While most recent college grads are feverishly sending out resumes, moaning about the terrible job market (especially for young people), and generally having a tough time launching, two recent grads of Williams College in Massachusetts have put together a site that gives them plenty of work — and will help others too. Designed Good is the brainchild of Class of 2012 grads Katy Gathright and Imran Khoja (with help from an older third founder, Joe Bergeron, also from Williams).
How did she and her team do it, and what does the site look to accomplish? Check out my interview with Katy below (and consider yourself inspired!):
MNN: You and the site's founders are recent grads. How did you get the idea for your site? Were you afraid of the horrors of the job market and just decided to do this, or are you guys all working elsewhere too?
Katy Gathright: The idea for Designed Good came from Imran Khoja, one of my co-founders who graduated with me from Williams College this June. For him, the idea was an evolving concept that he began developing before his junior year: during a summer internship two years ago, he began thinking about how he could partner with NGOs [nongovernment organizations] to get more exposure for the work they were doing — and thought about how T-shirt sales could give them that exposure.
But over the next two years, he also spent a lot of time discovering how difficult it is to find basic information about how products are made and their ethical criteria when shopping online. Designed Good also began with this idea that products don't have to be less cool, or less trendy, or less desirable just because they are socially responsible.
I met Imran while we were studying abroad together and began hearing his ideas over the course of our junior year in England. At the time, I thought I just wanted to be any kind of writer after graduation — but by the time senior spring came around, Designed Good presented itself as an opportunity to write about how well-designed products can change the world, something I got excited about.
And so our third co-founder, Joe Bergeron (Williams '01) and I joined Imran in the spring of our senior year, and we've been working on it full-time since then. We won a grant through the first Williams College Business Plan Competition to get started, and after a long summer of planning, we launched our live website in September.
I don't think any of us would call working on a startup a relief from the job market per say, but compared to a lot of our friends who graduated with us, it's definitely awesome to be working so hard on something that we really care about.
How did you choose what to include on the site? What are your parameters?
We spend a lot of time curating the products for the site. We spend a lot of time talking to people about the kinds of products they like and meeting with designers and brands personally to talk about their work.
When we find products to source, the first question we always ask is "Is this awesome?" We're really excited about the opportunity to showcase artisans, designers and brands who have really used design in creative ways to prove that aesthetic and social responsibility are not at all mutually exclusive.
As for the ethical criteria, we basically think about four main categories: cause-driven products, locally made products that source local materials and create jobs in their communities, products that use recycled or otherwise environmentally responsible materials, and upcycled or reclaimed products.
But in the end, our litmus test is always whether we can write a good story about the product. I always interview every brand we work with so I can make sure we can write something about how their product is making a difference.
How would you like to see your project grow?
We would like to see Designed Good grow into the kind of community that sets the standard for the online marketplace. We have this big idea about socially conscious products being the baseline, not the exception. And along with that, one of our visions that we think about everyday is about everyone talking about social change through well-designed products, and I guess the question we would pose to introduce that idea is: What if every product in your life — the furniture in your apartment, the clothes you wear, the gifts you give friends — was a conversation starter, and a conversation starter about something good in the world?
What large ecommerce sites do you look up to? Who do you think is doing a great job bringing together social good and online sales?
There are a lot of people out there doing cool things with e-commerce. One larger site that we look up to is The Clymb. Like us, they work with flash sales, but they sell outdoor gear and adventure clothing. We just think they do a great job with inspiring their members to think about their lifestyles, and the kind of active people they would want to be. Every time I look at their site, I just want to go invite a friend to climb Mount Everest or something with me!
One place that we would highlight as doing a great job of combining social good with online sales is Charity:Water. They are, of course, a charity and not primarily an e-commerce site, but their mission is unbelievable, and they've found a way to bring great, accessible design to the world of impact-making. We look up to them as an organization that understands how design and social change can intersect, and also as an organization that believes in transparency: They're committed to telling clear, accessible stories about what they're doing and why they do it.
Their online store also epitomizes those values, using their platform to sell goods that capture the Charity:Water spirit with an awesome look and feel.
Related charity story on MNN: Charity: Water uses Google Maps to plot out projects