Here in Green Story, we believe that great green businesses are built on incredible founder stories. We celebrate and support the Storytellers, the green businesses who have built themselves up in order to fight for the cause of substantiality and creating a greener future. Causegear, a company we have partnered with, showcases these ideals in an incredible way. We interviewed Brad Jeffery, one of the co-founders of Causegear, to hear more of his thoughts about starting a social impact business and advice on how companies like his, build upon their ideas and become successful social ventures.
So Brad, Welcome to Green Story! Let’s talk about your journey. What inspired you to start Causegear?
I’d been researching and very interested in the world of poverty, slavery and the trend of Millennials engaging social good tied to fashion. Buying socially conscious fashion had been a growing trend but I felt like we weren’t dealing with the core issues. Most approaches were dealing with the symptom and not the root cause. Companies were tying charity with a purchase. There is a place for charity, but it didn’t deal with the root cause of poverty and its linkage to slavery.
One of the big things that I think that people don’t get is that the United Nations claims that we might be able to end poverty by 2025 through different kinds of aid. And they believe this because the trends they’re studying show poverty is decreasing. The problem is this stat is a percentage, not actual volume. The volume has been pretty stagnant. The World Bank defines poverty as living with under $1.90 per day. At the same time, the fashion industry is growing in South Asia (mostly Bangladesh and India) and the average minimum wage is $1.90 per day. How are we going to end poverty when the consumer model supports an ever-growing $1.90 per day job model?
A couple of years later, I was in Nairobi Kenya in the Kibera slum. There were open sewers, a lack of a functioning utility or sanitation systems, and a great deal of make-shift shelters. Many women and girls that were HIV positive were fending for themselves. That broke my heart. I remember meeting with some of the young women who made $3 a day selling handmade jewelry, which in comparison with the average $1 a day, was fairly good. I thought to myself, this jewelry is not going to capture the heart of the American consumer, that buying the jewelry from them will only help them today, but not tomorrow. I asked how much money they would theoretically need, and they expressed that $8 a day would be a game changer. I came back not being able to shake this feeling of wanting to help and created the plan for Causegear, a business model that creates relevant products in the respective market allowing the crafters to make a livable wage.
What is the vision of Causegear?
The vision of Causegear is to transform the lives of a million people, thus creating around 250 thousand jobs. From a business mindset, I researched the possibility of creating a company with that sort of impact in apparel and I realized that in order to do so, one must be disruptive and have the ability to stand out. You have to be competitive and offer value that people want. Therefore, the price and quality had to be on par with the best products out there.
How have you seen the demand change? Is there a large Fairtrade community? Has it helped you?
Fashion fair trade products, historically, have not followed best practices in terms of the product’s development. In the fashion space, best practices include understanding trends and customers as well as building products that appeal to both of those categories. You take this information and then specify to your manufacturer the design, material, and cost you require, not the other way around. For example, in the tech world, Apple does not make their products but are masters of designing them through a thorough analysis of their market. Their manufacture is in China however they don’t go to their Chinese manufacturers and rely on them for Western customer understanding.
In fair trade, well-intentioned people go to developing communities who are making handicrafts and trinkets and attempt to sell them in North America. However, there is little market for those specific products.
You’re someone who was really keen on knowing your impact, working with the factories to learn about it and finally with us to measure it. It’s a bit unusual in the fashion field and I’m sure you had some push back. How did you overcome those challenges?
We struggle with that. We found that we need to work with manufacturing partners that get it and are on board with our vision. We have to drive it from the needs of the buyer and maker (we call crafters) we serve. A lot of our makers claim that they understand this vision, but it is our responsibility to hold people accountable. We continually have issues with that. We had to terminate a relationship with a very well-known maker as they couldn’t deliver on time. No matter how great the product is, we can’t work with that.
How do you see the triple bottom line approach, how do you ensure there’s a balance between fair wage, eco-impact, and profitability?
You have to balance the desire for the consumer with the reality of the market. Our #1 priority is the life of the maker. If we are able to work with sustainable materials, we do so. Yet if this, in any way, jeopardizes the life of the marker, we move on to other materials. It’s a constant balance. For example, eco-friendly leather costs twice as much as regular leather. That translates to a very large increase in costs for a full leather product. We have to be very careful about stuff like that.
The other factor is one of the biggest environmental problems in the world, apparel waste. As a company, the most effective thing you could be doing is offering a lifetime guarantee. We’re advocating for slow fashion. We’re affecting sustainability in two main ways: materials and durability with our guarantee. So that means we must design products that are durable and timeless.
Name 3 things you think fashion entrepreneurs need to focus on for success.
- Make sure you have a viable and compelling need for your product. You should be solving a big problem. Just like a need. Like Green Story. Or even appealing to a pleasure point: make your customer want it.
- Make sure it works financially. Do the financial modeling to make sure it’s a viable business. Really understand the model you’re going to have and do the research for it.
- Test and fail fast. Get feedback quickly to test the model and work out some of the bugs.
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