What happens when three twentysomethings, each with a social conscience and desire to make a difference in the world, sit down and write a manifesto about the change they want to see in the world? The Holstee Manifesto.
When we found it (while on a Wiki-trip, of course), we reached out to co-author Michael Radparvar, now 30, a graphic designer who in 2009 co-founded Holstee with his brother Dave, now 27, and their buddy Fabian, now 30.
We wanted to learn what life at Holstee has been like since their manifesto went viral, and millions have dubbed him and his co-authors the entrepreneurial philosophers of their generation.
Michael Radparvar Takes Us Inside Holstee: design with conscience
Be Inkandescent: We are so happy to be talking with you, Michael. Tell us how you, Dave, and Fabian got into the design business.
Michael Radparvar: We started Holstee about three years ago, during the heat of the recession in May 2009. We figured that if we weren’t likely to get jobs, we’d start our own. And we wanted it to be more than a company, or clothes. We wanted to create a lifestyle.
We dove head first into the world of design and production. After six months and a huge learning curve, Holstee launched its first line of Recycled Tees made of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles that were milled, cut, and sewn within 150 miles of each other in North Carolina. Starting with this first round, 10 percent of all sales were lent to entrepreneurs in extreme poverty through nonprofit micro-lending organizations like Kiva.org, a tradition we are proud to still embrace.
A few months later, I needed a new wallet and wasn’t finding the sort of functional and minimal design I was looking for. So we decided to create our own. A few quick mock-ups and the idea of a Holstee Wallet came to life. Then we teamed up with an NGO in India that had perfected a method of using plastic bags collected off the streets of Delhi to create a unique, 100 percent upcycled textile. We had prototypes of our new dream wallet in our hands a few weeks later, and made just enough for ourselves and a few friends, each of whom instantly loved it. From there we decided to make a few more and sell them on Holstee.com along with our tees. The wallet is now one of our best-selling products.
Be Inkandescent: What has changed since the Manifesto went viral?
Michael Radparvar: A lot of things. The three of us were working on a lot of different projects before, with Holstee being one of them. Now we’re focusing mostly on Holstee and trying to make it successful. Of course, there are a lot of ways that people define success. Financial metrics is one of them, but while we want something that is financially sustainable—there are bigger questions at play. We say we “design with conscience,” and that means we create products that are intended to encourage a more mindful lifestyle, whether it’s from the materials that we use, how we create the product, or the messages that they carry.
Be Inkandescent: Being that two of the three of you just turned 30, how do you think being a Millennial has impacted your worldview—as well as your ideas about business?
Michael Radparvar: We were brought up in an era where we were exposed to hyper-consumption. In many ways we embraced it, of course, and that became a part of who we are as a generation. We’ve just been exposed to so many things, so much information, and there haven’t been many other times in history where there has been so much transparency around the way that things work.
And you can instantly see how decisions you make have an impact on other people in your community, around the country, and even people on the other side of the world. I think that has had a very dramatic impact on our generation, because this instant access has encouraged many of us to rethink the way we live our lives, how we spend our time, and what we choose to do for a living.
It’s no surprise that there are so many people not just deciding to be entrepreneurial—but doing it with the intention of making a social impact. We have been exposed to profound challenges and problems in the world—and while these challenges have existed for generations, our generation has the technical skills, and deep desire, to make change in a very meaningful way.
Be Inkandescent: It is wonderful to hear you say that. I was born during the first year of GenX, and I do think many people in my generation feel the same way. But we didn’t have the technology at our fingertips—and we are technological immigrants versus all of you natives who are 30 and under who grew up with a mouse in your hand. So while the Holstee Manifesto makes sense to the Millennials, it also touches the older generations because many of us wanted, and still want, to be what Bill Drayton of Ashoka calls “changemakers.”
Michael Radparvar: I agree. And that’s what is so great about the Manifesto. The response has been massive—bigger than anything we could have ever anticipated or planned for. We have gotten about a million views on our YouTube video, and dozens of people have re-posted it.
