Categories
Socially Conscious Brands

How To Brand A Socially Conscious Company

A brand is not just what people see – a name, logo, or colors – but what people feel when they interact with your company. If you want people to fall in love with your socially conscious company and what it stands for, this branding guide will teach you how. It’s tailored for socially conscious companies, especially those that sell clothing and accessories.

Check out the videos below to watch me present the guide.

Categories
Living Intentionally

Why Amanda Boersma Became A Conscious Consumer

Amanda Boersma sat down on her sofa, cozied up, and turned on Netflix. It’s a familiar scene for many who seek relaxation after a long workday, but what Amanda watched on one particular night changed her life. All of us wear fashion, but few of us know how our fashion is made. There are issues in the fashion industry that negatively affect lives across the world, and Amanda finds it important to become conscious of our role in those issues. Find out in this interview why Amanda became a conscious consumer and why she is motivated to educate others about sustainable fashion!


You grew up in the Chicago area and studied at Hope College in Michigan. Introduce us to your career and what you do now for work.

I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and moved to Michigan when I attended Hope College. I was enrolled with the Education Department, on track to become a high school teacher, but… one day I was scrolling through my newsfeed and saw someone share the SoYouThinkYouWillDance campaign by Stop The Traffik. It made me realize that advertising could make the world a better place. I soon dropped my education degree and went for marketing and communications. Rather than teaching classrooms of students, I wanted to teach the public. I’m currently a full-time eCommerce Digital Marketing Specialist, and my free time is spent teaching people about fast fashion. My first educational tool is my blog; I’m hoping there will be more to come! 

At some point in your life, you noticed a problem in fashion?

I’ll admit that I never did much “noticing” of the problem in fashion. It came and woke me up itself when I was least expecting it: a night I chose to watch The True Cost completely at random (people at work were always talking about Netflix documentaries so I figured I’d give the genre a shot). As the footage rolled through the Rana Plaza factory collapse, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself why has no one told me about this? How the hell did I not hear about this?! It showed me how disconnected we are from how our clothing is made – so much so that a factory collapse killing 1,000+ people didn’t make headlines long enough to grab my attention. That made me feel so, so sad. I decided to start boycotting fast fashion the next day. 

What advice can you give to someone who is just noticing that some fashion is harmful to the planet and people?

Great question! It wasn’t easy. I started my journey back in November 2016 when sustainability wasn’t as mainstream, so I did a lot of research. Fortunately, you no longer need to be a sustainable fashion hobbyist to lead a conscious lifestyle. There are lots of resources nowadays! Here are a few places to start: 

  • Learn more about your favorite brands. Download the Good On You app to see how the brands you buy rank on sustainability, labor standards, and animal welfare. If your favorite brand has a low rating, use the app recommendations or category filters to find a substitute. This will come in handy later when you inevitably wander back into your favorite fast-fashion shop, dying to buy those $10 polyester tees, and feel overwhelmed with the need to research ethical alternatives. Having some options “on deck” makes being a conscious consumer much easier when you’re in purchase-mode.
  • Take care of what you have. This means NOT overhauling your wardrobe and donating the leftovers (places like Goodwill are only able to use about 10% of the donations they receive). Wash your clothes less, wash them properly so they last longer and, if possible, use a wash bag that catches microfibers to prevent plastic pollution. Attempt mending rips and tears rather than discarding the garment. Visible mending is really trendy right now so it’s actually okay if you aren’t a tidy seamstress! 
  • Rely on experts. Follow 5-10 accounts that focus on the topic. It’s the easiest way to learn the issues and get tips for sustainable living! A few trailblazers I follow are Fashion Revolution, Good On You, Remake, Conscious Chatter Podcast, Eco Age, Elizabeth Cline, Aja Barber, Aditi Mayer.
  • Have grace with yourself. The world was changed by the small, imperfect actions of many people – not the perfection of a few. Embrace progress. Remember that every dollar has an impact! 

You decided to start a side project called Unzipping Fashion, where you post about the social impact of fashion. Why?

