• June 2013

BeGood: Change your clothes. Change the world.

From modern classics to items that are great for gifting, BeGood Clothing will have you responsibly dressed from beanie to socks. Every item purchased donates back, which is still a somewhat novel concept in the world of retail.

“We started BeGood Clothing because of our fascination with sustainability in fashion,” say founders Dean Ramadan and Mark Spera. “Our buyers seek fashionable and contemporary lines that are affordably priced so that we can make sustainability accessible to our customers.”

Eco-friendly and buy-one-give-one clothing is no longer limited to Toms Shoes and hippie clothing, they insist. “You can make an impact on the lives of others while also buying the latest fashions. You can help continue this shopping revolution by making your purchases count. After all, you are what you wear.”

Scroll down for our Q&A with these eco-savvy entrepreneurs.

Click here to listen to our podcast interview with these cutting-edge social entrepreneurs.

Be Inkandescent: Your corporate philosophy is, “Change your clothes. Change the world.” How does that work?

BeGood: “Change your clothes. Change the World” has been our motto since inception. The concept of our store is that for every good you purchase, there is an equally good give-back. We only carry brands that give back to an environmental or humanitarian cause through a buy-one-give-one (like Toms Shoes), a percentage of sales going to charitable causes (like Patagonia), or a nonprofit brand that is doing good for our planet. We want people to have a place to shop where they know where, how, and what their clothes are made of, and have them know exactly who they are helping by purchasing something as simple as a pair of socks. It’s a small, yet important step to change the world, and you have to start somewhere.

Be Inkandescent: Your website notes that “Eco-friendly and buy-one-give-one clothing is no longer limited to Toms Shoes and hippie clothing.” What is BeGood’s perspective on social responsibility and sustainability?

BeGood: Reduce, reuse, recycle—in that order. Eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean that your clothing is made from up-cycled organic kale (is that even possible?), but instead, a more developed and holistic view focusing on the entire product life-cycle.

It’s true that many BeGood Clothing fabrics are composed of organic cotton and peace silk, but we think it’s equally important to urge our vendors to send products in eco-packaging. We limit the amount of deliveries we receive to our warehouse to reduce fuel consumption, and we carry quality products so that our purchases last and don’t end up in the garbage after just a couple of wears.

BeGood Clothing supports shopping at Goodwill and other used clothing stores so that every garment reaches the end of its useable life before it’s retired. We at BeGood Clothing hope you are encouraged by our focus on green initiatives.

In an effort to be socially responsible itself, BeGood Clothing lives by the old adage, “act locally, think globally.” The company supports San Francisco as well as global nonprofits, participates in charitable events, as well as donates customers’ gently used clothing to Goodwill monthly. Even the store itself is a shrine of sustainability—the floor is made of 100 percent reclaimed wood, and the fixtures are all eco-friendly.

The store was founded on the premise that San Franciscans want their dollars to go further than the bank accounts of major apparel companies. BeGood Clothing personally teams with the nonprofit Project Open Hand to donate a meal to a bedridden person in the Bay Area for certain items sold in store and online.

Be Inkandescent: Be Inkandescent’s Entrepreneur of the Month is Sheryl Sandberg, a woman who encourages other women to “lean in” in their careers to achieve leadership positions. You have a sign in your store window that says “#THXVERYMUCH. Starting April 19, donate your gently worn EILEEN FISHER clothing and receive $5 in Recycling Rewards per item. GREEN EILEEN is a nonprofit recycling initiative that benefits women and girls.” Is that an ongoing initiative? Why is helping women and girls important to BeGood?

BeGood: That sign was actually from a store near us that we posted on our Tumblr.

We are fans of other businesses being responsible, so we promote them whenever we see something relevant. We do have an initiative, though, where if you bring in gently used clothing to our store to donate, we give you 10 percent off your purchase. We then donate the clothes to Goodwill. We’ve seen a very positive response from our customers for this initiative, especially since there isn’t a Goodwill near us.

Helping women and girls is definitely important to us, as well. We carry a number of nonprofit brands that help women in developing countries. For example, we carry the jewelry brand iSanctuary, which employs women in India who were saved from human trafficking. We understand that in a number of communities women are treated as the “second sex.” We are proud to carry a number of brands that create sustainable business opportunities for women.

Be Inkandescent: Do you see any difference in general between the way women business owners are treated in your industry compared to male business owners?

BeGood: We have not experienced this so far. We have made friends with men and women store owners on our street, and everyone seems to be happy in their position.

Be Inkandescent: What did you and your co-owners do before starting BeGood?

BeGood: Before opening BeGood Clothing, Dean worked at a sales and marketing position at the Advisory Board Company in Washington, DC. Mark worked in inventory management at Gap, Inc.

Mark grew up in Ridgefield, CT, and throughout his high school and college days, he always had an interest in fashion and a love for volunteering.

Dean grew up all around the world, as his mom was a Foreign Service Officer. His time abroad helped open his eyes to the everyday struggles people in developing countries had to go through, and knew when he grew up he wanted to find a way to make a difference in the world.

Be Inkandescent: Why did you start BeGood?

BeGood: BeGood Clothing began when former college roommates Mark Spera and Dean Ramadan wanted to effect change in the retail world. They noticed that great household-name brands like Toms Shoes and Patagonia existed, but had a single “home.”

