Commerce With a Conscience – Entrepreneurs Make It Easy for You to Shop and Do Good

March 17, 2010 § 1 Comment

I’ve noticed a trend lately.  Well, maybe not a trend, rather maybe the beginning of something new, of something good.  A number of businesses are being launched with the mandate to make money and to make a difference.  These entrepreneurs are demonstrating that these are not mutually exclusive activities.  Bless them.

TOMS Shoes is probably the most recognizable of this new breed.  Founder Blake Mycoskie created the company in Venice, California in 2006 with a mission to donate a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair of TOMS sold in America.  His first year in business, TOMS sold 10,000 pairs of Alparagata-style shoes.  As of January 2010, TOMS has distributed 400,000 pairs of shoes to children around the world.  Why shoes?  Because there is a highly-preventable disease called podoconiosis, “a fungus that gets into the pores on the bottom of the feet and eventually destroys the lymphatic system. It is a soil-transmitted disease caused by walking in silica-rich soil.”  Since the most prominent means of transportation in Third World countries is on foot, a pair a of shoes becomes a life-saver.  TOMS was named one of Fast Company’s “2010 Most Innovative Companies.”  A nice endorsement, not that he needed it.  The company is now turning a small profit.  In a recent interview on CBS Sunday Morning, Mycoskie told Daniel Sieberg that he calls himself a “social entrepreneur.”  On the website, he calls what he he’s doing “conscious capitalism.”  Whatever you call it, it seems to be working.

Then, there’s Warby Parker.  They are in the eyewear business.  They too subscribe to the buy-a-pair, give-a-pair philosophy: “We believe that everyone has the right to see. Unfortunately, millions of people around the world today don’t have access to proper vision care. To help address this problem, Warby Parker partners with renowned non-profits, such as RestoringVision.org, to deliver one pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair that we sell. In doing so, we enable you to share the gift of vision with someone who can’t see today and give them the opportunity to read, to work and to live a fuller life.”  And, not only are they giving a pair each time you buy, but the price you pay is 1/4 what you would from a traditional eyeglass retailer.  $95 for high-quality prescription glasses.  Their own designs, online only, no middlemen.  “We’ve changed the rules. … Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.”  It may just be time for a new pair.

Rosebrook NYC designs, manufactures, and sells 100% alpaca hats hand knit and crocheted by artisan women in Bolivia.  Ashley Rosebrook is the creative director and product designer.  She designs and finishes the hats in New York.  In between Rosebrook combines what she calls, “Style and Sustainability…  Working with Bolivian artisans enables us to create sustainable employment while distributing income more fairly throughout the supply chain. … The purchase of our hand-knot hats leads to a progressive improvement in the income of small-scale artisans, allowing them a better quality of life.”  Even her choice of alpaca was conscious.  The soft, natural fabric is lightweight, easy to care for and resists pilling.  Further, alpaca require less grazing area than other livestock, and their efficient digestive systems have them consuming one-tenth the amount of grass as that consumed by cows.  Oh, and the hats are beautiful.  Check out the site, you’ll be wanting one for yourself.

Escama Studio = Recycled, Sleek, Modern, Aluminum, Fair Traded, Minimalist, Handmade, Metallic, Wearable Art, Cool, Industrial, Sustainable Design.  Escama Studio sells a line women’s handbags made from recycled aluminum tabs.  The bags are designed in San Francisco and Brazil, and hand crocheted in Brazil by women’s cooperatives.  “A fundamental part of Escama Studio is to credit the artists who create each accessory. Each piece comes with a hang tag bearing the signature of the person who made it. … The artists work in co-operatives located outside of Brasília, Brazil. The groups offer women and men in the community a means to earn a living wage through handicrafts and provide a setting where friends are made and self-esteem is regained.”  Further, they are a  member of the Fair Trade Federation, and help the artists open bank accounts, donate money to fund computer literacy classes, and take a portion of their profits to pay for capacity building at the studio.  I have to admit, I’ve got my eye on the Chica Rosa clutch.

BoPeeps, “cute and comfy lingerie designed by women for women.”  American-born designer Bo Mcdonald worked for over eleven years as an executive in the music video business, dividing her time between Los Angeles and New York.  When she moved to London following her marriage to a Scotsman she launched BoPeeps, her answer to the need for “comfort and style,” especially when it comes to knickers.  Believing that “what goes around comes around,” their garments are manufactured at small, family owned and operated factory in Taiwan.  “All of the machinists are adults who work in a temperature controlled area with reasonable hours.”  It seems that cute can be conscientious.

And there’s one successful, eponymous brand that’s doing good while making you look good.  Chances are that the Kate Spade hat, scarf, or pair of mittens you received at Christmas (or purchased for yourself) was hand-made by female war survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Elle contributor Anne Slowey wrote about the initiative in the November 2009 issue and online.   According to Slowey, the company has contracted with a Women for Women International (WfWI) micro-credit and jobs program in the war-torn region, providing much-needed employment for 300 Bosnian women.  In fact, “The Bosnian project has been such a success that Kate Spade recently enlisted WfWI to hire workers for them in Rwanda.”  Hopeful news all around.

Doing business while doing good in an ongoing, sustainable way.  Changing the lives of others.  Let’s hope it is a trend, and that it’s here to stay.

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§ One Response to Commerce With a Conscience – Entrepreneurs Make It Easy for You to Shop and Do Good

  • Fehmeen says:

    I think this is the result of two things:

    – Dr. Yunus’s proclamation of a socially-consciousness driven economy where profit oriented businesses have a social dimension
    – the trend of CSR

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