Starting a new business can be a tough challenge, but there are many amazing small business that are embarking on this journey with great success every day. In this new series, find out what happens behind the scenes as we let socially conscious startups tell their story. Guest post by Katy Gathright of Designed Good.
At Designed Good, we curate the best in design and social good. We hand-select—often literally holding products in their hands to talk about their merit—and sell accessories, clothing, gear, gadgets, and artwork and tell the stories about how they’re making a difference. We’re building a flash-sales website with community pricing for members, and the question we’re interested in asking is: What if every product was not just designed well, but designed good?
Our story begins with Imran Khoja, one of my co-founders who graduated with me from Williams College this June. During a summer internship two years ago, he began thinking about how he could partner with NGOs to get more exposure for the work they were doing—awesome, interesting work that nobody knew about.
I met Imran in junior year, when we were both abroad at Oxford University through the Williams program at Exeter College. He was the kid in the program’s rec room wearing brightly colored sneakers and talking up a business where T-shirts could give these NGOs that well-needed exposure. Over the course of the year, he found another problem he wanted to solve—the fact that it was difficult to find not only T-shirts, but also all kinds of products that are socially responsible. He spent a lot of time shopping for products online and trying to get the specifications on how things were made. It was always more difficult than he thought.
A year and a half later, in January of our senior year, he entered the first Williams College Business Plan Competition. I remember running into him at the college gym, and he called me over to the stationary bike where he had his laptop propped up on the machine ledge. “It’s for the competition thing,” he said. He had a PowerPoint opened up with the slides he had compiled about his business idea—the idea he’d been talking to me about almost every day all fall. So he biked and I read bullet points about the character he had created named Abby: a PR professional in her early twenties who wanted to be a socially-conscious shopper, but didn’t have time to find products that were both stylish and good for the world.
A week later, he asked me to join him for the competition. After we won in April, we partnered with our third co-founder Joe Bergeron, a 2001 Williams alum who started by giving us advice for the competition and turned into a great friend and collaborator. Winning the competition was the final piece that pushed us to keep moving forward, all systems go, on an idea for changing the marketplace that we all really cared about.
Now we’re launching in Williamstown, MA, with a five minute walk to our office, Berkshire mountains in the background, and a thought or two about why it’s so important to build a community. Williams is the place where we learned more about friendship, big ideas, interesting conversations, and social change than anywhere else, and it’s why we crafted our referral system around this idea of an intimate network. Rather than setting an intimidating goal of signing up say, 30 friends in exchange for store credit, Designed Good offers rewards to people for signing up just two, three, or seven friends.
When we say we carefully curate—otherwise known as “thoughtfully pick”— our products, we mean that selecting each one is a story in itself. Sometimes it’s the four of us in the office, independently coming across the products in our spreadsheet and exclaiming about how awesome they are. But usually, picking the right products starts with an inspiring conversation.
For example, our first products are photographs taken by girls in Haiti. The girls are from Siloe, a sprawling neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, and they have learned photography from Nadia Todres, who works with the Center for the Arts. The girls are between the ages of 10 and 18—a critical age group often missed by organizations that focus on women and children—and many of them have never had the chance to learn to read or write.
We picked the photographs because Imran met Nadia on campus one day and started a conversation with her. She told him about the trips she had been taking to Haiti over the course of the last year; a week later, the three of us were having coffee and flipping through the girls’ prints on her Macbook. She talked about what it was like to empower girls by giving them a safe space to learn a new skill. Some of them would leave the program with a way to make a living, by photographing weddings in Haiti. Others would just have a way of expressing themselves, something they’d never had before.
We’ll be selling these photographs at the end of August when we have our official launch. In the meantime, our website is live for free membership at designedgood.com, with a link to our blog and the kinds of stories we love telling. Our pre-launch T-shirt is also available through the signed-in page.
We here at Goodlifer think you should sign up and follow the progress of this exciting startup venture.