With a retail background that includes working in merchandising for Gap, you might not expect Mark Spera, ’10, to say that the only truly sustainable way to shop is secondhand. But his new clothing retail business with fellow Robins School of business alum Dean Ramadan, ’10, is proving that being eco-friendly and socially responsible doesn't have to mean sacrificing style.
Just one year old, BeGood Clothing carries exclusively brands that give back to charitable causes and meet the highest standards of eco-friendly and fair trade production. Their San Francisco storefront is eco-friendly as well, using reclaimed wood for the floors, recycled cedar for shelves — even the metal piping used for the clothing racks was repurposed.
“We try to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold our vendors to,” Spera says. “We think it’s a unique model and something we’re ahead of the curve on — companies that almost fit this nonprofit mold. Only they’re a for-profit company with really rigorous corporate and social responsibility standards.”
It’s not an entirely new concept. Toms Shoes is known for giving more than 10 million pairs of shoes to children through its buy-one-give-one business model. Patagonia has long encouraged customers to recycle or repair their products, rather than buy new replacements.
Where Spera and Ramadan saw a gap in the market was a single retail space for consumers to find these companies with a focus on social good, particularly when most are fledgling brands trying to gain traction just like BeGood.
“We know, as they know, that we’re probably going to grow in tandem,” Spera says. “If they’re not doing well, it’s tough for us to do well obviously. There’s a lot of holding hands in the beginning. You find in this industry, because it’s so eco-friendly and socially conscious, that a lot of people are like-minded and easygoing, and they help each other.”
They’re also getting their customers involved in the movement. A donation of used clothing earns a 10 percent discount in the store. Once a month, BeGood donates one dollar to a local organization for every customer who tries on an article of clothing. And every Tuesday, Spera and Ramadan invite their customers to join them in nearby Fort Mason Park for grounds cleanup — a nod to their eco-friendly business angle.
Their philanthropic efforts aren’t just good for the soul — they’re good for business, too. The Pareto principle posits that 80 percent of a company’s business comes from 20 percent of its customers, and BeGood is finding that concept plays out even more when your core customers are partners in community building. The store has been profitable from the get-go. Plans for an e-commerce site were expedited almost immediately. Now the pair is scouting locations for a second San Francisco store to open in 2014. The word has spread and people are clambering for a central storehouse of socially conscious garb.
“That’s our long-term goal; we want to make people aware that there is this alternative way to buy clothes,” Ramadan says. “To know where clothes are coming from, what they’re made of, and when there’s the option of giving back to a charitable cause, to try to make that step as much as possible. It’s this mini-revolution we’re starting here.”