I believe that reimagining fashion can alleviate poverty, heal discrimination, and halt climate change – among other huge issues that face our society today. Once I realized this, I felt a responsibility to get the word out. I also know that being the only person protesting doesn’t get much attention. The real power comes when all of us work together; I hope my blog can empower and equip people to join in the conscious consumerism movement. 

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since looking more deeply into the subject of sustainable fashion? 

Buzzwords like sustainable, eco-friendly, conscious and ethical are not regulated. They aren’t even agreed upon from person to person, let alone industry-wide! What is ethical to me may not be ethical to you. That said, never take these words at face value. For example: 

Sustainability – This buzzword can refer to how a garment is made, the material it’s made with, the way it’s packaged, it’s biodegradability, and more. Many brands take advantage of this ambiguity. They tweak one part of a garment’s production to use less water or generate less waste and call it sustainable. While it’s a step in the right direction, baby steps don’t give brands a right to claim they’re fully sustainable. That’s greenwashing in my book.

Ethical or Conscious – It’s so difficult to agree on what ethics are that there’s an entire profession devoted to it! Is a brand “conscious” if it treats garment workers exceptionally well but uses leather products that are hard on the environment and animals? What about the other way around? It’s important to dig into the specifics of these terms. I’ve found a brand that claims it has “ethical factories,” but has no code of conduct on the website, no disclosure of factory locations, no audit trail, nothing. Information that substantiates a brand’s claims should be easy to find and understand. If it’s not, proceed with caution.

How do you remain sustainable today? Is it difficult?

I’ll say that I’m sustainable-ish. I definitely slip into complacency sometimes, so I watch documentaries to keep my eyes open; To zap myself out of living life through the lens of my own wants and needs. I also try to reframe the way I think about shopping. When I catch myself saying I need new pants for work, I correct myself and replace “need” with “want”. I want new pants. It’s been pretty freeing!

Overall, making conscious clothing decisions has become second nature to me. I enjoy thrifting (both in-person and online), shopping from ethical brands, and taking good care of the clothes I already have. To me, all of that stuff has become fun. If it wasn’t fun, I probably would’ve fallen off the wagon awhile ago. The next “fun” thing I’m diving into is replacing my regular disposables – like paper towels, plastic bags, and more – with cute, reusable options. Finding the new, cute things out there is fun! Plus, seeing how much money I’ll save in the long run gives me motivation when I need it.

What is your vision for Unzipping Fashion going forward?

Unzipping Fashion is a place to learn about how we can solve society’s largest problems through what we wear. I hope that everyone who interacts with Unzipping Fashion feels educated, equipped, and empowered to become a changemaker in their everyday life. As the community grows, I look forward to hosting social events, webinars, happy hours, and more. I definitely want to keep things fun. I’d love to build a community atmosphere where like-minded people can grow together.

Check out Amanda’s blog, Unzipping Fashion, or follow her on Instagram for sustainable fashion tips.

Choobs is an online marketplace for shopping socially conscious brands. This blog brings you stories about conscious consumers and brands. Read our Holiday Shopping Guide now!

Categories
Socially Conscious Brands

Holiday Shopping Guide For Socially Conscious People

The Holidays are almost here, and we hope you can cozy up with loved ones and listen to Kenny G Christmas albums. It’s special that the last month of every year is dedicated to family, gratitude, service, and giving. For those missing someone at the dinner table this year, we’re thinking of you.

If you’re reading this, you probably buy gifts during the Holidays. Gifting is all about sharing a special moment with someone, a moment when you make them feel cared for and loved.

It’s important to share gifts with your loved ones, and there are many gift ideas out there, but this guide will help you find a gift that spreads love to more than just one person. Each brand on this guide was hand-selected because it has quality products and an admirable social mission, meaning it contributes to society in some positive way. By shopping these brands this Holiday season, you can gift a great product and also make a positive impact on the world!


Bombas socks

Bombas

The beloved Bombas! You probably already know of this brand, but we had to include it. They’ll tell you how their socks have unique fabrics, a seamless toe, a blister tab, yada yada. These socks are incredibly comfortable, and that’s what we care about most! A pair of ankle socks is $12-15, and there’s a wide variety of styles and packs to choose from as well.

