with my career. I moved back home, got a job locally in an Accounts office, passed my driving test and did some travelling. I also spent time working in a Showroom in Zimmermann Paris and worked at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. I was also following the Environmental Audit Committees (EAC) Inquiry into Fast Fashion so I reached out to them to see if I could get involved in their research. I was subsequently directed onto WRAP. After enquiring for vacancies, and following an interview process, I successfully managed to obtain an intern position within WRAP.

So, it sounds like you had a clear plan of where you wanted to head. Why did you specifically want to work with WRAP? What's the ethos behind the charity?

WRAP’s ethos and values are very closely aligned to my own. The vision at WRAP is for a world in which resources are used sustainably. We work with governments, businesses and communities to deliver practical solutions to improve resource efficiency. We use the power of business to drive change, and

I have always wanted my research to make a difference, to inspire positivity and actions for change.

Heather Portbury attending the Copenhagen Fashion Summit
Heather Portbury attending the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Ok, and what first got you interested in sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility?

My interest in sustainability stemmed from my placement year, which took me to Amsterdam and Shanghai. During a study exchange in Amsterdam, I learnt from the Dutch culture some simple tips on how to reduce my personal carbon footprint and food waste. In 2015 I won the Global Outlook Award, for which the prize was a working trip to Shanghai. Visiting Shanghai made me realise the scope for change within sustainability in fashion. As a result, on my return to London after my placement year, I decided to focus the rest of my degree assignments on sustainable fashion. I was a finalist in the 2017 Kering Award for Sustainable Innovation for Stella McCartney. Following numerous pitching stages, I reached the final and pitched my research project on sustainable aftercare to the representatives of Kering and Stella McCartney at Kering HQ.

While working on the Kering Award I noticed a significant research gap, so decided to focus my Masters dissertation within the sustainable aftercare subject area, analysing consumer response to care labels that state ‘Think Climate – Wash at 30°C’. I achieved a Distinction for this and was also awarded a Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Award and a PRME Award for my Dissertation’s contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

These are really great achievements! What project are you currently working on?

I am currently working on an international circular clothing project to improve sustainability of the fashion industry on a global scale.

Sounds like a big project. Thinking about the current situation we find ourselves in, how has your working environment changed since the Covid-19 pandemic? 

There is a great team spirit within WRAP, so I feel fully supported during these extraordinary times. I am constantly learning from my colleagues on new ways to balance my wellness and workload. I haven’t physically met many of my colleagues as I am working from home, but we are all in regular communication via Zoom.

Being able to communicate, brainstorm and interact with colleagues coherently as if we were in the same room is truly remarkable.

As my WRAP experience so far has been almost entirely virtual, I have challenged the need to travel.  can’t help but think that perhaps we are living through a moment of change, is this a glimpse into the future of work?

Heather Portbury profile
Heather Portbury profile

Absolutely! I completely agree that we are living through a moment of change, where we will globally need to re-think our working practices. Finally, what advice would you give to students looking to work in sustainability / Corporate Social Responsibility?

I would advise students not to rush into a job until they have thought about how they would like to make a difference in the world. This may sound quite intense, but for me thinking about what I wanted to achieve from my career really helped to steer me in the right direction. For example, I knew I wanted to be a researcher, but I determined that I wanted my research outcomes to drive systemic change.

This is how I knew a company like WRAP would be a great fit for me thinking about what I wanted to achieve from my career really helped to steer me in the right direction.

What a great statement to end on! It's been a pleasure talking to you Heather. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours in driving meaningful change towards a more globally sustainable world and above all, stay safe.