A business is made up of hundreds of decisions everyday. Who to work with, what to produce, what message to put out, to when to launch a certain product or service? Where do you start looking if you want to create a business that does good alongside doing well?

How do you make decisions? In the big world of production, sourcing and distribution, being a newbie with a mission beyond profit adds on another layer of consideration that can be somewhat intimidating. Where should you start if you do not have any relevant experience in retail, production, fashion, design, or any area relevant to creating a travel wear brand around artisan production? 

Developing a singular brand aesthetic takes time and testing, and working with a technique that you could easily understand the process of and manipulate to a certain degree is a lower barrier to entry. It’s easier to create your own unique selling point and design aesthetic with just one variable.

By specialising at a particular product, it allows you to focus on innovating within the fabric and therefore relying on a production model that was simple, scalable and repetitive. Many well-known companies start with one thing first – Ralph Lauren started with bow ties, Diane von Furstenberg, the wrap dress, and Alice + Olivia started with just pants. Being good in one thing and being known for that pays off over time.

Purity is overrated. Hybrid models survive and evolve, and knowing what your non-negotiables are in the beginning will help guide the myriad compromising decisions that you’ll have to make when developing your own supply chain.

Knowing your non-negotiables essentially means knowing your own theory of change for your organization. What impact do you want to achieve? What business processes must be in place to achieve that impact? What quantitative metric will you use to keep you on track?

When you’re guided by purpose besides profit, there’s often no right answer for how to choose. If profit maximization were the main goal, then it would be an easy one of ensuring lowest cost with highest quality. Your goal could be to supply chain impact and long term production partner relationships – with that in mind, create your own criteria for how to choose who to work with.

This criteria spans four main categories: product integrity, social and environmental impact, business imperatives, and management robustness – each with criteria within it. You have to decide which parameters are most important to you, guided by the impact you want to achieve as well as your available resources. Once created, these frameworks save a lot of time and energy of choosing who to work with, and keeps you aligned to your why. Boundaries make life easier.

Having a key community is fundamental to success. One of the things that could save you in the roller coaster first year is to have a core group of people to go to for different means. Usually, these people fall into specific categories:

First, the skeptical naysayer who tells you things are not possible but is invested in your success. Proving them wrong can be a great motivator.

Second, an unconditional cheerleader who will pat you on the back and tell you you’re doing great because you’re your worst critic – these people will keep you going in times of doubt and worry.

Third, inspirational peers who are also doing their own thing and have surmounted the same obstacles you face will provide timely advice and a sense of camaraderie.

Lastly, domain mentors who are industry experts and who can guide you in areas where you lack expertise.

Timing is also important, as you’ll need different people depending on what stage of the business you’re in, and also the kind of person you are and what you need.

Knowing the value of the product you’re selling, and who you’re selling it to. It sounds like common sense and it is, but there are so many instances in social businesses where the end product is simply a byproduct of the socially impactful process the founder wants to put in place. A product should stand on its own two feet first, valued and considered on its own, and its social impact is a secondary, bonus result. You should conduct a lot of user interviews and market research (by having a small event for consumers to try the product out) to understand first, the viability of your product. Based on customers reviews, ultimately what you’re selling is connection, not the product. Customers purchase the products because they want to feel connected to a larger cause, be part of a community, and know where and why their product was made. Knowing this guides all communications and also validates the hypothesis that people will make the better consumption choice when armed with the right information.

Hence, focus on provenance– where something comes from – and transparency as fundamental brand values.

One big thing to learn in starting your own business is that the journey is an ongoing negotiation of personal values. In creating your business and nurturing it from idea to operating concept to business model, you are actively materializing something that is an extension of your being and the experiences that have brought you to today. Whether you are practical and focused on making profit from someone else’s need, or idealistic and seeking to change the status quo through transforming an existing process – whatever you create is and will be a statement of who you are, and who you are is laid bare by what you value. Start by asking what’s important to you and why, and the answers will pave the way.

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