Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

“SEA, and be seen.” An apparel business matches colors with social causes.

“SEA, and be seen.” An apparel business matches colors with social causes.David Baron says it’s time to write a business plan. He also says it won’t be long before his start-up, which makes stylish hats that embody a social mission, will have to move its warehouse facility out of the basement of his family’s Atlanta, GA home.

“We’ve grown the business significantly in our first year,” says the 22-year-old, who ordered 15,000 hats last year for SEA, the company he co-founded with ZeshanMuhammediwhile they were both still at college. “Now we’re going to outgrow the basement,” says Baron.

Baron and Muhammedi, best friends since the second grade, launched SEA because they wanted to start a company that had a social mission woven through its very fabric. Both of them had worked in the nonprofit world, Baron at Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication (HOPE), which is based at UNC in Chapel Hill, NC, and Muhammedi at the Emory Economic Development Initiative (EEDI).

They wanted to study an ethical business process, determine how private enterprise could become inherently “social” and “benefit some without doing it at others’ expense, directly and indirectly, now and in the future.” They recognize this agenda as a long term “study, a learning experience,” but they wanted to tie in immediate impact. Enter, “Colors for Causes.”

“SEA, and be seen.” An apparel business matches colors with social causes. By simply associating colors with causes and donating proceeds from product sales, they provide a sustainable stream of funding that lets non-profits focus on what they do best. The first hat SEA made, a black one, supports efforts to end global poverty, and proceeds benefit EEDI.

“Simply,” though, is an understatement: they do not display any text or design directly on products that connect them to causes and non-profits. They assert this strategy actually helps raise more money for the causes, sustainably. Baron says “people will actually buy and wear and get excited about ‘regular,’ stylish, and quality products. Consumers don’t go out of their way, or feel like they’re showing off. The cause association is visible because of SEA branding, yet tasteful, the cherry on top. We’re making good, cool.”

And the donation is anything but symbolic. Twenty-five percent of SEA product revenues go to the good causes. “Some tell us ‘it’s not significant; it’s crazy,’” says Muhammedi. A healthy business and excited customers suggest differently.

Baron and Muhammedi found the factory that makes their hats, an online business-to-business marketplace.

“Alibaba was the key to building this company,” says Baron. “They were the enabler in connecting us to the manufacturing side of our business.”

Baron says they have developed a good working relationship with the supplier, who is located in China’s Guangdong province. They keep in close and regular contact with the supplier’s representativeeven sharing photos of their respective families online. The supplier was responsive to Baron and Muhammedi’s needs from the outset, providing SEA with a Skype tour of its factory, for example.

Before the entrepreneurs found Alibaba they had struggled to find suppliers in the United States.

“We looked at several possible domestic manufacturers, including ones in states as close as South Carolina and Florida,” says Baron. “But we were too small for them to work with. We were not getting the attention we wanted.”

College students studying Biology and Political Economics, respectively, David and Zeshan are navigating a manufacturing network thousands of miles away. “The internet is a beautiful thing,” Baron jokes.

Along with their main collection, SEA has also found a good revenue stream in sourcing private-label products. Customers so far include hip hop artist Mac Miller and beverage company Whynatte.

But collaborations and campaigns have proven to be SEA’s bread and butter. Popular websites and benefited from SEA’s creativity, and the immensely popular WakaFlocka Flame even took notice, enlisting SEA to coordinate his 2012 Anti-Bullying campaign.

As for the future, Baron says they are ready to expand the SEA product line. “We’re looking at T-shirts, bicycle helmets, and basketballs, among other products, that will be consistent with the Colors for Causes theme.”

For example, next up is a couch called SEA Sits, and it is based on what David and Zee, as college students, wanted to see and experience in their dorm room futons, but did not. “It’s the perfect couch and futon; it is convenient and versatile and comfortable in ways that leave other available futons in the dust,” says Zeshan. But that’s not all. David suggests, “like the hats that are, first and foremost, great products that people want to wear and use, the couches will be great and ‘good,’ without asking the consumer to sacrifice.” The couches are 100% recyclable or biodegradable, and the real innovation is a glue-less and tool-less assembly.

Muhammedi suggests why SEA could be around for a while. “We’re having a blast. Our products mean more than meets the eye, and we’ll keep making ones that fit into and encourage a fun, social lifestyle.”

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