Bombas’ social mission is simple: when you buy a pair of socks, Bombas donates a pair of socks to Americans in need. Keep it simple and gift some comfy Bombas this year!

Rumpl blankets

Rumpl

If you binge-watch Shark Tank like me, you recently learned about Rumpl. No sharks bit on Rumpl because it was valued too high, but the quality of their blankets is top-notch. Rumpl takes the materials found in premium sleeping bags and insulated jackets to make warm and cozy blankets. Choose from their selection of Everywhere blankets for camping and travel, or their Indoor blankets for your couch and bed. Prices start at $74 for the original puffy blanket.

Rumpl uses 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for the synthetic insulation in its blankets and sustainably-sourced down feathers for the natural insulation in its blankets. It also offsets the carbon emissions of the entire company and donates 1% of sales to support environmental non-profits. You gotta love a great product backed by a great company!

Headbands of Hope Tan Pom Pom Beanie

Headbands of Hope

Pretty headbands with a prettier cause! Headbands of Hope sells a wide selection of headbands, beanies, scrunchies, hair clips, and other hair accessories. A beanie costs under $33 while a scrunchie set or a headband will cost around $20. The beauty of this brand lies not only in its cute product designs but also in its social mission.

The founder, Jess, noticed a lot of kids wearing headbands after losing their hair to chemotherapy, so she wanted to help the kids feel confident and beautiful during such a tough time. Headbands of Hope donates a headband to children with illnesses for every item you buy. They’ve donated over 750,000 headbands already! Check out their beanies for the winter season. When you gift any of their products to your loved one, you also gift a headband to a child fighting an illness.

Ocean Bottles

Ocean Bottle

We live in a world that is saying goodbye to single-use plastics, and one where people realize water bottle companies sell us the exact same water that comes out of our sinks. The rise of reusable water bottles to stay hydrated while saving a penny and saving the earth is no surprise. Check out Ocean Bottle for one of the best-designed water bottles! It keeps cold drinks cold, and hot drinks hot. Plus, unlike most reusable bottles, Ocean Bottle is 100% dishwasher safe. This awesome bottle costs just $54 and will be good for a long time.

Ocean Bottle’s social mission is not only to keep consumers away from buying plastic bottles but also to clean up the plastic currently littering our earth. They’ve already funded the pick-up of enough plastic bottles to fill 33 Olympic swimming pools. By 2025, Ocean Bottle aims to collect the equivalent of 7 billion plastic bottles! Your loved one will appreciate this product and that it helps clean our earth.

Parker Clay Merkato Signature Tote

Parker Clay

For the best premium leather bags, look no further than Parker Clay. This Santa Barbara company obsesses over the quality of their bags, totes, backpacks, and wallets. The bags are built not just to last, but to get better with age – a claim they back up with their Lifetime Guarantee. You can find something for her AND for him at Parker Clay! Expect these high-quality leather bags to cost around $200 and up, but you won’t have to buy a new one in your lifetime, so it’s a good deal.

Parker Clay’s social mission is to end prostitution in Ethiopia. It’s currently estimated that over 150,000 women are in prostitution in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Women with little to no opportunities are forced to turn to prostitution to support themselves, but often end up enslaved, exploited, and trafficked around the world. One of the most effective ways to combat this exploitation is to address the root cause; the fact that so many women in Ethiopia never have an opportunity for stable employment, vocational training, or professional skill development. Parker Clay hires these women to craft its incredible leather goods, while also receiving vocational training and taking advantage of classes, workshops, and team events to advance their careers. Amazing products backed by an admirable company makes a perfect choice for the big gift this year!

Shady Rays Ventura Amber Tortoise shades

Shady Rays

2021 is looking a whole lot brighter than 2020, and you may need a pair of shades to protect your eyes. Shady Rays is the spot for all your shady needs this holiday season! With a diverse selection of styles, you’ll like at least one pair. Most styles go for just $48. If you’re looking at this screen too long these days, Shady Rays also offers Blue Light glasses that will protect your eyes from harmful blue light.