Plus, as of last count, it has been translated into 15 languages. We also get emails from people around the world who say they saw it hanging on a wall in a cafe in Korea, or Russia, or the Ukraine, and Portugal—and they passed it on, translated it, and love it. Being just a small, independent design company in New York City, that’s pretty staggering. We’re completely humbled.
Be Inkandescent: When you wrote it, did you conceive it would touch, and reach, so many people around the world?
Michael Radparvar: No way. In fact, we just put it on the “About” page of our own site just as a reminder to ourselves to remember why we created Holstee in the first place—that we wanted to create a company and a culture that is a call to action to live a life full of intention, creativity, passion, and community.
At first, our friends and parents were really excited and supportive, and we thought that was great. But about a year and a half ago a friend of mine sent me an email saying, Hey, your Manifesto is going kind of crazy on Tumblr. And I went to the site and I saw it had been re-blogged countless times. So many people were sharing it that eventually no one knew who created it. That was like a really good learning early on to somehow put your name on something that you write.
Be Inkandescent: You definitely tapped a nerve that is universal. How do you follow this up?
Michael Radparvar: I don’t think we can.
Be Inkandescent: Sorry, perhaps that was too much of a GenX question?
Michael Radparvar: No, that’s a very legitimate question. And we have been asked that before. We always say that the Manifesto was something so unplanned, and something that we could never recreate. And I think it goes very much with the spirit of thing that go viral. They are genuine and real, and spontaneous.
Be Inkandescent: Yes, and that’s what makes it so important. Talk some more about the other lessons you have learned as young entrepreneurs.
Michael Radparvar: Up until now, one of the big things we have been focusing on is creating products that are really challenging the status quo of how they are made. Over the next three to six months, we really want to stay true to our mission and create products that encourage a more mindful lifestyle.
We have a lot of letterpress prints. We have designs from prints from all our designers. We are going to be launching a bib and a onesie soon after. We have T-shirts and dresses, and so they’re kind of all across the board, but they’re pretty much things that we love and that we love to make.
For example, our sister just had a baby, so we decided we really want to bring back a baby bib so we could have one for her. But we want to take a little bit more of a systemic approach to how we make things.
We are looking at the systems that we have in our own lives, such as how we transport food or move things around. Not on a commercial level, but we want to focus on creating products that serve as a more efficient, sustainable alternative.
Be Inkandescent: What else is on the horizon for Holstee?
Michael Radparvar: We have been hiring quite a few folks recently because we realize this is the only way to become a larger, legitimate organization. So we started bringing in people who have experience that can be helpful to us and enable us to grow in the way that we want to.
That means bringing in somebody who has a very strong understanding of operations, production, and material sciences—those types of backgrounds that we find ourselves getting deeper and deeper into as we build our brand.
What advice does Michael Radparvar have for other entrepreneurs?
1. The most important thing is that whenever you have an idea, get it out of your head and make something. Whether it’s a prototype or just a drawing—the most important thing is to get the idea out. Don’t be afraid that people are going to steal your idea, because really that idea is original, and no one else is going to be able to execute it the same way that you were thinking. Now build that prototype. Get it out in the world. It may be raw, but make it function so you can share it with others. I think that is something that people forget, or fear, because it’s a challenging step. But I think it’s the most important step in getting anything going.
2. Realize that things take twice as long as you plan for, and cost twice as much. This is especially true in the first year or so, when you’re trying something new. And if you’re trying something new, keep that in mind. Don’t be discouraged. Just keep going.
3. Don’t overestimate what you’ll be able to do in one year—or underestimate what you can do in five years. Allow yourself the time to plan and dream big. Even if your plan is going to change, just think about what that long-term plan could look like—in addition to what you might want to do in a year. Stay flexible, especially if you have partners or teammates. Things you don’t agree with will come up, so be ready to roll, roll with the punches, and keep your long-term goals in sight.