CAUSEGEAR’s biggest innovation is their business model. CAUSEGEAR a low-profit limited liability social enterprise that provides high-quality fashion products, with lifetime guarantees, to their customers while also providing jobs to men and women in India, with livable wages and safe working conditions, who are at risk of slavery or human trafficking. They also have created a product line that is made only by women crafters in an attempt to address the inherent gender discrimination of hiring practices in India. This innovative social enterprise is helping to solve four of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals: (1) No Poverty, (5) Gender Equality, (8) Decent Work & Economic Growth and (12) Responsible Consumption & Production.
Loyola University Chicago
CAUSEGEAR’s biggest innovation is their business model. Brad and Katherine Jeffery founded CAUSEGEAR, a low-profit limited liability social enterprise, in 2011 with the goal to “help end poverty and slavery through fashion.” This social enterprise provides a variety of high-quality products, such as bags, journals, shirts and more that are made with worker friendly materials and come with a lifetime guarantee. CAUSEGEAR provides jobs to men and women in India who are at risk of slavery or human trafficking. These individuals are provided with the proper training, enabling them to learn the skills needed to work as a crafter. Crafters work in safe, healthy and positive work environments. How does all this fit together? Mr. Jeffery explained that “every purchase supports a day of freedom for the crafter who made [the item]” This means that each purchase “supports a job that pays someone a decent wage to allow them to have the freedom they need and to avoid slavery… and extreme poverty.” Therefore, consumers are not only purchasing high quality, handmade products with lifetime guarantees, they are also supporting the freedom of a CAUSEGEAR crafter. With the help of their customers, CAUSEGEAR is well on their way to accomplishing their mission “to free 1 million people from poverty, human trafficking and slavery by providing them with self-sustaining jobs with livable wages.” This innovative social enterprise aims to address the United Nations’ first Sustainable Development Goal to end poverty. CAUSEGEAR is also dedicated to reducing gender inequalities, the United Nations’ fifth Sustainable Development Goal. Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery created a product line made only by women, appropriately called MADE BY FREE WOMEN, to address gender inequality and discrimination in hiring practices in India.
Mr. Jeffery, in an interview with the authors of this story, shared the inspiration behind the idea for this innovative social enterprise. In 2010, Mr. Jeffery traveled through various countries, including Mexico, Ethiopia, Kenya and India, during which time he got a firsthand look at the “breadth and depth” of the global poverty and slavery problem, an issue he had been especially interested in at that time. Before his trip, he was fascinated by the concept of cause purchasing and the trends surrounding it. He noticed that people, especially millennials and other “young professionals… were very interested in buying fashion tied to a cause.” This was one piece of the idea puzzle.
During his travels, he visited a Nairobi slum called Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, where he met two girls who made and sold jewelry in an attempt to provide for themselves. These girls told Mr. Jeffery that they usually make about $3 a day. When he asked them how much they needed to make a day to support themselves, they said about $8 a day. This was when he thought “what if these women were making jewelry or something… [and] were making $8 a day but [were] making a product that was competitive and desired by the marketplace… and the purchaser of the product understood the connection between their purchase and the power of a sustainable job.” This was piece two of the idea puzzle; now he just needed to figure out where and how he could make this happen.
After his trip to Kibera, Mr. Jeffery felt determined to do something to help those who were suffering from, or who were most vulnerable to, human trafficking, poverty and slavery. However, he did not want to just provide financial aid to these individuals because he saw aid as a temporary fix to a more lasting problem. He explained his rationale to us by stating, “when we just give aid… that helps… [those in need] …in that moment, but doesn’t change their plight.” He wanted to do something that would make a more lasting difference. Mr. Jeffery thought “what if a company could create a fashion product that… [went]… beyond just giving a pair of shoes or giving food… [a product that] …is more of an empowerment tool to help people help themselves?” This is when all the pieces in his idea puzzle, to create a product that consumers would desire while also providing sustainable jobs to those in need, came together but he was still unsure about where he wanted to start this venture. After his experience in Kibera, he met an Indian gentleman who “enlightened him on the realities of India,” in terms of the severity and prevalence of the problem or risk of slavery, poverty and human trafficking. That is when he decided he was going to focus his efforts on India. Over the next six months, he wrote up a business plan. Then, in 2011, Mr. Jeffery founded CAUSEGEAR with, his now wife, Katherine.
CAUSEGEAR’s unique business model has impacted both the lives of their crafters, as well as their solid base of customers around the world. Promoting a strong message has done wonders to spread the word to individuals and corporations regarding the global crisis of extreme poverty, slavery, inequalities and human trafficking. The commitment they have shown to giving back and investing in an impoverished community has provided thousands of days of freedom to employed crafters. CAUSEGEAR has also done a great deal of work to increase its global social impact while simultaneously reducing the company's environmental impact through an increase in the use of ecofriendly materials, in an industry that is known for its pollution and waste.