Shady Rays’ mission is to donate 10 meals to food banks through Feeding America with every order it receives. It has already donated over 10 million meals! Keep it cool this year and gift a pair of Shady Rays.

Adventurist Backpack – Classic

Adventurist Backpack Co.

Planning to travel next year? Adventurist Backpack Co. designs minimalist backpacks with padding that will protect all of your belongings. These are made with ultra-durable, water-resistant polyester, so it will last for years. Two side water bottle pockets will give you the space to keep hydrated on hikes or long walks. The classic backpack is priced at $65 and comes in multiple colors.

Adventurist Backpack Co.’s social mission is to donate 25 meals to families in need through Feeding America for every backpack you purchase. 41 million Americans struggle with hunger each year, including 13 million children. Get your travel on and support a great mission!

Stocking Stuffers Under $20

For more ideas, check out Choobs – an online marketplace for shopping socially conscious brands!

Categories
Socially Conscious Brands

Why Tommy Flaim Left Wall Street To Start Fox & Robin

Leaving a career on Wall Street to start an ethical fashion brand is a story you don’t hear every day, but Tommy Flaim is a man on a mission. With his activewear brand called Fox & Robin, Tommy is putting his mark on the world and creating his own job – one that he loves.

Read our interview with Tommy to see why he started the brand, how the company makes a positive social impact, and his vision for the future.


Introduce us to Tommy as a kid.
I grew up in upstate New York. I was a very curious kid. I really did love school, and I played soccer and tennis most of my life. I was outgoing – loved being around people.

Tommy celebrating the success of his Kickstarter for Fox & Robin.

I have what I’ll call an “all or nothing” attention span. If I’m not interested in the subject, I have a very difficult time motivating myself to learn about it (like many of the books we had to read in English class). Conversely, if I am curious about something, I get fascinated/obsessed with the subject and really dive into it. As a kid, I loved nature and animals. I used to read books on animals and do research reports on them for fun. I wanted to be a vet my whole life, actually. In 2008, the financial crisis caused me to start learning about the economy and how it all happened. That’s how I became interested in wall street and pivoted from wanting to be a vet to wanting to work on Wall Street.


So you went off to Notre Dame for college, then started your career on Wall Street as an Investment Banker.
I chose Notre Dame for their great business school, and because I’m Irish-Catholic and love sports, so it checked all the boxes. I majored in Finance and Education, Schooling, and Society. Education is another topic I’m super passionate about.

Early mockup of the Fox & Robin name and logo.

After 4 years in corporate America, you decide to leave and start a new activewear brand called Fox & Robin. Why?
I think I was interested in potentially starting my own thing since High School. I always liked doing my own thing, which my mom can attest to.

During an internship, I got introduced to impact investing, which lead me to get involved in a social entrepreneurship club at Notre Dame. Through that, I went to a conference in Colorado where I watched the founders of Nisolo, an ethical fashion brand, pitch to investors. In their pitch, they outlined the social and environmental ailments typically associated with fashion brands’ supply chains. That piqued my initial interest in fashion. Although my friends would definitely not consider me fashionable, the room for impact in fashion is enormous – 1 in 6 people in the world works in a fashion-related job, and 80 percent of the labor force throughout the supply chain are women.

I started researching supply chain issues in fashion and knew I wanted to create a clothing business that addressed these issues. I also saw a lack of ethical brands in activewear. I’m into sports and being active, so an ethical activewear brand really aligns with my interests.

Early design session for Fox & Robin.

Leaving a job and taking a leap to start a company can be really scary. How did you feel about doing it?
I was working through this idea for years while I kept my corporate job. It just got to a point where I had plenty to do for Fox & Robin and was overwhelmed with balancing both. Honestly, one morning I woke up to a billion work emails and decided then and there that I would give my full attention to Fox & Robin. It didn’t feel too risky because I’m confident in the success of Fox & Robin.

