Samantha Rae Jones: From air force to sustainable fashion

By Arthur Hawkes
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #82.
Subscribe to get the real thing here.

Samantha Rae Jones is one of those enviable people who can pivot.

Since the age of 18, Sam had been with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, working in logistics. It entailed a lot of responsibility and took her all over the world. She quit the service after six years in 2015 for a new calling: sustainable fashion, something that she had always kept on the back burner, constrained by her workload and frequent travel.

She moved to the capital two years later to grow her ethical clothing business, Little Yellow Bird, taking a three-month intensive business course. “I lived in downtown Wellington; those early years before I moved out to the suburbs were a lot of fun. I fell in love with the city first, then I met my partner, Tim Foote.”

Little Yellow Bird sells organic, ethically-sourced cotton clothing. Its headquarters are on Haining St, with a second space in Porirua. Like most pivoters, Sam didn’t start over completely. Fashion’s sustainability issues relate to its supply chain, something she already understood from experience. “The supply chain in the Air Force is really important, particularly regarding aeronautical safety. You have to know where every part comes from. It all has to have traceability and transparency.” Although she began the business solo, she now has a partner in the business and they set about applying this framework to clothing. On Little Yellow Bird’s website and social media you’ll find information on all the links in their supply chain: well-compensated Indian workers, Fair Trade-certified factories, organic growers, a cotton recycling programme.

Since becoming a business owner and a mum, spare time is dedicated to family. “I can usually be found at my local pool on a Sunday morning, often followed by a park visit. We don’t work much on weekends so we spend our time together as a family or we visit friends. Our daughter is obsessed with playgrounds at the moment, so we’re lucky to have a lot of options to choose from.”

Outside of Little Yellow Bird, Sam has earned Master’s degrees in International Relations and Engineering Management, so has had enough of formal study. “I’d like to try something more practical and creative, like ceramics or floristry: my partner always makes fun of me for not having any hobbies!”

From its inception in 2015, Little Yellow Bird went from strength to strength, supplying sustainable uniforms and aprons to festivals and events, creating a consumer clothing line, and holding contracts with more than 400 organisations including New Zealand Post, Ethique, and Air New Zealand.

In 2019 Sam became a mother to a baby girl. The pandemic came four months later and the lucrative events sector evaporated overnight. She and her partner were parenting without any family support, during what she calls “a really, really stressful time”.

Time for another pivot. Sam chased new business from “values-aligned creatives,” with merchandise for those who don’t want their logos on non-sustainable clothing. She has created clothing runs for the Green Party, the journalist David Farrier, and the American activist-author Sonya Renee Taylor.

Sam first made inroads into the sustainable fashion market by travelling. She went to India in 2015, with no phone, venturing into “remote villages where we were the first foreigners to visit”. These trips, with her business partner, she says, have enhanced her relationships with her suppliers. “I used to go over there several times a year, pre-baby and pre-pandemic. I’d love to be able to go there again soon and visit our team.”

If she could take a break and head off for a Kiwi holiday, it would be to a beach in a remote corner of Northland, but for now the Eastern Bays suffice. “We love zooming around on our bikes, exploring a beach or some rock pools, then having morning or afternoon tea somewhere. That’s a favourite weekend activity in our house.”


Sign up to our newsletter