Freebies Done Right: Meet the Queen of Sustainable Swag

This post by Take Part staff originally appeared on In Her Company November 10, 2014.

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InHerCo-ProfileImage-Denise

Denise Taschereau
 is being honoured by In Her Company, a campaign celebrating the power, creativity, and impact of 30 inspiring women entrepreneurs.

Who doesn’t love getting swag? Fairware makes sure that your favourite company handouts, from logo T-shirts to tote bags to key chains, come from responsibly sourced materials. Founder Denise Taschereau helps companies create memorable merchandise that promotes positive brand association from the inside out.

TakePart: How did you come up with the idea for your business? Was there a turning point that convinced you to start your own business?

Denise Taschereau
: I was seeing brands I admired giving away bad marketing merchandise—the disconnect was so discouraging (for example, an organic food company giving away conventional cotton event T-shirts). I had a background and interest in ethical sourcing and sustainable products, so, realizing the market gap, the concept of Fairware was born.

TakePart: What excites or inspires you? What do you care about?

Taschereau: I love seeing the lightbulb go off when buyers realize they can drive change through their purchasing habits. Our clients buy a lot of merchandise, and when they see how they can both bring their values and story to life and lower their footprint or affect workers’ lives, it’s very inspiring and motivating.

TakePart: Do you see any common challenges among female business owners and entrepreneurs?

Taschereau: On the whole, I think we’re more tentative and less ego-driven. We recently did interviews for a senior role here, and all the men we interviewed used the pronoun I to describe their accomplishments, and all the women used the pronoun we to describe theirs.

TakePart: What’s been the proudest moment that made you feel like your hard work was worth it?

Taschereau: We’d been working on a project overseas, and one of our account managers, who is in his 20s and a really hip guy (he’s a DJ by night) had to lean on our bookkeeper, a recent immigrant and mother of two, for help translating information into Mandarin Chinese. At the end of the day as he walked out, he passed her desk and they fist-bumped. It was such a reflection of our culture to see those two worldviews come together for a fist bump—I loved it.

TakePart: Who are your customers, and how do you engage and reach them?

Taschereau: We describe our customers as the brands and organizations that care. We seek out clients that have a deep commitment to social or environmental responsibility. We work with organizations like UNICEF USA, Ben & Jerry’s, Aveda, and Patagonia. They’re the nonprofits and companies that are redefining what responsible business and buying can look like, and they totally inspire and drive us to be better.

TakePart: What’s one thing you wished someone had told you about your first year in business? 

Taschereau: To have had the courage to do it full-time from day one.

TakePart: What’s the best mistake you ever made?

Taschereau: I have lots to choose from, but one that stands out was having a supplier not meet a major project deadline. We kept hanging on with the hope that the merchandise program would get done, and it didn’t. I disappointed a key client and, more importantly, impacted her success at her event. It was humbling, and two big lessons remain: one, that the power of saying sorry and showing empathy is a lost art (and is appreciated), and two, we needed to design better systems to manage custom large-scale projects.

TakePart: What’s your dream for how your business looks in five years?


Taschereau: We’ll continue to be a thriving B corporation, with a bigger team and more impact.

(Photo: Jaime Kowal)

TakePart: Why is sustainability important to you? How do you incorporate sustainability into your product and business practice?

Taschereau: We’ve staked our brand on sustainability and review suppliers and materials to ensure they meet our expectations regarding workers’ rights and product safety. We’re a team of change makers, and we use merchandise to tell a story much like a brand agency would use an ad or social media strategy. Our mission has been a critical part of our success in carving out a niche market in a crowded and competitive industry.

This post is part of the series “In Her Company,” created in collaboration with Eileen Fisher and designed to celebrate the power, creativity, and impact of women-owned businesses. Check out more stories at takepart.com/in-her-company.