You didn’t just create any old activewear brand, you created an ethical brand. You make public the wages of all your factory workers, something you say no other activewear brand does, and your goal is to ensure 100% of your factory workers are paid a livable wage. Talk about what inspired you to be conscious of your company’s effect on workers. 
At the end of the day, I’m trying to create a job that I love and build something that I’m proud of. I’m aware of the issues in the fashion industry, so turning a blind eye to it would make my work less fulfilling. Also, I’m just empathetic towards the people in other countries who are working hard to produce our clothes and play such an important part in the success of the company. I just want to do the right thing, and I want customers to trust that this brand will do the right thing behind closed doors. Some companies do good because it’s a market opportunity. Others do good just because it’s the right thing to do. I want Fox & Robin to belong to the latter group. I think it’s an important distinction. 

Early samples of potential joggers.

Fox & Robin donates 2% of sales to causes you’re passionate about: education and the environment.
Yep. We will give money directly to individual teachers in low-income districts. Awarded teachers will be able to choose how to spend the money, whether that’s on school supplies, winter coats for their students, or whatever else is deemed most necessary. For the environment, we give money to a rotating list of NGOs to help replace the resources we have spent and to help preserve the environment. As I mentioned, these causes are important to me.


You had a successful Kickstarter and you’re now selling men’s athletic shorts in multiple different styles. What do you look forward to in the coming months?
We’re launching publicly this February! We’ll launch with our men’s shorts, joggers, hoodies, and athletic shirts. In the background, we’re also developing 12 women’s products and 8 new men’s products. I very much want to be a brand for both men and women. Look for our launch in February and a Kickstarter for the women’s line around March!

What’s your ultimate vision for Fox & Robin? 
I want to be the first apparel benefit corporation to IPO. I want to show people that you can have a triple bottom line. Profitability is very important, but I also want to prove that a business can maximize for more than just profits.

One of Tommy’s friends helping him get Fox & Robin off the ground.

I want to be an advocate for those on the outskirts of society and empower them in any way I can. I’d love to have some factory workers and teachers on our Board of Directors. Just to give a voice to those who typically don’t get represented in the room.

Finally, reflecting on your pretty big change, from working in banking to taking on ethical business practices, how do you feel about your day-to-day work now?

I learned some useful skillsets in banking – making pitch decks, building financial projections, staying organized – that help me with Fox & Robin. For many reasons, I’m grateful for my banking experience. However, this is just much more fulfilling. Even when I’m working late on Fox & Robin, it doesn’t feel like work. The feeling of the work is drastically different, and I’m excited about the future of this company!

Shop Fox & Robin on Choobs today! Also, follow them on Instagram to keep up with their public launch.

Categories
Marketplaces

How To Start An Online Marketplace, From Experience

Starting a company is hard. The market is like a river, you’re trying to jump in and lead the river in a new direction. Out of all companies, marketplaces are the toughest to start. Most companies have one customer to focus on – the consumer. They make a product or service and sell it to the consumer. Marketplaces, on the other hand, have two customers to focus on, the consumer and the supplier. A hotel sells its service to the guest, while Airbnb must sell its service to the guest and the host. It has to create a solution that will make both sides of the marketplace happy.

This is what makes a marketplace business more difficult to get off the ground, which I’ve learned first-hand. To save you time and trouble, here’s some insight into what it takes to start an online marketplace. My marketplace is not ultra-successful yet, but it’s creating transactions, so it’s a working marketplace at the very least.

Idea

Before diving into starting a business, your idea must be refined. How do you know a marketplace is the right solution? Can you just create a marketplace for any issue?

A marketplace is a great solution for a broken market. A broken market is when supply and demand cannot easily find each other to create a transaction. A clear example of a company that seized a broken market is Uber/Lyft. It used to be difficult for taxi drivers (supply) and riders (demand) to find each other, so Uber/Lyft created an online marketplace where these two sides could come together and easily make a transaction.

Perhaps a market isn’t fully broken, so it’s not that difficult for the supplier and consumer to find each other, but you could still make it even easier. Strengthening a market could also be a good reason to create a marketplace. For example, shopping wasn’t that hard before Amazon, you could just go to a store. However, Amazon made it even easier by giving you the ability to buy and receive products without ever leaving your home.

