Tips for Starting an Ethical Brand
Written by Tanya Donahue
Ethical. Sustainable. Socially Conscious. These may be the buzzwords of today, but the importance lies in taking their meaning and creating something truly unique – your voice, also known as your brand.
In many ways, we as social entrepreneurs are the ones creating a new culture for today and tomorrow. We are the collective forerunners objecting, “The way things are isn’t okay – we need to be doing better!” In Canada, we sometimes refer to this ideology as “snow ploughing”, and it isn’t always easy.
For my family and I, Mango + Moose is not unlike our past startup companies, where the focus had everything to do with changing an age-old mindset. Our latest mission, being the creation of a cause-based company that supports artisans in developing nations through business and empowerment, is something we have received abundant praise for. Other social entrepreneurs with business startups likely know what I’m hinting at here: You will experience affirmation through social media and in person, and this is genuine. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into sales for your new company. “Liking” or “Sharing” your vision is different from engaging in the practicality of purchasing. Even with a lot of press coverage and praise for your new endeavour, it’s imperative to be cautious in the decisions you make.
Accept that you will make mistakes.
There will be a great deal that is out of your control. My lead times on particular products can be extremely long, and following fair-trade protocols means that I pay 50% upfront, in order for Artisans to begin making the goods. Then comes another 50%, when they are ready to ship. In addition, shipping charges can add up and take much longer than expected. Be aware of which countries are considered “least developed”, and which are not, as this will have a huge impact on import charges. Finally, follow that chain of supply – you must know where the materials that were used to make the pieces you are purchasing or designing originated.
The number one mistake I made right out of the gate was too much inventory: mainly, not enough in reserves for operations, as well as not enough for crucial marketing. We chose to grow our company organically, which sounded quite idyllic, but the need to order our Spring/Summer line hit fast, and sales were not where we projected, which left us scrambling. When working in developing nations that are many times unstable and unpredictable, there is the desire to have everything accessible and ready to go. The comfort of knowing that all stock has been quality checked and packaged is a great feeling, but don’t do it at the expense of overspending dollars that are desperately needed elsewhere in your company.
I keep my Why as close to my heart and my core as possible.
The day-to-day operations of our work can feel as commonplace as any position, but the reality is far different. As often as possible, remember to connect yourself and your consumers to the People, as well as to the Story, and Impact, behind what you are doing. When I was living and working in Haiti, it was easy to see the direct impact of my work; since returning to Canada, I have to make an effort to see it. This effort and need to feel it is invaluable, especially when things are tough, but being grounded in the PEOPLE behind what I am doing helps me to persist. Our human nature screams at us for ease and comfort, but I encourage you to Kenbe fèm, which means to stand strong. You are living what you believe in, you are being YOU… and the world needs more people who are willing to not only dream, but to do.
I know it is popular with those starting a new company to be overloading themselves with information on the industry: the trends, the gurus of their particular market, and developing their unique jargon. I do this some, but I intentionally keep my reading, family time, and entertainment within a broader sphere. I make sure my leisure reading grows me in other areas, not just my knowledge about Mango + Moose related topics, but rather ones that develop me as a person, and my understanding of people and places. I continue to learn a second language, I spend time daily to get to know God on a deeper level, and I plug away at keeping my family of six not only functioning, but connecting and being intentional. To me, it means to have balance – between my work self, who is incredibly focused on creating a better world, and my after-hours self, Tanya Donahue: mom, wife, homemaker, and Yahtzee player.
My point is: STILL BE YOU! There is life outside of what you are doing, and it is valuable… and so are you!
Tanya Donahue is a RevolutionHer™ Business Member based out of Kelowna, BC, and is the Founder and CEO of Mango + Moose, a socially conscious fashion and lifestyle brand. Tanya works with Artisans in developing nations to curate and design jewellery, accessories, home and baby goods. The company slogan “where global meets local” embodies the nature of Mango + Moose. Located in Canada, they provide a marketplace for goods not only made in Canada but also in developing nations such as Haiti, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Mali, Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam, and East Asia.