Sarah Krasley is the founder of Unreasonable Women, a NYC-based consultancy that’s currently focused on building compassionate, data-driven swimwear (only a few hours left on kickstarter!). She contributes to Racked, Develop 3D, and Al Jazeera America, and she teaches at NYU ITP.
Woman on a Mission
Call me stubborn, unrealistic, or even unreasonable, but I think we spend so much time at work that we must invest in projects that we believe will leave the planet in a better shape than how we found it.
Through my personal characteristics (mentioned above) and probably a lot of luck, I’ve managed to find jobs over the last 15 years that allowed me to focus on issues that are important to me while earning a paycheck, living in the two most expensive cities in the U.S., and building a varied skill set in manufacturing, technology, design, business, and environmentalism.
When I decided this fall to leave a corporate job – where I held a position in sustainability – and start my own company, building my business around a mission was a non-negotiable. Perfecting this strategy required some work and a good, hard look in the mirror.
I decided that putting women’s needs first was the founding principle of my company, and I would pursue opportunities to improve product offerings in areas where women traditionally feel disempowered. I did some research and found that the overwhelming majority of women have terrible experiences trying on bathing suits, and that experience feeds negative body image issues that 96 percent of women admit to having.
So, while our first product offering is a bathing suit, our ultimate objective is to deliver an experience that is empowering for women. This objective is integral to our product design process and requirements around elastic, spandex, mesh, and other materials.
Profit + Purpose
Mission-driven companies are trendy right now. Medium- to large-sized companies often need to shift their message, branding, and even, in some cases, their product offering to outfit their existing business towards a purpose. I’ve noticed smaller companies have the advantage of building in mission-driven business practices from the get-go.
There are many benefits to building a company for a cause: employee motivation and retention, the ability to tell a strong and emotionally resonant story to the press, and better odds at performance (stock of purpose-oriented public companies performs, on average, 12 percent better than that of other companies).
There are many ways to signal purpose to the public, such as: incorporating as a B-Corp, implementing a shared-value program like Tom’s or Warby Parker, or offering a bundled-in donation to a nonprofit along with each purchase.
A Balancing Act
A purpose-driven company of any size, but startups in particular, should strive to balance three objectives: authenticity, pragmatism, and relevance.
A big benefit to running a mission-driven company is the ability to tell a good story. Make sure the benefit you wish to bring to the world is not only inspiring, but authentic to you. Picture yourself explaining the purpose of your company to Malala or Oprah or someone you really admire. Do any of the parts of your story feel disingenuous or unnatural?
Toyota has a great exercise of asking why five times to get to the root of intentions. Use this technique to dissect the motivations behind your stated purpose.
Sometimes sustainability is framed as a way to maximize “people, profit, planet” all at once. In order to make a lasting, dare I say, sustainable difference in the world, you need to stay in business! It’s okay to set a big, transformative goal, but work within your company’s means to get there over time.
Not sure about where to find purpose? A good place to start is your supply chain. If you are producing a product, look for something called a “lifecycle assessment” or “environmental product declaration” of a similar product. Reading these technical documents can be tedious, but will show where in your business you can be environmentally conscious.
For example, a big negative externality of clothing production is high water usage: in the dyeing process, in washing clothes over their lives, etc. Companies like Levi’s have made their mark by investing in waterless dyeing technologies and advocating for consumers to wash their jeans less.
Keeping these three objectives in balance will help bring meaning to your work, positive impact to the planet, and realistic means of getting there. Good luck!
Check out Sarah’s kickstarter for women’s swimwear: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1389274964/x-swimwear
Maker’s Row has nearly 10,000 factories in apparel, furniture, packaging, and more, many of them with a social purpose. For example, we have a whole swath of factories dedicated to eco-friendly production.
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