The two dreamt the idea for BeGood in the winter of 2012 when they discussed an “Earth Day” T-shirt produced by Mark’s former company that was not made of organic material and did not have any profit-sharing model with an eco-cause. It seemed as though a lot of large corporations were merely trying to gain public approval rather than do their due diligence.

We then started researching a number of companies that had similar missions and business models, and could not find one store in the United States that carried all “do-good” brands. So now there’s BeGood. So many great companies out there are helping shape our world, and we want to make them well-known.

We are also doing this because the world needs a wake-up call. People need to start becoming more aware of what is going on outside of the bubble in which the majority of us live. The Earth is rotting, and there is a major disparity in the way people from different backgrounds live.

It’s impossible to solve all these issues at once, but we wanted to start small. We strongly believe that more people would be willing to take action to help improve the world if they knew what was happening and where, and if they knew how they could help. That is why Dean, Mark, and the rest of the BeGood Clothing staff has become a place in San Francisco where people can come in to learn about volunteer opportunities in the Bay Area, as well as learn why “going green” is important.

Be Inkandescent: What did you wish you knew before you opened BeGood?

BeGood: We wish we knew to ask more questions. Going into business is a really complex operation. It challenges you to do a whole host of things you’ve never had any experience in. But you learn as you go along that most people are really willing to help in any way possible.

Because the sustainable and eco fields are still developing, many of the brands and designers we work with are still finding their feet. Most people we have worked with are willing to find mutually beneficial solutions to problems. For example, we have done “co-branded” social media campaigns, we have moved through inventory that seemed to be really difficult to sell, and have shared customers with some of our vendors.

All of these efforts were the product of simply asking for help. The more we progress, the more we find that people are in this field for the right reasons and spreading the causes is at the core of everything we do.

Be Inkandescent: Is there a typical BeGood customer? If so, what is he or she like?

BeGood: Our customers are men and women around 30 years old, in the upper-middle-class, who care about the world, and are more forward thinking than most. Our customers care about the environment and the impact the retail industry typically has on our planet. They are also fashion-forward, but don’t want to spend their entire paycheck on an outfit.

Be Inkandescent: Do you feel that most BeGood vendors and customers are familiar with and supportive of the “buy-one, give-one” concept, or is it a hard sell?

BeGood: We have seen nothing but support since we first opened our doors in August 2012. We make sure to greet every customer who walks in the door with a smile and an explanation of our store’s concept. Once people understand the idea, they love it. We have been getting more and more repeat customers who have come back just because of the concept.

Be Inkandescent: Can you tell us the five or so changes you would like to see the mainstream retail industry make in the way they do business to be more eco-friendly?

BeGood: We love to look to Patagonia as a model of sustainability. They are a large, established, and profitable retailer that maintains strict eco-standards. Companies looking to be more eco-friendly could do many things.

  • The first and most obvious is to incorporate strong corporate/social responsibility practices into their culture. The only way to effect change in a corporation is to make it standardized across the functions. If every function is on-board with the eco-mission of the company, everyone from designers to the finance team can make streamlined company decisions. We have taken this to heart at BeGood. We urge our employees and contractors to be mindful and engage with the causes and brand as much as possible.
  • Another great way mainstream retail can adopt eco-values is by being transparent. The most transparent companies are able to cite the specifics of their entire supply chain. If the consumer is given this information, not only will companies benefit from increased sales, but the industry as a whole will be able to take best practices from one another.
  • Finally, we would challenge retailers to investigate sustainable fabrics. I think there are notions about eco-fabrics that simply aren’t true. Patagonia is proof that prices and quality don’t need to be sacrificed to make a fantastic eco-friendly product. They have been flourishing for 20+ years now, and their long-term growth prospects are really strong.

Be Inkandescent: Do you have any plans to open another brick-and-mortar store, or will you emphasize website sales?

BeGood: We do have plans to open more brick-and-mortar stores in the future, hopefully as soon as next year. We are looking to start adding more in San Francisco first, and then move to other cities. Right now, though, we are spending the majority of our money on making our online store the best it can be.

We understand that our reach is much bigger online, and so we are planning our marketing strategies around reaching more like-minded consumers in different parts of the country. We have dreams of becoming a major player in the retail industry one day with stores across the country, but for now we’re taking it one step at a time.

Something that is great about brick-and-mortar locations is that there is a personal customer experience. A lot of the philanthropic and sustainable experience can be lost in simple web transactions. We really love to engage with our customers, pick up their gently used clothing to take to Goodwill, and simply talk. That’s half the fun.

Be Inkandescent: What else would you like entrepreneurs who are Be Inkandescent readers to know about you and BeGood?

BeGood: We would like everyone to know that just like many Be Inkandescent readers, we started out as two young people with a dream. At milestones, like opening the flagship store or the e-commerce platform, we can look back with some nostalgia. But what most people don’t see from the outside is the hard work in between visible accomplishments.

We strongly believe that if you have a great idea, you should work hard to make it a reality. Starting your own business is not easy by any means, but the reward is well worth effort.

For more information, and to order your BeGood clothes, visit begoodclothes.com.