Through promoting a strong commitment to social change, CAUSEGEAR has attracted a base of consumers who are looking to make an impact with their purchases. While there are other businesses creating clothing, bags and leather goods, CAUSEGEAR stands out as a company with a greater purpose behind their product. The Jeffery’s business model has done wonders to promote the success of the United Nations’ twelfth Sustainable Development Goal of Responsible Consumption and Production. Perfectly aligned with the aim of the goal, CAUSEGEAR provides a product that encourages customers to use their money in a way that creates good in the world and to be conscious of where their products are coming from. The mission of ending global poverty, slavery and human trafficking is the number one priority within the company and has proven to be a huge asset in attracting loyal consumers and bringing in sales.
CAUSEGEAR has worked with a number of large organizations, such as Duracell, Livestrong, Takeda, Iron Mountain, LexisNexis and NPR, to provide branded goods. As Millennials and Generation Z employees become an increasingly large part of the workforce, there is more pressure than ever on organizations to promote strong social or environmental values to attract and retain talent. Young adults, more so than their predecessors, are highly attracted to working for a company that gives back to the world. CAUSEGEAR provides an opportunity for other companies to do just that. CAUSEGEAR’s business model serves to satisfy corporate needs for branded items, while also providing a quantifiable metric that allows companies to measure their social impact. Each CAUSEGEAR purchase comes with an attached tag, letting the consumer know how many days of freedom they have provided to the crafters in India. This feature makes CAUSEGEAR products extremely attractive for businesses looking to create tangible increases in their social impact.
Through the company’s Brand Ambassador Program, CAUSEGEAR has created a grassroots movement around their products and mission as well as a beneficial way of marketing their goods. Brand Ambassadors are encouraged to post pictures of products on their social media and are provided with discount codes that their friends and followers can use to purchase CAUSEGEAR merchandise. This system has proven to be a great way to spread the message about global poverty while also improving sales and brand recognition.
Through the sales of CAUSEGEAR items, over 20,000 days of freedom have been provided to crafters in India (as of February 2019). According to the company’s website, over 90% of profits are given back to their crafters through various projects and services to assist in ending poverty, slavery and human trafficking. Each crafter is paid a living wage, providing them with long-term support and protection from the many dangers that come with extreme poverty. In alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development goal of providing decent work and economic growth, CAUSEGEAR has made providing ethical wages and working conditions to their employees a key component of their business. The MADE BY FREE WOMEN initiative previously mentioned also ensures that ethical conditions, financial freedom and lifelong empowerment are extended to India’s female population, who frequently fall victim to the dangers of poverty, slavery and human trafficking. By providing all crafters with self-sustaining jobs, workers are able to experience economic stability, as opposed to the traditional aid that often only provides short-term benefits for impoverished individuals.
In addition to CAUSEGEAR’s focus on social justice, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey have also shown a great commitment to making the fashion industry more environmentally sustainable. One of the most powerful initiatives they have is their lifetime guarantee on each CAUSEGEAR product. This is intended to reduce the number of products being thrown in landfills and repurchased over short periods of time. The fast fashion industry has made it a norm to buy low-quality, inexpensive items more often, creating a high demand for unsustainable fashion. The lifetime guarantee on all CAUSEGEAR products challenges this norm and pushes consumers to shift to investing in items that will last long-term, reducing wasteful consumption.
CAUSEGEAR has also greatly increased their use of organic cotton, pushing for 100% use over the coming years. As stated on the company's website, the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter, second only to the oil industry. This is largely due to the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers in the agricultural and production processes of creating the fabrics. Not only does this initiative reduce chemical runoff and pollution, but it also improves working conditions for the farmers and crafters involved in making CAUSEGEAR items. It is common practice in India for farmers to spray chemicals on crops by hand, coming in direct contact with substances that can be extremely harmful to human health. Removing the pesticides from the process of growing cotton not only improves the working conditions for the farmers but also ensures healthier, happier employees both in the long and short-term.
For all products requiring the use of leather, CAUSEGEAR has committed to using “Eco-Leather” when possible, as opposed to traditional leather or artificially produced Petro-chemical based vegan leather. Typical leather manufacturing involves the heavy use of chrome during tanning, which is known to be a toxic pollutant and is dangerous to the workers that have to handle the substance. Most vegan leather also uses an extremely chemical-heavy manufacturing process and creates large amounts of pollution. Eco-Leather uses a more natural and safe tanning process. CAUSEGEAR has chosen their use of Eco-Leather as a way to reduce their pollution, create safer working conditions and eliminate waste. The lack of chemical use ensures that CAUSE GEAR's leather is biodegradable, on the off-chance that it does end up in a landfill.
Brad Jeffery, CEO and CoFounder
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Chicago, Illinois, US
Business Website: https://causegear.com
Year Founded: 2011
Number of Employees: 51 to 200
CAUSEGEAR is a Chicago based limited liability social enterprise that was established to compete on the world stage in design and quality while serving as a vehicle for consumers to help create sustainable social reform. CAUSEGEAR provides men and women in India with jobs with livable wages and safe, healthy working conditions. These crafters create a variety of high-quality fashion products that come with lifetime guarantees.