People are more conscious than ever of the size of their footprints as they traverse the earth. Millennials especially pay attention to the things they buy, what they eat, which companies they support. They are concerned with finding ways to turn consumption into a contribution to larger communities.
Gentry Lane caught on to this mentality. She is the founder and CEO of Proper, which makes luxury soaps that directly support the company’s partner iDE to find entrepreneurial solutions to deadly global sanitation problems.
“Our business model is different than everyone else’s so far,” she said. “Giving a percentage of profits is an outdated model. You never know what your profits are.”
To make predictable, sustainable gifts, Proper has built into the line-item cost of the soap the amount that will go towards projects in rural Africa and Asia.
These projects aren’t typical, either.
In Vietnam, for instance, rather than simply dropping off iodine tablets to purify drinking water contaminated by ineffective waste management, iDE helped build a factory to manufacture toilets.
“It gave them jobs, creation of wealth, and they are solving their own problem now,” said Lane.
“The global marketplace needs this,” she added.
Lane has 14 years experience in fashion in Paris.
“I thought there was a contradiction between wanting to help the world and spending $1,000 on a pair of shoes. But there’s a new wave in consumerism where you don’t have to be at odds with that,” she said.
With brands like Proper, it’s not a selfish reward to buy beautiful soap made of the purest ingredients. Instead there is an interconnectedness with other people.
“You are indulging yourself, but you definitely don’t have to feel guilty about the indulgence. It’s a win-win on so many levels. You are circulating wealth globally. There’s this idea that charity has to mean sacrifice, but being of service to someone should and can be convenient,” said Lane.
By buying Proper soap, you are creating a relationship with another human individual. It’s a powerful thing.
And something that Generation Y can get behind.
“I think it’s the new wave of doing business. It’s a Millennial thing for sure. It used to be: cut corners, lie to the consumer, do whatever you have to do to claw to the top. And that is one way of doing business, but it’s not how I want to do business. I saw firsthand that doing business with integrity and transparency works really well,” Lane said.
Having launched just weeks ago, Proper has linked up with Birchbox, a personalized beauty service where subscribers can receive a curated collection of new products each month.
The vice president of their men’s line, Brad Lande, is always interested in featuring cause-driven brands. The focus is on commerce and content.
“It’s about making materialism meaningful,” said Lande.
People today look at labels. They want to know the components, the location, and the story behind a brand. Millennials are mindful of their purchases.
Proper’s factory owners are French, the raw ingredients comes from Africa and Europe, the factory is in Compton—revitalizing a part of Los Angeles—and money ends up going back to Africa and Asia.
It is truly a universal enterprise with a local impact.
Proper has three main products in the initial line: bar soap in simple wrapping, shower gel in a clear bottle, and a subtle candle—all in their signature, clean mélange of elderflower, lychee, pear, and marine.
“Social mission is what drives the company, but the packaging and scent is what drives the product. First and foremost, people have to like it because it’s sensual,” said Lane
While Lane is in the business of selling high-end soap, she is committed to creating pathways for people have access to hygiene and safe water around the world. The more soap she sells, the more she, and each person who buys it, can help.
“We have the technology. We don’t even need that much money to solve this problem,” she said.
Lane hopes to inspire other entrepreneurs to think differently about retail philanthropy and there is a whole market of interested, Toms-wearing Millennials.
Follow Maura Pennington on Twitter @whatsthefracas.
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