Before starting a marketplace, ask yourself if your market is truly broken. If it is, a marketplace is a good solution. If the market is not fully broken but can be significantly improved, a marketplace can work there too.

An important piece to remember is how your marketplace will capture value, or make money. If a transaction happens between the supplier and consumer on your marketplace, that’s best because you can easily capture value by taking a commission. If no transaction takes place on your marketplace, you will have to think of a different way to monetize, like selling ads or taking fees. For example, Etsy is a marketplace that makes money by taking a commission on sales. OpenTable is a marketplace helping people reserve a table at restaurants, which is free, so it makes money by charging restaurants a fee.

Build

Once you find the right idea for a marketplace, you will need to build it. The challenge with building a marketplace is keeping in mind both your customers. The suppliers and consumers both should be happy with the experience you build. As a non-technical founder, I made some mistakes with building that you can avoid.

The most important advice I have for non-technical founders of marketplace businesses is…find a technical cofounder. My first move when starting my company, Choobs, was to license a marketplace from an Indian company. I basically paid a fee and was handed a blank marketplace which I could customize with my logo, add vendors, etc. It took about 3 weeks for me to realize it was a terrible idea. It lacked a bunch of features I needed, and since I couldn’t code, I would have to pay the company more cash to make any changes.

I needed to build Choobs from scratch. I looked at development agencies, which have great talent and can build exactly what you need. But as a guy on a small budget, I couldn’t afford to pay them cash to make the product, much less the additional payments whenever I needed a fix or change.

With licensing a marketplace and hiring an agency out of the question, I decided to seek a technical cofounder who could work for equity instead of cash and would be invested in the long-term success of Choobs. This partner would build the best product and would make changes/fixes without needing more cash. Looking back, we’ve done so many changes to the product, I would be completely broke if I had worked with an agency. Unless you’re well funded, don’t waste your time with the other two options, go straight to finding a technical cofounder! (Finding a cofounder is the hardest part of a startup and deserves its own article, but if I had one piece of advice it is to put your idea out in the world and see who comes to you.)

One good thing came out of my mistake of licensing the marketplace from the Indian company. I quickly had a prototype of a product to email to suppliers and gauge their interest. I found out what they thought of the idea and what features they needed to join my marketplace, which helped me know what to actually build once I found a cofounder. You should do this too by creating a quick prototype of your marketplace and trying to sell it to customers. They’ll likely deny you, but then you can ask them for feedback.

As I said, you have to focus on creating a good experience for both sides of your marketplace. For my marketplace, I decided to focus more on the suppliers’ experience than the consumers’ experience. I thought we needed suppliers to join before consumers would, so I wanted to create a great experience for suppliers that would entice them to join. This turned out to be correct, and now we’re focusing more on enhancing the consumers’ experience. In a marketplace business, you must carefully balance your focus on the two customers.

Go To Market

Once you build your product, you “go to market,” or sell it to customers. This is very challenging, but it can be carefully navigated. (Tip: It’s important to have a go to market plan early because it helps you build the product.)

Picture you’re starting a brand new outdoor market, like a farmer’s market or a christkindl market, in your hometown next weekend. You want vendors to set up booths at your market and sell their goods. You also want lots of people to come by and buy these goods.

So you pitch your market idea to your first vendor, a candlemaker, and the first question she asks you is, “How many people will come to the market?” This is the most important factor in her decision to spend her time and money on a booth at your market. You need to figure out how many people will show up, so you go to people and tell them to sign your list if they plan on coming to your awesome market. They say, “Cool! Which vendors will be there?” Uh oh…

Now both the vendor and the customer want to know who else is coming to your market, and you can’t get one side to show without proof that the other side is coming. You’re stuck! This resembles what it’s like to bring an online marketplace to market. It’s called the “Chicken or Egg problem”… which comes first?

