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Brands that Live to Give: When Business and Society Win Together

In last week’s Insight, I reflected on the need to tune out the noise of the Washington and Wall Street echo chambers, and tune in to what’s really important – especially during the holiday season. Tuning into purpose, tuning into values. Tuning into quality, achievement, and service. So this week, we’re going to tune into brands that have been built upon the premise of giving back to others and to our world.

Patagonia specializes in making clothes for the outdoor “silent sports” market such as alpine climbing, fly fishing, surfing and skiing. The company’s products are totally focused on durability, quality and beauty, much like the awe-inspiring photographs of picturesque yet rugged landscapes on the company’s website. Patagonia has a uniquely integrated mission that sets it apart: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” This mission statement tells consumers that Patagonia is invested in much more than simply sales. Just spending a few minutes browsing their website fuels a sense of inspiration, and even a desire to get involved – in an outdoor sport, in an environmental initiative, or quite fittingly, both. Right in the mix of link options to shop for “casual fleece” or view “favorites for women,” is an equally-sized clickable image that advertises Patagonia Action Works, the name of the company’s movement to support environmental activism, and connect individuals with their grantees to help more people get involved. Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability dates back to 1985 with their “1% for the Planet” pledge – a self-imposed tax to give back to grassroots environmental organizations. This is still going strong today. In fact, in November of 2016, 1% for the Planet turned into 100% for the Planet when Patagonia vowed to donate 100% of their Black Friday sales to support the environment. This is an exemplary model of how, following a controversial election that posed a new kind of threat to our rapidly changing climate, Patagonia chose to tune in to the values that are most important to them as a company – and tune out the divisive noise. Patagonia did not simply make a political statement, they actually made a difference. The company went on to raise $10 million from this single-day “fundraiser for the earth” which was 5 times the amount of their original goal. Patagonia continues to donate 1% of their sales every day. The company has also founded some related initiatives, such as their Worn Wear program which enables the repair, sharing, and recycling of used Patagonia apparel and gear, and Patagonia Provisions, an online marketplace for organic, sustainably and ethically made food items that seeks to improve the global food supply chain.

While as of right now, donating 100% of funds to charitable causes may have been a one-time thing for Patagonia, let’s take a look at a company that has been giving 100% back since Day 1 – Newman’s Own. When actor Paul Newman launched his own salad dressing company in 1982 and earned $300,000 in that first year, he declared, “Let’s give it all away to those who need it!” and subsequently founded the Newman’s Own Foundation, an IRS-recognized charity. Newman and his co-founders established separate boards, oversight mechanisms and outside auditors to ensure that business costs such as salaries and benefits would remain commensurate with the industry. There are no gimmicks here. Newman’s Own is in business to produce high-quality products with excellent margins – but the motivation of the board and employees is to increase the positive global impact of the non-profit foundation by “transforming lives and nourishing the common good.” To date, Newman’s Own Foundation has directed more than $535 million into causes that include advancing access to nutritious foods in underserved communities, creating fun experiences for children with life-limiting conditions, and supporting military personnel and their families. Newman’s Own is a truly sustainable model, with its immutable mission ingrained in its corporate charter and is 100% focused on doing well by doing good.

You are probably aware of several other brands that also give back, many of which are built on the “One for One” value proposition. In 2006, TOMS Shoes was founded on this model (and arguably created it) by donating shoes to children in need for every pair purchased. To date, more than 86 million pairs of shoes have been donated to children in need around the world. And that’s only the beginning. TOMS still donates shoes, but also contributes to other important causes, like access to clean water, vision care, safe birthing practices, and bullying prevention. TOMS’ giving model has enabled over 90 partners in over 70 countries to join forces and work towards building a better world together. Similarly to Patagonia, when the safety of our country felt threatened, TOMS chose to tune in to their values as a company and go beyond their traditional giving model to donate $5 million to organizations in the United States committed to ending gun violence. At the top of their website’s homepage, users can even send an e-postcard to their representative to promote universal background checks. TOMS is certainly breaking the mold on what it means to give.

Two other fast-growing brands that have adopted TOMS’ “One for One” approach are Bombas Socks and Warby Parker Eyewear. “One pair purchased = One pair donated” is the Bombas model, which is reminiscent of how TOMS began. Bombas’ website states that the driving force behind their company is that socks are the #1 most requested clothing item at homeless shelters. Bombas’ commitment resonates with so many of us who want to make a difference, however small, in the life of someone who is homeless. To date, Bombas has donated nearly 13 million pairs of socks that are specially designed for the homeless population – with anti-microbial fabric and reinforced seams. Similarly to the other brands mentioned, Bombas also recognizes the importance of creating channels to connect others to get involved and support their communities. While Bombas is focused on helping people in the U.S., and has connected over 1700 giving partners across all 50 states, Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program works to address the billions of people around the world who need glasses but don’t have access to them. Millions of these people are so visually impaired that they cannot effectively learn or work. Warby Parker makes it their mission to not only donate eyeglasses to individuals in need, but also provide vision care to schoolchildren, and fund training for men and women to administer basic eye exams and sell low-cost glasses in their communities. To date, over 4 million pairs of glasses have been donated, and Warby Parker has helped to positively impact vision health for people in more than 50 countries. “We’re just getting started but our sleeves are rolled up, and we’re excited to move forward together,” their website states. We’re excited, too!

Each of these brands has built a strong, growing customer base that appreciates the value of their products, and their value-added missions. Stay tuned for a special Insight next Tuesday, where we’ll take a note from these admirable companies and discuss some last-minute, cause-based gift ideas. In the meantime, buy yourself (and someone else) a pair of Bombas Socks, warm up with a cup of Newman’s Own coffee, and take heart in knowing that your purchases this holiday season (and year round) can help make a real difference.

Marketing Agency Blog Post Author of Brands that Live to Give: When Business and Society Win Together

December 13, 2018
Written by Tom Sullivan

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