Scarves, social enterprise and the sweet taste of success
When life gives most people lemons, they’ll generally complain that they asked for limes. Then again, Collette Norval isn’t like most people. When it all went pear shaped in Scotland’s Oil and Gas industry, the young entrepreneur didn’t just make lemonade – she set out to share the fruits of her labour with the people who need it most.
The Kirkintilloch native is the managing director of social enterprise Social Stuff Ltd, the creators of SQUAD scarves: custom-designed bespoke snoods for sports fans. Launching in 2016, the enterprise – which gives 100% of its profits to charity – has snowballed, securing contracts from the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Rugby Union, and several Scottish Premiership football clubs, including Aberdeen and Celtic. They’ve also designed branded “SQUADs” for the likes of BrewDog, Ernst & Young, numerous charities – including Kiltwalk – and a host of local sports clubs.
Social Stuff may be just over a year old, but Norval’s socially responsible business journey didn’t begin there. The powerful mixture of entrepreneurial talent, youthful ambition, and a passion for giving back that drives Social Stuff was evident in Norval a decade ago.
“I had my first real introduction to the Scottish entrepreneurial world back in 2007,” she says. After finishing school, Norval was was offered the chance to take part in the first Hunter Leadership Programme, an intensive leadership programme by Sir Tom Hunter and the Hunter Foundation.
“I volunteered at the annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York, travelled to Malawi to work on a number of community projects, and gained invaluable business experience on several business and charity secondments throughout the 12-month programme,” Norval says. “It was from this experience that I learned the importance of ‘giving back’, in the sense of when you are offered an amazing opportunity not to take it for granted and to ensure that once you are in the position yourself you should always aim to pass on what you have learned to others.”
Fast forward five years and Collette noticed a flyer on the wall of a lecture hall during her time at St. Andrews University. It advertised Entrepreneurial Scotland’s Saltire Scholar Programme, which offers world-class internships to students in their penultimate year of study. Collette was accepted onto the programme, travelling to Houston, Texas, for a rotational business internship at multinational Oil and Gas organisation Wood Group PSN (WGPSN).
She was then offered the chance to relocate for a graduate programme in Aberdeen with WGPSN. It was here she got her first insight into the impact and possibilities of socially responsible businesses, and where – although she didn’t know it at the time – her attitude and ability would help secure her place at the top table of Social Stuff, after being made redundant in the Oil and Gas industry turndown.
“I was given the opportunity to undertake a one year secondment at Glencraft (part of WGPSN’s social responsibility objectives),”she says, “a social enterprise that manufactures beds and mattresses and offers employment opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged people. It was at Glencraft that I discovered a real passion for social enterprise.”
After she was made redundant, Norval was approached by social entrepreneur and former oil executive Duncan Skinner.
“I had worked with Duncan previously in his role as Chairman at Glencraft,” she says. “Duncan had turned his interest to social entrepreneurship working with a number of local charitable organisations and start-ups. Duncan’s ambition with Social Stuff was to establish a business that would generate a sustainable source of charitable giving, manufacturing a product and in turn creating profit that could then be invested in good causes, and so SQUAD was born.”
SQUAD scarves were inspired by Skinner’s passion for hillwalking and his desire to have the colours of his beloved Aberdeen emblazoned on the Buff he wears around his neck when he’s doing so. Combine that with his interest in investing in socially responsible businesses that create local jobs and Collette’s keen interest in social enterprise, and the project had its foundations.
Skinner’s influence as both someone with an extensive contact list in football (he is a Director of Aberdeen) and his own business experience have been invaluable in creating a positive atmosphere, part of the Social Stuff’s immediate success.
Partly due to its young age, SQUAD has yet to turn a profit, but when it does a board of trustees will decide who gets a share of the money. The money will go to Community Trusts or Foundations associated with individual sports clubs, and successful charities and organisations who apply for a share.
Although the project has already seen the signing of notable contracts at some of the country’s biggest brands, Collette continues to be as ambitious as ever. Not just in making money and helping to improve communities, but in promoting a positive, inclusive message behind the scarves.
“Our next step is to try and break into the English market, particularly English premiership football clubs and Pro 12 Rugby league,” Norval says. “Ultimately, we want to generate millions of pounds for good causes, manufacturing a high quality product that stands up against its competitors. We want people to buy our product first and foremost on the basis that they can support their football/rugby team, but secondly on the basis that in buying from us they can also support the awesome work we do as a social business, creating employment opportunities and giving all of our profits to good causes.”
Ultimately, Norval wants SQUAD scarves to symbolise what it means to be a respectful and tolerant sports fan.
“We recognise that in some sports there remain a number challenges in terms of supporter violence, sectarianism, racism, among other issues, and we’d love for our SQUAD scarves to become a ‘badge of honour’,” she says. “If you are wearing a SQUAD scarf not only are you supporting your team, you are also supporting tolerance and respect.”
Collette is part of a wave of young Scottish entrepreneurs – and entrepreneurs from around the globe – who are recognising that people care about the impact their spending has on the rest of the world. Her business knowledge and experience, combined with her clear compassion for people and causes, are more valuable in the business world than they have ever been.
For SQUAD Scarves and Social Stuff, her ambition and vision has seen this project turn from one investor’s hillwalking dream into one of Scotland’s latest and most interesting social enterprises.
Still in her twenties, there’s plenty left to be written in the Collette Norval story. Her status as one of the brightest young businesswomen in Scotland and as an advocate of social enterprise is something that can help to inspire the young entrepreneurs of the future to do good, as well as inspire a change in the way we do business.
Beyond just the professional, as a keen Celtic supporter and football fan, Norval describes her role at SQUAD’s helm, mixing sports and social enterprise, as a dream job – something that would never have been possible had she allowed a sour taste to be left in her mouth after being made redundant. When life gave Collette Norval lemons, of course she made lemonade. But by the sound of things, it’s never tasted so sweet.
Featured image: Collette Norval (right) with Social Stuff Chairman Duncan Skinner — Credit: SQUAD Scarf