Sustainable Ecommerce Podcast Episode 68
On today’s show we take a look at a brand that’s turning the sales of sustainably-made bedding basics into social good.
Laura McConnel Conti is the co-founder of GoKindly, a social enterprise that donates 50% of profits to women and non-binary people experiencing housing stress through charities like Juno and Women’s Housing.
In our chat Laura shares her personal journey towards starting a business-for-good, and the journey the brand continues to be on in evaluating the most sustainable way to make bedding basics like quilts and pillows, including taking responsibility for end of life.
We also explore Laura’s commitment to what she calls the Kindness Circle, how that requires conscious decision making at all touchpoints with the brand, and how they’ve distilled all the incredible things they do down to a simple message that both customers, employees and other stakeholders can understand and get on board with instantly.
That my friends, is the very essence of sustainability marketing!
About Laura & the Origins of GoKindly
Before Co-founding GoKindly with business partner David, Laura worked for nearly 20 years as a finance professional helping to acquire capital and grow other brands. Towards the end of her time, she felt very held back by gender discrimination, and felt very strongly that she could build a better business. Today, GoKindly is an expression of those values, shared very deeply with David, and of the belief that business can and should be a force for good.
On the topic of gender discrimination, Laura noted that this continues to be a very common occurrence, which is one of the reasons why so many female founders turn to creating their own for-good business. Unfortunately, with only 2% of venture capital being awarded to female founders, many continue to be ‘stuck’ in the small to medium enterprise level without access to growth capital.
What does GoKindly do?
GoKindly is a social enterprise making bedding basics like quilts and pillows. The brand donates 50% of profits to supporting housing programmes, specifically shelter for women and non-binary people experiencing homelessness. They are passionate about supporting Australian made, and conducting all business operations as sustainably as possible.
Balancing Social Impact & Sustainability
With a full commitment to maintaining social enterprise status means ensuring 50% of profits can go to social causes. However, that objective can sometimes clash with sustainability objectives, since using sustainable materials and ensuring fair wage supply often results in increased cost of goods.
Nevertheless, the team has always maintained a strong focus on sustainability in all its forms: from minimalist packaging and compostable satchels through to materials choices. According to Laura, when you’re focused on sustainability, you never feel like you’re doing enough and often agonise over decisions.
Sustainability decisions are often not as clear cut as shipment packaging. For example, the filler for pillows. The team ended up using recycled polyester as the filling rather than an organic material like cotton. Poly is hard wearing, machine washable, better to sleep on and retains its shape for longer, making it a more durable and longer lasting product. By contrast, fillers like cotton tend to clump and cannot be washed at home.
On the flip side, they chose wool as the material for duvets since it is a much warmer material. Clearly the trade off is that wool doesn’t appeal to vegan customers.
Everything in the range is currently Australian made. Apart from the lower footprint of shipping, this gives the team the opportunity to ensure fair working conditions with suppliers and directly hold them to account for superior sustainability goals. Nevertheless, with inflation and cost of living on the rise, costs to produce in Australia are making it difficult for GoKindly to keep pricing points accessible to the customer community. For that reason, they may be forced to look overseas for future product ranges.
Managing Bedding Products at the End of Life
Producing a circular product has always been a goal for Laura. The reality is there is simply no resale market for used bedding, and traditionally these bulky and often synthetic items all end up in landfill.
However, over the past 3 years the team have been working with the University of NSW on a solution, and now offer an Australian-first take-back scheme for GoKindly customers to recycle pillows.
Why should small business aim to make an impact?
Despite being small with limited resources, small and medium business actually have a lot of power to influence a better economy. Using the concept of a Kindness Circle is possible for any brand, not just a social enterprise. That involves being respectful at every brand touchpoint: with your customers, with your suppliers, and with the environment.
Simple things like payment terms are important. Dealing with big corporates who demand 100+ day credit terms is simply not respectful of the supply chain & makes it hard to fund fair wages.
However, its very hard to truly work towards impact if it isn’t in your brand DNA. Without that, too many decisions are focused on extractive practices, from the lowest price for materials through to maximising your profit from each customer.
Small brands have a lot of power thanks to the deep relationships with customers. We know them & understanding them in ways that bigger companies don’t. Plus, through outstanding experiences, customers have a much deeper level of trust with small brands.
We know that Gen Z tends to distrust brands by default, for example. They are simply waiting for brands to make a mistake to validate what they already believe. Small brands have the opportunity to change this dynamic, and to then put pressure on the bigger businesses to do better.
What do you do to ensure authentic marketing?
GoKindly is deeply embedded in the customer community. Product lines are developed in line with customer needs, and marketing is carefully shaped to support the customers rather than just promote products.
Marketing that GoKindly does is carefully distilled to be a genuine reflection of what the team is really doing in line with their mission and their DNA.
They also recognise that the GoKindly products are with people every night, and an integral part of their life. The marketing and storytelling recognises that, segmenting the customers carefully and supporting customers over the long term.
Despite doing a huge amount through their ‘Circle of Kindness’ philosophy, they choose to distil down a simple core message for everyone to understand.
Spread Kindness While You Sleep: 50% of profits donated to women experiencing homelessness.
This crispness is very important in communicating the essence of their brand rapidly, both to customers as well as team members and suppliers. That being said, they choose to provide additional information to help people round out their understanding on the site too, for all those who want to dig a little deeper.
Next couple of years
The past 4 years of growth has now enabled the two founders to start to hire a great operational team. That has allowed them to clear some mental space and start to focus on new product strategy. For the foreseeable future they see domestic growth through new customers as well as product line extension to be their main focus, with international expansion firmly in mind for the future. To try out their bedding basics head to https://www.gokindly.com.au or visit them at the Melbourne store – 520B Sydney Road, Coburg, Victoria.
Firstly, today’s conversation was another reminder of just how important it is to consider the full product lifecycle when choosing what materials to use.
It could be that organic materials are the best choice. However, with no possibility for a resale market, Laura chose to use recycled poly for pillows, making them more durable, machine washable, and allowing her team to figure out an end of life recycling programme.
Next, Laura introduced us to what she calls the Circle of Kindness, the philosophy that every touch point with your brand should embed kindness. Kindness for the environment with choices or materials, shipment packaging and logistics. Kindness for your customers in the service and respect you show them. Kindness for your suppliers and their staff to ensure great working conditions, and kindness with things like payment and commercial terms. And last but not least, kindness to your community in delivering impact relevant to your brand.
And that leads me onto my last point – you’ve heard me talk about congruency before. Congruency between your brands activities and the impact you’re making enables you to distill down all the complex moving parts about how your brand is making a difference, and explain why it should be trusted, and what it means when you customer buys from you.
For GoKindly, that congruency helped them to distil the simple yet powerful message of Spread Kindness While you Sleep – 50% of profits donated to women experiencing homelessness.
If you can’t see a straight line between what your brand makes and the external impact you’re having, it might be time to take a fresh look at your impact model.