Welcome to the Fairware Changemaker Series where we highlight entrepreneurs and thought leaders that constantly inspire us through their passion for using business to better the world. By connecting with these Changemakers, we’re aiming to uncover their stories and knowledge around action for meaningful purpose to inspire, educate, and raise awareness for the movement of using business as a force for good. From this video series we can share and amplify their message to others, and inspire the next generation of Changemakers in our community.
So welcome to episode one with Fairware’s co-founder, Denise Taschereau, to help us kick-off this series. We hope you enjoy, and we look forward to continue sharing the next episodes in the weeks and months to come.
What inspired you to start this business?
I was working in outdoor retail and was really inspired by the brands I was seeing in that space. At the time, I was working at MEC, an iconic Canadian brand. My role was Sustainability Director which introduced me to both emerging and established environmentally minded companies. I noticed a lot of event and promotional merchandise that we were trying to source, or that I was getting from other brands didn’t line up with the values we shared. This gap in marketplace made me think about Fairware and I decided to give it a go.
What problem were you trying to solve when you started Fairware?
We recognized when we launched Fairware that the promotional merchandise industry was enormous. Promotional merchandise was everywhere and great companies were giving it away to employees and clients. We noticed no one was connecting the dots to whether that merchandise lined up with their values or ethics. Often, we saw that it didn’t, so we started looking into the promotional product supply chain and what was out there. At the time, it was tough to get organic cotton or lip balm without parabens, there were a lot of products that we would look for which were not accessible. We saw a gap in that marketplace and my co-founder Sarah White recognized we had this opportunity.
What is the most interesting trend observed?
A trend that is inspiring is the desire for consumers, whether they be B2B or retail consumers, to understand where their products are coming from. People do care and they want to know who makes their stuff and it feels like it’s more than a ‘trend’.
What do you love most about your work?
What I love most about my work at Fairware, is the team and walking in here every morning and see this great crew of people that are all passionate about changing the world through the simple act of buying. It’s seeing that we’ve been able to build a company on social and environmental values which is pretty exciting. It’s neat to have started something in a garage with just an idea to create better promotional merchandise and to see we’re actually doing it.
What is your vision for what you want to create in the future?
We want to continue to transform our industry’s supply chain to have better ethical and sustainable outcomes. We’re seeing more and more collaboration – with suppliers, clients, and competitors. We want to continually grow and be successful as a business but we want to do so through interesting and innovative collaborations.
How do you deal as a business and thought leader with setbacks that have come along the way?
There will always be failure and setbacks which has you fasten the seat belt and hang on. They can be large (like the recession n 2008) or small (like shipping an order to the wrong address). As a team, we just always have the mantra that your defined by how you recover from your mistakes and deal with adversity. Getting through the tough times is something as simple as saying sorry to someone you disappointed or just battling down the hatches and powering through.
What tips would you give other aspiring changemakers?
If you’re starting out and want to have an impact based business, make sure you’ve got the business fundamentals down. Some of the key things are being really mindful of your team. I have a great business partner and co-founder and that has helped a lot. Having the right people in the right place at the right time is so critical. Stick to your values when the going gets tough. We’ve been in business for 12 years and we’ve been through a couple hard financial times in terms of global economy and in those moments we’ll often say you can choose to become more like your competitor, and chase the dollar, or you can become more like yourself and hang on to your core values. We’ve always chosen the latter. We’ve always stayed true to our sustainability and ethically sourcing mission and trusted that it wasn’t going to be the flavour of the month for our clients. We’ve ridden out some pretty substantial storms with the anchor of our values. The other people that don’t have such a strong differentiation are floating through stormy water.
What exciting projects are you working on?
At Fairware we have a dream list of clients, suppliers and collaborators. We love it when our clients come to us to solve a problem or communicate an important sustainability message. In terms of clients, it’s hard not be inspired when you work with folks local such as Vancity, Nature’s Path, MEC or folks in North American markets like Patagonia, Tesla, and Ben & Jerry’s. We learn from them and take insights from them. It’s amazing to see how these businesses, organizations, NGO’s, universities, and governments are just trying to do things differently and change the momentum toward better supply chains and more sustainable products.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
If someone asked me for advice for going into leadership for first time, I would probably say ask for help and be humble. With Sarah and I have developed relationships with other entrepreneurs and CEO’s that we admire and trust and we share information and ask for help. Be careful not to adopt a mindset that you have to know it all because you are the leader – the best leaders know they don’t know it all and have the humility to ask for help.