Ever wondered how you could support ethical, sustainable businesses? Welcome to a regular series highlighting products, services and organizations that are ‘doing well by doing good’.
Dot Products is a school and art supply company that funds education for children in developing countries. For every product sold, they fund half a day of school for a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Mexico, or Haiti. We caught up with founder Hallie Darphin to hear about how her journey began.
Please give us an overview of your organization?
At Dot Products, we believe in students. Mostly because, not too long ago, we were students that wanted to change the world. We try to challenge local students to “Do One Thing” (that’s what Dot stands for) to change the world for the better. We can’t change the world by ourselves, but together we can make a huge difference.
How did you get started with this idea?
In 2011, I traveled to Uganda to live and work at a children’s home where I fell in love with 101 beautiful children and had my heart broken by poverty and the need for sustainable change. I realized that the only hope for those deep in poverty is education and the Gospel. It was a year later, 2012 when I dreamed up what is now Dot–the idea of selling school supplies to provide education around the world–in an entrepreneurship class at Mississippi College in Clinton, MS. We launched the business in 2014, and it’s been quite the journey. We’ve seen American students and families jump into the idea that their small decisions can have big impact around the world, and, through our work, we’ve provided more than 5,000 days of school to kids in the four countries we work in.
What is the purpose of this organization?
Dot seeks to change the face of poverty for children all over the world. With every school and office supply we sell, we’re paying for a child to attend school for half a day, including uniforms, supplies, and school fees. We want to see American students and families realize the impact their small decisions have and use their purchasing power to change lives globally and locally.
What are you proudest of?
Every so often, I’ll be out at a local coffee shop or in our store and overhear someone else telling the story of Dot and the impact they’re excited to be making through their products, and I get a little overwhelmed knowing that, with a ton of hard work and a lot of incredible people, we’ve built an amazing machine that is helping connect people locally to kids around the world. We’re still very much so a work in progress, but little by little we’re getting somewhere
How do you think you are different to your competitors?
Honestly, we’re a tiny fish in a big pond if we tried to compete with the big school supply companies, but we’ve found that there aren’t a ton of great options for students interested in both eco-friendly and artistic supplies. We’re huge on collaboration and partner with student artists to create one of a kind journals for our customers. I think a big benefit of Dot is, of course, that you are changing lives with your purchases. Because school supplies are something you have to buy, we’ve found our students really like being able to use their purchasing power for good.
What do your customers/community say about your organization that makes you happy?
This is a bit of a story, but stay with me here. We have this project with handpainted journals. We noticed that people were designing and painting their own covers to our Kraft colored journals. A former intern, Kendall, asked if she could send off several journals to an artist friend to paint as a special collaboration. We did, and the sales of those journals were so popular that we decided to make art collaborations part of our brand. We send them seven journals; they paint six and keep one as their gift. Through their efforts, the student artists get to help provide three days of school to a student at no cost to them. Our hand-painted journals are one of our best sellers now, and we’ve had close to thirty artists work with us. We’ve revamped our process and are hoping to collaborate with up to 100 artists in 2017. It is when students realize that they can do more than just buy from Dot, they can be a part of Dot, that’s when we’re happiest.
What is your favorite story about your organization?
This summer, we got the opportunity to take a group of interns, social media friends, and retail partners to see our work with But God Ministries in Haiti. Through that trip, the girls were able to meet the students BGM works with, work to design a new product with our artisan partners, and really get an up close and personal look at what sustainable wok around the globe looks like. For us, we spend most of our days at our office and shop in Clinton, Mississippi, but our kids and partners are the ones really doing the work. We are so proud of them, and it was an incredible experience to get to show some of the people closest to Dot that.
What difference do you make in people’s lives?
Starting a company is really hard. It has not been an easy process, and it can feel overwhelming a lot of the time. But I’m here. And every step that I thought I couldn’t get past, somehow with the help of some outstanding people, I did. Getting to help provide students across the globe is privilege enough, but getting to tell local students and interns, “If I could do it, you can too,” and getting to be their help to get past their insurmountable step feels redemptive and powerful. I love that. We have an incredible team of interns each year, and my goal is to empower each of them to go and do the work that they are created to do—no matter how hard or scary.
Where can people go to support your organization?
Our website is www.dotproducts.org and our Instagram is @dotforschools. There you can find more information about our work, buy products, and get involved. We’re always looking for artists to collaborate with, so we’d love to hear from anyone who is interested!
What are your plans for the future?
We’re beginning the process of transitioning the company to give local students an even greater global impact. This means providing school supply bundles for students as they begin a new academic year with each bundle would providing a week of school to a student their age across the globe. We piloted the program with a local school last year and learned a lot about the process. We’ve built a system we believe in and are working to launch in 10 schools this summer and fall. We see this, on top of our art collaborations, as a place where we can make the most impact, both locally and globally, in this season.
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