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’.
We spoke to the founder and CEO of Accompany US, Jason Keehn about how he got started with the idea of creating a beautifully curated online marketplace to find supercool and ethical goods that have both ‘human impact and fashion impact’.
Please give us an overview of your organization?
Accompany is a retail concept for the socially conscious fashion consumer. Launched three years ago as an e-commerce site, we deliver on-trend style with meaningful social impact. We curate artisan-made, fair trade and philanthropic fashion and home decor goods from 125 different artisan partners in over 43 countries in the developing world, and create a story-driven shopping experience for consumers that’s as equally fashion-forward as it is impactful.
This means that we have hand-carved bracelets from Cambodia supporting women freed from sex trafficking, hand-knit eco-conscious slippers made in the Chilean foothills of the Andes, hand-woven baskets supporting women entrepreneurs in Rwanda, hand-loomed alpaca blankets from fair trade alpaca farms in Ecuador, hand-dyed Shibori caftans from Mali, handmade jewelry supporting widows living with HIV in Kenya, hand-cut greeting cards supporting at-risk teens in the Philippines, hand-poured candles supporting Burmese women refugees living in Massachusetts, and more.
But we know that consumers don’t buy conscious goods just for the social values. The products must be desirable in their own right, and the social impact story is often just a bonus. To ensure we stay on-trend, we have now also begun to make some of our own Accompany-labeled products with our global artisan partners.
It’s also really cool that we have a lot of corporate clients who want to gift their VIPS and own customers a beautiful gift that gives back, with a story.
Basically, we bring Fashion Impact and Social Impact together into one compelling shopping experience. It’s the best of both worlds – you no longer have to trade-off great style for fair trade and mission-driven fashion and décor.
How did you get started with this idea?
I had a background in fashion brand strategy and was looking for something more purposeful. I went back to graduate school to study ethics, but soon felt that I was missing the fashion world. I decided to combine the two, so I literally Googled the term “ethical fashion.” I realized there were many small, purpose-driven designers, some with strong collections, others with a few cool pieces here and there; but very few that anyone had heard of. That’s when I saw an opportunity to improve the ease and convenience of shopping ethical fashion, to help consumers by creating one retail destination where all goods are BOTH expertly curated by fashion insiders, AND vetted through an impact-driven filter to ensure they’re promoting positive change in communities that need it most.
What is the purpose of this organization?
I realized I didn’t know where to go to buy beautiful things that are ethical. For food, I go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s – stores that conveniently provide this ethical filter with their sourcing, and still provide me with covetable items in an upscale environment. So I wanted to create the same thing in fashion: a retail destination with high-quality design and styling that goes toe-to-toe with the rest of the fashion space, so that we do not have to sacrifice our style requirements in order to have an ethical impact. Then, we can leverage the powerful engine of the fashion industry towards funneling economic opportunity to the regions of the world that need it most.
What are you proudest of?
Honestly, I am just so proud of our mission. With a mere 3 out of 10 fashion companies currently focused on managing their use of environmental resources, only 2 out of 10 attempting to improve their supply chains, and just 1 out of 3 engaging consumers on the matter of sustainability, there is big room for improvement in this space.
I really want to impact the marginalized populations around the world who are in economically-disadvantaged, plagued by cyclical, multi-layered hardships, with few options for breaking that cycle. Bringing economic opportunities to those communities can have a knock-on effect to many other social issues from nutrition and health to education to discrimination, abuse, and gender equality.
How do you think you are different than your competitors?
Accompany is different than “philanthropic” brands who donate proceeds to charity or “sustainable” do-no-harm brands that are curbing damage to the environment. We focus on a “Return to Humanity.” In our modern world, with so much digital, impersonal communication, and large, opaque corporations steering our lives, people are really appreciating things made by humans for humans — the maker, the artisan, cultural authenticity, handcrafted items that are special and not mass-produced but, rather, made with intention and with a unique personal touch. Our focus on people keeps it emotional, purposeful, and drives long-term benefits – it’s not charity, we’re actually helping to build business infrastructures that will change communities and the world.
I also find we have a more fashion-forward aesthetic and credentials than some other social good retailers and, compared to others, a more accessible price point and broader mix.
Essentially, we are delivering equally on fashion and impact when many of the other brands out there are good at one, not the other. The breadth of countries and merchandise is truly compelling keeps people coming back to see what else we have. I hope you do too!
What do your customers/community say about your organization that makes you happy?
People really respond to the beauty of the products alongside the story behind them. I think they like that they can be both selfish and selfless at once. And it’s been reinforced by great press coverage from both the fashion (InStyle, Glamour, Refinery29, People StyleWatch, WWD, Vogue) and humanitarian worlds (the United Nations).
What is your favorite story about your organization?
One of the artisans we work with in Nepal is currently the lead pattern maker for the incredibly beautiful silk and cashmere scarves that come out of his workshop. He told us how he worked at the workshop as a young boy (he’s now in his thirties), and when the local patternmaker was ill, he had to step in and help him – giving him the chance to learn about the process. He was so inspired to get involved in this craft, rather than work on the farm, that he spent every night next making sketches of new patterns. He told us how his family couldn’t afford to buy paper, so he only had 1 sheet of graph paper, and every night he would make new patterns, and then erase each one every time, starting over to make new ones.
This struck me as such a beautiful example of raw talent and passion through the lens of such a different economic context than we are used to. To me, it reflects the core of what Accompany is about – building economic capacity to bring more opportunity to disadvantaged communities, all through the lens and process of beautiful design.
What difference do you make in people’s lives?
We support local artisans from around the globe. Our business helps communities and preserves craft and culture. In a world of mass commercialism, traditional crafts and indigenous methods for making are being lost every day. Supporting local craftspeople also means workers are not forced to seek low-paying employment in industrial factories. With more local industry, a small community can thrive economically, on their own terms, in a way that’s in step with their culture.
Where can people go to support your organization?
www.accompanyus.com or the pop-ups we do around the country, that you can find out about by subscribing to our email list or following us on social media.
What are your plans for the future?
I really see the future of Accompany as being a destination where leading design and lifestyle influencers interact with global artisan cooperatives. I’d like to launch a series of partnerships: limited-edition products between well-known designers, celebrities or media platforms in partnership with Accompany’s artisan partners. I’m inspired by how successful Opening Ceremony has been with this “capsule” style model, and I think it’s a great structure for us – playing the dual role of both design curator and social impact facilitator.
As we grow I’d like to support a strong auditing program to not only make sure our partners are really delivering the impact they claim, but also helping them to better translate it into metrics so that Accompany’s shoppers can really understand the difference they’re making with their purchase.
And I’d like to see us be a source for fresh, entertaining and compelling experiences – from the product to the people to the cultures – where positive outcomes become moments of inspiration across these many layers. As Accompany grows, I see it as an engine that creates these kind of “good vibes” on many layers as we engage new global partners, launch new product lines and design collaborations, and find new channels for conscious shoppers to explore, get inspired and connect.
If you have a suggestion for a business or organization you think should be highlighted, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org