Illustration: Gloria Hornby
An English Literature professor of mine once referred to an idea as the piece of grit that gets stuck in your mind, irritating you and compelling you to seek answers and be creative until, perhaps many years later, you produce your pearl. I like using the image of an oyster to describe the journey that has resulted in A Better Place; the idea was born out of a frustration with the lack of user-friendly and beautifully presented information about ethical shopping, back when Maddy (A Better Place’s co-founder) and I were at high school and first started thinking about the impact that we would like to have on the world around us.
Every time I come across a new and exciting brand that is doing business in a way that changes the world for the better, I want to make sure as many people as possible know about them. None of us have unlimited resources, and often we’re not able to give as much time or money to charities as we would like; but, even so, we spend money every day, even if just on the basics rather than luxuries. The idea behind A Better Place is that every penny we spend has the potential to do good for others and for the environment while getting us what we need and want at the same time.
In Start Something That Matters, the inspiring book by TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, this successful entrepreneur and philanthropist writes:
“There is something different in the air these days… People are hungry for success – that’s nothing new. What’s changed is the definition of that success. Increasingly, the quest for success is not the same as the quest for status and money. The definition has broadened to include contributing something to the world and living and working on one’s own terms.”
Everywhere, up-and-coming entrepreneurs are proving that it is possible to combine a for-profit company with a social mission, contrary to the conventional industry wisdom. As Blake says, “giving is good business – in both senses of the word ‘good’. It’s good because it helps people; it’s good because it makes money. It’s a way to address two essential needs with an action that unifies them both. More and more people are finding this out and are creating businesses that make giving an essential component of their model.”
I’m proud to be a part of a generation of young people who are determined not only to make money but also to make the world better. One very inspiring social enterprise we feature in our Ladies’ Accessories section, Sseko, is a great example of this new business model; their beautiful shoes and bags are made by women in Uganda and help fund their university education.
When Sseko’s founders went on ABC’s reality TV show, Shark Tank, last year to compete for funding, they were turned down by the show’s judges, who have a very rigid way of thinking about business and philanthropy. “The sharks believe in the classic philanthropy model, which is that if you’re going to do something good, you have to get rich first,” Bohannon [Sseko’s founder] said. “They don’t believe in baking in social impact from Day One.” It seems they hadn’t heard of the huge success of companies like TOMS, who are proving that this profit first, social impact later (if at all) way of thinking is hugely outdated. There are better ways of doing things that actually work, and many brave souls are out there right now, proving the cynics wrong.
There’s another reason that I chose to use oysters as an image for A Better Place; the idea took shape during an incredibly difficult time for my family, and is the product of a considerable amount of struggle. Each team member dedicated generous amounts of time outside of their day jobs to make it a reality, and everyone involved went above and beyond the call of duty to obsess over the details that they were responsible for because they are passionate about what we are doing.
The idea that unites us is, as Blake puts it,
“that every person alive can make this world a better place… that we are all equipped to help one another. Just as we all have five senses, we all are born with the ability to improve another person’s life.”
Sometimes it takes an extraordinary or difficult experience to empower you and help you believe this truth for yourself. It was watching my still young and otherwise healthy and strong father slowly die from cancer that taught me that our time on this earth matters, that we have a responsibility to use it wisely and leave a better world to the next generation. We don’t know how long we have, so why not start trying to make a difference today?
This website is dedicated to my father’s memory, and we hope that it can not only provide many people with practical ways of making better consumer choices in their daily lives, but also inspire the creation of many new ethical businesses. There are still many gaps in the market (particularly in technology), and areas where a lot needs to be done. We will be hard at work researching and testing all of the best brands and products around, new or old, and sharing what we learn as we go along with you.
We hope you find it useful and that you enjoy the journey with us!