I navigated this problem by focusing on getting some suppliers on my marketplace first. In order to do this with no consumers and no traffic to show, I had to completely de-risk the supplier’s decision to join. Picture you went back to that candlemaker for your market and said “I want to help you sell more products next weekend! I’ll set up a booth for you at my market and also get someone to work the booth, so you don’t have to worry about coming. Just give me the products to sell and I’ll return any stock we don’t sell. Oh and it’s free, I’ll just take a small commission on any sale I get you!” Now you’ve de-risked her decision. For her, zero sales is fine and even one sale is great! This is what I did with Choobs to entice my first suppliers to join.

Once I got a few suppliers to join because it was risk-free, I looked for consumers to come buy from them. Since consumers came, I could show traffic and sales, and get even more suppliers. This was how I got my first customers, or how I went to market.

Starting an online marketplace requires careful planning. Now you know a little more about verifying your idea, building your product, and going to market. Having a plan will save you time, but don’t overthink too much, go get started!

Email me at alex.mueller@choobs.co with any feedback or questions.

Categories
Living Intentionally

Why Switching Careers Made this 24-Year-Old the Captain of Her Own Ship

Many people lack fulfillment in their careers but do nothing to change. Alexandra Grochowski realized that her passion lied outside of finance, so she left her job to enroll in a design boot camp and redefine her career. This 180º move to become a designer has set her on a new, exciting path, and she shares her story in this interview. It is inspiring to see Alexandra be conscious of her life path and take action to align it!


Introduce us to Alexandra as a kid.
I grew up in a Polish household in Glenview, a suburb northwest of Chicago. I was a very independent kid, so I was really good at keeping myself busy. I loved drawing, coloring, and arts and crafts. Even at a young age, I wanted to do everything by myself and didn’t like when others tried to help me! I wouldn’t even let my mom put on my shoes. I was also highly curious: there was no subject or topic I didn’t want to learn more about. I stuck with creative hobbies all through high school, including painting, illustration, and even playing piano, but eventually became curious about business and finance which I knew nothing about.

As a kid and teenager, what did you want to be when you grew up, and why?
To be honest, my many different interests as a child made me incredibly indecisive when it came to a career path. My insatiable curiosity drove me to both enjoy and excel in most subjects, which didn’t make it easy for me in narrowing down options. I would change my plan every week, from medicine to graphic design to business. All I knew was that whatever I chose, I wanted to be really great at it.

Alexandra working on affinity mapping.

You studied Supply Chain Management & Finance at a great business school, then started your career as a Financial Analyst at a big bank. Why did you originally choose to pursue business and specifically finance?
I pursued business because I loved the impact businesses had on the world: employing others, creating new products, and giving back to charity. As somebody with various interests, I also saw an endless stream of opportunity in business, since it’s relevant in every industry. Finance specifically has always interested me because money is an incredibly powerful tool to achieve your personal or business goals. Some people see money as evil, but I just never saw it that way. I believe money is just the key to freedom. 

After a year and a half, you decided to leave finance and pursue design instead. Talk about what inspired you to do this!
I was flirting with the idea of leaving and pursuing a new career for about 6 months before I finally did. While I loved the finance industry, I didn’t like being a Credit Analyst. I needed room to be curious, to grow, and to be creative which I just wasn’t getting through writing memos all day long. I knew that if I was going to leave, I wanted to set myself up for success in my new career and be sure it was something that would inspire me. I spent a lot of really long nights just taking a really hard and honest look at myself and who I REALLY wanted to be. I researched a lot of different career paths, but the first one I got excited about was UX/UI design. The “A-HA” was that it combined the need for creativity and practicality, which I always thought was contradictory. Not only that, but it combined ALL of my interests: psychology, graphic design, branding, strategy, and research.

Leaving a job and taking a leap to redefine a career can be really scary. It’s easy to think that it could derail your career. How did you feel about doing it and how did you get yourself to do it? 
I think when anyone finds the confidence to make a big change, it’s because the fear to NOT make the change is stronger than the fear of failure. I looked at the people around me at my old job and realized I was afraid of becoming them. I didn’t want to be in Corporate Banking in 20 years and was willing to do anything to stop that from happening. What was really helpful for me was to do a gratitude check of everything I had. I had a supportive family to live with to save money, a strong faith, a resilient personality, a solid work ethic, and health insurance. I also lived in a free country with a great economy, where I had the freedom to pick my career – why wasn’t I exercising it? If I did fail, I could always come back to banking. It began to feel like a waste if I DIDN’T try. Once my resolve was set, I began to tell my family. While they expressed their concerns, they were incredibly supportive of me once they saw my determination.

