Soon after my move to Brooklyn I found myself getting more and more desperate for a job, any job at all. Coffee shops, paid internships, security; the list goes on and on. One of the random shops I applied to was a clothing store called “Cadet” since I passed it all the time on the way to my favorite coffee shop in Williamsburg (other than the one I work in…). I’m actually sitting in that shop as I write this post too. Anyway, I walked in one day and asked for a job. I mean, why not? I liked their product and they were close by. One “ballsy” email later and I had an interview at their new location in the Lower East Side.
When I got there I met the two owners, wonderfully nice guys, and one of their employees Tony. Tony was essentially a step below the owners on the power scale and treated me to coffee so we could talk. Of the many things we talked about, including this lovely blog which was about three days old at the time, we spoke about how Cadet is a completely Brooklyn based business. More so than being Brooklyn based, Cadet is apart of the ever-growing “made local” movement. All of Cadet’s products are made in their factory in Bushwick by New York City based tailors. And let me tell you, their clothes look good.
As we spoke, we discussed Tony’s idea of creating a socially conscious Brooklyn business community via blogging, events, and more. Going beyond competition for customers and rather finding a collaborative way in which business owners, small and large, could better give back to the communities that afford them their abilities to thrive. It sounded like a fantastic idea to me and one I would have loved to be apart of. After our meeting, Tony asked me to come up with a list of a few Brooklyn based businesses that are somehow unique and socially conscious. After doing so I, unfortunately, could not be offered a position but I’m not angry. In fact, I wish Cadet all the best because I want that business web to become a reality.
Socially conscious businesses, whether apart of a made local movement or an environmentally friendly coffee shop, are a spark of hope in an otherwise dog-eat-dog business world. I cannot tell you if there has truly been a rise in actual number of businesses giving back or if newer generations of owners are just more socially active, but if this is the way in which the business world works I think we can all breathe a bit easier.
A couple examples from my own life include the two coffee shops I worked at in college. The Clear Conscience Café was a shop that took its environmentalism extremely seriously. The windows were made of melted down Coca-Cola bottles, the table tops were pressed cornhusks, and damn near everything was compostable if memory serves. All the coffee was fair trade, shade grown, organic, etc etc etc. Blue State Coffee had the same sort of organic and such coffee but instead of focusing on environmentalism, it focused on charity and community building. The way it worked was whenever you bought a drink you received a wooden token. There were four glass containers over by the milks and such that had the names and descriptions of four local charities. You would vote on which charity you wanted Blue State to donate to at the end of the quarter. Whichever charity won would receive two percent of Blue States’ sales, not profit, from that quarter. That means even if Blue State was “in the red” for the quarter, it would still donate. Two percent may not sound like a lot, but when you see how much they sell daily, it adds up quick. Like real quick. That, to me, is the future of business. To not only give exemplary service, but also have ethical practices that bring the community into an act of giving back with each purchase.
Let’s leap back to Tony and Cadet, during my research for the position I came across a handful of absolutely fantastic Brooklyn based businesses that go beyond simply making a profit. Here are eight of them:
1. Uncommon Goods– An online marketplace that sells creatively designed, high quality goods. They have featured artists, label handmade goods, and all their magazines and goods sold are made from recyclable materials. They also have a “Better to Give” program that donates a portion of each sale to a number of charities.
2. Brooklyn Brewery– Brooklyn Brewery would be hard to beat in a fight on what company has help build up Brooklyn. They have donated to hundreds of charities all around New York City including Prospect Park Alliance, Services For The Underserved, Brooklyn Museum and Transportation Alternatives.
3. Brooklyn Flea– Brooklyn Flea operates the largest flea markets in NYC that bring communities together to enjoy products, art, and food from local producers and sellers. They operate two giant all-food markets called Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg and Dumbo, that features 75-100 local and regional vendors.
4. Blue Marble Ice Cream– An all organic ice cream company that uses as much local farm goods as possible. All their cups, bowls, spoons, etc. are biodegradable and they hold USDA organic certification. Their shops are even partially built from wood from other buildings that were torn down.
5. Moraleyes– Moraleyes is a Brooklyn-based, one-for-one reading glasses retailer and wholesaler. For every pair of Moraleyes eyewear sold, they donate a pair of new reading glasses to someone in need through our non-profit partner, New Eyes for the Needy.
6. Park Slope Food Co Op– During peak farm months, the vast majority of their food is brought in from within a 100-200 mile radius (about as local as NYC gets) from many of the 40 local small-scale farms. Since it is a Co-op the customers must give back and work at the store once a month.
7. Greenpoint Manufacturing & Design Center– GMDC buys and refurbishes derelict warehouses around Brooklyn. Once restored, they allow local small business entrepreneurs, artists, and artisans to use the areas for an affordable price. According to their site, it is also the only non-profit industrial developer in NYC.
8. Brooklyn Roasting Company– Their beans and coffee are sold in dozens of cafes all over New York City. All of their coffee is fair trade, Rainforest Alliance, and organic certified. They make a point of using recycled materials, refurbishing old machines to use, and using bio-diesel or bikes to deliver. Hell, they even got their start on the East River Ferry. True story.
If you have any other great businesses with socially conscious practices please be sure to share them down in the comments! We here at AO share Tony’s vision and hope this post can help to start a new wave of local businesses coming together for a greater cause than their profits. Who says you can’t be profitless (distinct from nonprofits) but still help create a better community?