Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doing Good

The idea of creating a business of one’s own appeals almost universally for many different reasons. For me the obvious reasons are part of it. The flexibility, the sense of control over one’s destiny, a more direct connection between effort and results, the opportunity to actually think and behave outside the box, the virtual freedom from panty hose and dry cleaning bills and traffic jams and office politics. Yep, all of those aspects are mighty enticing.

But aside from those common advantages, I relish the idea of creating a business that will do good – that will make the world a better place - through its existence. Here’s how I plan to do that.

The Nature Of The Business
Just the nature of the business alone lands me squarely within a great, good place. We all feel good when we’re all cleaned up, well polished, nicely dressed in something that looks good on us. As parents, we want our children to look good and feel good about themselves - and we feel good when they do. This company will make those situations easier to create than they are now, by producing clothes that properly fit your child with Down syndrome. Aside from the pleasure of seeing your kids in well-fitting clothes, parents will no longer have to worry about how to make a new clothing item workable. Pay for alternations? Hem the pants or sleeves yourself? Roll up the pants or sleeves again and again? Have your child struggle with a button closure? Do it yourself and worry about issues of independence, etc. etc.

My niece Helen, the inspiration for this company, is also – of course – my girl fit model. We recently had a fit session with a pair of jeans (which will be available in the Fall) and an adorable dress (Spring/Summer, I hope.) When we had the pants perfected, my sister exclaimed "Finally! A pair of pants that fits!" When Helen was in the dress, she floated around the room like a princess and smiled contentedly. To see her look so happy and feel so special made me happy too. It makes me smile broadly again, just recalling it. The nature of this business – creating those feelings of pleasure for many parents and many kids – that’s the beginning of how this company will do good.

5% Of Profits Will Be Donated to DS Support Organizations
That’s pretty self-explanatory. The support - practical, educational, emotional - available from local and national organizations is amazing. The good those groups do is immeasurable. As for which support organizations receive the contributions – you'll tell me. When you first order from us, you will define which organization(s) you would like to receive the contributions that result from your purchases. Once a year we’ll do the math and in October – Down Syndrome Awareness Month – we’ll distribute those donations.

The Hand-Me-Down Program
The idea for this company was born when I noticed Helen wearing clothes that I had handed down from my daughter, Blythe. Helen wore those clothes at a much younger age than Blythe had. That’s when I learned about the fit issues and challenges my sister has in finding clothes for Helen.

Hand-me-downs is a sensible, practical idea and - at least in my world - a tradition. So, this company will have a hand-me-down program. Parents whose children have outgrown an item can, if it is still in decent condition, send it back to us – postage prepaid by us – for a credit. The company will then donate those items to people or organizations of need.

Employing Parents of Children with Down Syndrome
There's no one better able to address the fit and function issues of clothing for children with Down syndrome than the parents who have struggled with those challenges themselves. So, when the company begins to hire customer service reps (as opposed to just Susie and me, who'll man the phones in the beginning) we will hire parents of children with DS in those jobs. And, because technology exists to allow people to do that work from home, that's where our parent-customer service reps will be based. That's a winning situation all around.

Employees’ Paid Volunteerism
When I worked in the corporate world, I volunteered as much as I could to work at my kids’ school. I’d work at the annual book fair, or as a party planning and throwing Room Mother, a bi-monthly library helper, a chaperone on field trips; you get the idea. Most such episodes of volunteerism were marked by dichotomy. There was the deep satisfaction of spending time – and creating a memory – with my child. That was balanced by the strain of taking time off of work. A friend once observed "There’s never a convenient time to take time off from work." Indeed, from a timing perspective, vacation weeks, days, half days are all dicey. The time I spent preparing to be gone and then catching up when I returned was always a scramble.

The first school year after I left the paid-work world, I spent a few hours every Friday in Evan’s classroom. It was bliss. I could write an entire posting on the satisfaction of spending time working in your child’s class. But, I’d only be preaching to the choir. Parents understand how wonderful and valuable that experience is – for the parent and the child and the teacher. Evan’s teacher this year didn’t utilize parent-helpers, so my participation in his class was limited to field trip chaperoning – still a great experience. On another front, this past winter/spring I served as the parent organizer, and raffle committee leader, for the Jazz Festival that Blythe’s high school music program presented. That was a huge time commitment, but satisfying in proportion to the time spent.

All of this background is to explain why, when this company is big enough to have employees – beyond Susie and me (who will be our Distribution / Order Fulfillment Center!) - we will pay employees for eight hours of monthly volunteerism, if they so wish. Employees who choose to can parcel out that time however they choose, working at whatever charitable purpose they choose. I can’t say that taking the time off won’t still require some juggling now and then, but I can say that this company will support, appreciate, and facilitate those volunteer efforts.

Those are the primary aspects of how this little company will do good as it makes its way in the world. There’s no space left to discuss other, smaller plans, but there are some. For a number of months, I did a good bit of reading about for-profit, yet values-based companies like Newman’s Own, The Body Shop, Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s. It was satisfying to read proof that doing good can also be good business. This company will be one more example of that principle.

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