How do you feel now that you have a new career?
I feel blessed! Every day is exciting. The big change isn’t necessarily from the new career, but from reminding myself of my own choice and what I am capable of once I exercise it. I sleep more peacefully at night, knowing that I am honest to myself every day and am the captain of my own ship. Life didn’t get any easier (turns out, design is hard!), I just got stronger. If I accomplished a drastic career change in a global pandemic, what else can I do?

Can you give any advice to someone who is thinking about realigning their career with something they’re more passionate about?
Yes! Take the time to do a full inventory of yourself. Once you have a strong “WHY?”, the “HOW?” becomes secondary: you won’t give up. What are your values? What does “passion” mean to you? Is it doing what you love for work, having the freedom to control your schedule, or simply having more time at the end of the day to spend with your family? Start being honest with yourself: is there something you are hiding? Chances are, if you aren’t satisfied, there is something you haven’t come to terms with. Take it day by day.

Check out Alexandra’s portfolio and keep up with her on Twitter @alexandragrows.

Categories
Socially Conscious Brands

How 4 College Dropouts Used Quarantine To Start A Viral Clothing Brand

When people remember 2020, it may bring feelings of pain, loneliness, and havoc. It’s true, this year was full of despair. For some, though, quarantine gave them the downtime to reevaluate their path, and maybe even work on the idea that always circled the back of their mind.

One of these ideas that spun up out of quarantine is Happiness Project, a socially conscious clothing brand with the mission to elevate happiness throughout the world. It has grown to 50,000 followers on Instagram so far this year, and I had the chance to interview the four college dropouts who worked tirelessly to make it happen. It’s a story that made 2020 a little brighter for those who have followed along, and for those who haven’t, this will get you caught up!


How did you start Happiness Project?

I (Jake Lavin) had the idea for it in 2017. A classmate had committed suicide and it shook our world, so I wanted to spread happiness and teach people about mental health. I decided to create a clothing brand that would donate a percentage of profits to a mental health organization. I dropped a line of clothing and got some followers, which was cool, but I eventually went off to college at Mizzou and stopped focusing on the company. Then at the end of 2019, I started coming back around to the brand, making new products and posting more on Instagram.

What changed in 2020?

In April of 2020, everything changed! Quarantine hit and my friend, Joey DeFilippo, started making some awesome tie-dye designs for Happiness Project. He was a little ahead of the tie-dye trend that hit this year. We started promoting these new designs with giveaways on Instagram, which really grew our following. Then we dropped the collection of tie-dye apparel in June and our followers and sales skyrocketed! We added another dye collection in July and just kept growing. Influencers were posting about Happiness Project, adding fuel to the fire. We launched a new product in August and another new ‘basics’ collection in September, so we’re always giving our customers new products. During that span, we also added two team members, Mike and Brendan.

What do you attribute to the success of the brand so far?

I think people really resonate with our mission to elevate happiness around the world. Mental illness is such a prevalent issue we face today and there’s a lot of stigma we have to break through to fix it. We educate about mental health and donate 15% of profits to an organization building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. We also hold events to raise money for mental health and spread happiness. Along with our mission, customers love our product designs and giveaways!

Where do you see Happiness Project going in the future?

We want Happiness Project to eventually become more than just a clothing brand.  We hope to one day have our own resources for mental illness in struggling communities and third world countries.  We want to make a community where people have a safe space to come and have fun (hopefully a physical location with fun activities throughout the building open to the public). We want to throw concerts and other events across the world to raise awareness for mental illness.

Happiness Project will continue dropping awesome collections and spreading happiness around the world! We are excited to grow and reach more people with our brand and mission. You can keep up with us by following our Instagram @happinessproject.