“Oh wait, they died?”
That’s often my reaction during my favorite part of the Oscars broadcast, the “in memoriam” segment. With its slow music and old photos, “in memoriam” never fails to make me nostalgic and sad and wistful.
Every now and then, I have those same emotions when researching stories for Cause Consumer. Going down a hyperlink rabbit hole, I sometimes stumble across an item about a cool product in service to a great cause – only to discover, when I click through to the website, that the company has shut down.
Every small business represents someone’s dream, and it’s sad to see a dream die. But it’s especially sad for a social enterprise, where the dream was born out of a desire to help others.
There are 1,000 reasons why any social enterprise might not make it, but one common thread is a lack of sales. If a company is devoting a portion of revenues to advance a social mission, it needs more sales and more committed customers to make the model work.
When that doesn’t happen, there’s no way to sustain the social impact and no reason for the business to keep going. With that in mind, here’s an “in memoriam” segment for three late, great social enterprises – plus three reminders that there are always other chances to #spendforgood.
Too Late: Everyone loves our national parks, so a lifestyle brand dedicated to preserving those parks ought to be a hit, right?
Revisit certainly looked like a hit when it launched in 2014 to a flurry of media attention. A lot of those stories were probably due to the presence of a marquee co-founder like Brent Celek, the Philadelphia Eagles tight end. But the products, too, were undeniably gorgeous: bracelets, bags, phone cases, and more in buttery soft leather and bronze metallic accents.
With its eco-friendly, made-in-the-USA sourcing, Revisit was positioned as an accessible luxury brand – a competitor to Coach or Michael Kors, perhaps. But in addition to high quality, Revisit was banking on its social mission to help set it apart.
One-quarter of profits were earmarked for America’s national parks – especially children’s programs or educational programs that were suffering from federal budget cuts. Early partnerships included Glacier National Park in Montana, Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, and Olympic National Park in Washington State.
“Unless immediate action is taken our nation’s cultural heritage and natural wonders will be at risk for future generations,” Revisit said in a press release. “Our hope is that we can offer a helping hand … to the thousands that work daily to keep the parks open and accessible to all and encourage many to rediscover America.”
Still Time: Revisit may be gone, but it’s not too late to support national parks with your lifestyle spending. Check out Good & Well Supply Co., where candles, bath salts, and body lotions are “inspired by and derived from the Great Outdoors.” Better yet, 5% of profits are donated to the National Park Foundation.
Too Late: Some readers will remember a time when men tied colorful strips of fabric around their neck before leaving the house to sit at a desk in a busy office.
Fashion trends were changing long before a global pandemic shut down offices everywhere, but even 10 years ago, millions of men were still buying at least a couple of neckties a year – a big enough market that social entrepreneur Heather Hasson saw an opportunity to do something good for children in need.
In 2010, Heather launched FIGS, a line of neckties handsewn in New York and Los Angeles using the finest natural fibers. With prices ranging from $55 to $225, the ties had a give-back mission that was baked into the business plan and sewn onto each product, with a label that read “threads for threads” just below the FIGS brand name.
In her travels, Heather had discovered that many children in Africa were unable to attend school simply because they couldn’t afford the required daily uniform. So the give-back model was simple: Through partnerships with more than 100 schools across East Africa and Nepal, FIGS donated one complete school uniform for every tie sold.
FIGS was featured in the Wall Street Journal and named the official tie maker for the Clinton Global Initiative, but it wasn’t enough. By 2013, the FIGS brand pivoted to making stylish scrubs for healthcare workers. The company is still generous with its product donations, but there’s no one-for-one model – and no help for those kids who need to stay in school.
Still Time: Given today’s casual office (or no-office) trend, it’s not surprising that we don’t know of any social impact necktie brands. But neckwear overall isn’t dead, and women can still have a positive impact in East Africa with hand-dyed scarves from RefuSHE, where every purchase helps to educate and empower refugee girls uprooted by war and famine.
Too Late: When college students Matt Brightman and Martin Weiss visited Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, they knew they had to do something – but not “charity” in the traditional sense. Instead, the two friends started Moral Fibers, a tee shirt company based on a principle they called “charitable employment.”
The goal was to empower Haitian artists to help themselves and their families. The model: Hire artists to create 12 original artworks each month, then print the images on tee shirts selling for $40 to $50. In addition to their salary and benefits, artists earned another 15% commission for each item sold, plus the company donated 10% to a nonprofit in the artist’s hometown.
Over its two-year lifespan, the company managed to raise $150,000 and provide an income for more than a dozen Haitian artists. On the Moral Fibers website, customers could follow the career of artists like Guerrier Pouchon, who moved his entire family out of a tent and into a new apartment based on the popularity of his tee shirt designs.
Despite the positive impact, Moral Fibers announced in May of 2012 that it would cease operations, pay all its bills, and use remaining capital to help their artists establish a motorcycle taxi service. Their farewell message on Facebook might be one of the most eloquent arguments ever penned for why spending decisions matter:
“We believed in building a sustainable clothing brand with a commitment to artists in developing countries. We thought that we could use art and education as tools to grow talent and build financial sustainability in the poorest communities in the world. We succeeded in changing the lives of 16 people in developing countries, and more than a few closer to home. We never succeeded in making the endeavor scalable or sustainable.”
Still Time: Haiti Made doesn’t do tee shirts, but it does empower Haitian artisans through the sale of beautiful, handcrafted accessories in leather and metal. We think Matt and Martin would approve of the mission: “To see the Haitian people holding the keys to their own economic recovery, empowered to envision a brighter future.”
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