In a season when simply gazing at the news or scrolling through Facebook feeds can elevate one's heart rate, finding an impactful way to give back and make a difference can be tricky. In an era with a renewed thirst for checking the accuracy of sources, if one isn't a billionaire, what is the most effective way to help others and ignite change?
Samantha Pleet, the founder of the independent fashion brand, Samantha Pleet, was faced with this very task and wanted to feel involved. So she and her husband (and co-creator) came up with small opportunities to let their voice ring loud and clear by using their 10-year-old homegrown brand. Not only did they donate 100 percent of their proceeds to Planned Parenthood the weekend of the history-making Women’s March, they also gave 10 percent of their proceeds on Black Friday. After the appalling and unwarranted immigration ban, they donated 10 percent of a week’s worth of sales to the ACLU.
Here, Pleet shares why this move was important not only for her, but for women everywhere.
What inspired you to branch out on your own?
“While in school I did internships with the likes of 3 As Four, Harper's Bazaar and a lingerie designer. I started my line with the minimal knowledge I gained from these experiences. I wanted to design clothes that I was looking for but could not find, and I was young and had the energy. I never considered anything else.
We have grown from just a few small boutiques carrying the line, to working with about 30 select retailers and our own online store. We are still entirely independent and work with small boutiques and, on occasion, we have collaborated with larger companies like Urban Outfitters and Wolverine.
What made you decide to give 100 percent of your proceeds to Planned Parenthood?
We were so inspired by the Women’s March and the energy that it brought that during the event and the weekend that followed we wanted to give all our sales proceeds to PP.
While PP has not personally affected my life, it has impacted that of so many of my friends. I just gave birth to a daughter and I want Planned Parenthood to be there for her if she needs it.
I want to do what I can to help the world around me, in the ways that I can make a difference. I think that if I can give money when I'm having a sale, that can make a very big difference to the organizations that I want to support.
Why is giving back an important part of business?
Giving back with donations is something we can do to directly benefit the world we live in. When we have a sale it is a great time to generate enough sales so we can make a contribution that will actually make a difference. Not only are you giving to a cause you care about, but you are also able to promote your cause and bring awareness to the issues.
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs who want to make charitable giving part of their business plan?
We should be taking a stand on issues all the time, but especially now we cannot be silent. In this age, we have channels through social media to speak out, so we should use it. It's a balance to communicate with your customer without preaching to them, but speaking out and donations from sales are a great way to bring awareness and make a difference.
What advice do you give for figuring out what your 'cause' is?
We have been giving to organizations like Planned Parenthood, Earthjustice, The Southern Poverty Law Center, but there are also many more. Following activists and artists who are doing amazing things like Sarah Sophie Flicker, ShiShi Rose, Jenna Gribbon, and Tennessee Thomas have been a great inspiration as well. There are many organizations to donate and bring awareness to, so do your research on the causes you feel most passionate about.
Do you think it’s an important time for a company to support women's causes?
Right now, so much funding is being pulled by the U.S. that it's up to businesses and individuals to make up the difference. Issues like the environment, Women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, and immigration are all in jeopardy, and it is beyond troubling. I want my daughter to have the right to choose her own destiny whatever it may be and I'm sure that is the view of our customers as well. Our clothes are made with love and we want to give some of that back.
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What’s next for the line?
Children's wear and shoes are in the near future. I think it's more important now than ever as a young women to run a successful company and inspire others.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.