Social Impact and Conscious Retail Innovators Share Their Secrets

On Thursday afternoon, we attended the Social Retail Summit #10, an event focused on customer relation strategies for post-internet brands. More simply, an event that talked about how to connect with customers to do more than sell a product. 

On the Direct-to-Consumer Brands Panel, Michael Kim, director of Customer Experience at Casper, the "Warby Parker of mattresses", emphasized a theme that rang true for this panel and the following Social Impact Panel - connecting with consumers is about being simple and straightforward with your mission and messaging, not following a formula or checklist. 

Each of the four social-minded businesses on the Social Impact and Conscious Retail Panel connected to customers and shared their message in unique ways. David Bolotsky of UnCommon Goods emphasized the importance of knowing your impact and knowing your suppliers, speaking highly of scoring your business with B Corps, which he deemed "the IRS of sustainability", and then relaying that information to your customers. Essentially, it came down to integrity - holding UnCommon Goods to a high standard and helping customers understand the reduced impact this standard has on people and the planet.

Our own Jesse Ayala of Row+Rue and Modavanti followed this sentiment explaining that our goal here at Row+Rue is to share information not only about the small brands doing good, but also about "larger companies doing more research and developing new production methods." Though we love small brands just the same, the large brands are testing the waters on the social impact and sustainability front and we want to show them that these new methods are important to us because unfortunately, "a midlife crisis [in the fashion industry] whether we want it to happen or not will", especially if we continue to produce, consume, and dispose at such rapid rates. Which is why we're working to help people understand that there is an intersection between stylish and sustainable (and wearing something you value on a deeper level feels better).

Jodi Susman, Digital Strategy and Marketing Manager for Catrinka, discussed the interaction between style and mission in socially driven businesses, explaining how their mission to help girls resonated differently with various customers. Women with children may have closer ties to products that support reduced bullying in schools, while younger women are style-driven and view the social impact as a value-added, not a defining factor. As we have seen, most customers shop based on aesthetics, not based on values, so by providing them with products that have both these social businesses are proving that you can have your cake and eat it too.

Of course, in any mission-driven business there are struggles. When asked about the tension between purpose and profit, David Bolotsky explained this as a healthy tension using the metaphor of an oxygen mask, "You got to put on your oxygen mask first before you help other people," meaning, you have to exist to achieve your mission. That being said, you also have to make sacrifices to achieve your mission. For example, Bolotsky went without pay for seven years! However, despite tensions and sacrifices, social businesses all come down to one thing - their mission. And all the panelists agreed that working for a company whose values align with your own is so much more exciting and fulfilling.

Moral of the Story: There's not one right way to share your mission or story, but being authentic is key.