Shawn Parr: How To Build A Brand That People Join Rather Than Buy
Being responsible, and therefore trusted, can lead to more long-term advocates and fans than just a good product.
I met two Southern California brothers, Shea and Raan Parton in 2004 when they had a simple, and perhaps naïve, idea: people can live better lives if they are given the opportunity, a chance to practice their trade, gain employment and determine their own future. Today, they are making an impact based on the principle that being responsible even having very little, leads to being trusted with more—and with that notion, they birthed their business.
Apolis (a-pö-lis) translates to “global citizen” in Greek, and is the inspiration behind their socially motivated, lifestyle brand that focuses on empowering communities throughout the world. Most people have heard the proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. But, what the Parton brothers have learned from traveling the world, is that there are plenty of well-trained fishermen, but they often don’t have the correct bait or a large enough pond to fish successfully. The Partons saw an opportunity to work hand-in-hand with communities and cooperatives throughout the world to co-design products that help make them more relevant to a wide audience and stronger market.
Combine advocacy and industry
Apolis is B-Corp certified and is held to a high standard, ensuring they are thoughtful about the positive ways to impact communities. They work each day to ensure that their mission of “advocacy through industry” shapes their decisions. They believe positive change starts at the core, and that by supporting communities that sustain themselves and proactively work at their craft is the most effective way to fuel growth. Each day the Apolis brothers strive to find innovative ways to maintain their part of the partnership, providing a strong market for their products and an audience for their story.
Make real stories the invitation to participate
Apolis gives their suppliers a voice by traveling to their countries and documenting the experience while learning about their culture and customs. They showcase many of their advocacy products with a short film and photo story, explaining their manufacturing process and local tourism adventures. In 2009, they documented a women’s knitting cooperative in Kathmandu and cycling in the Himalayas. This past year they made their way through the Middle East to document a cross-border collaborative story of their leather sandals made on the Mediterranean coastline. The documentary films have become a powerful and engaging tool to promote tourism in the areas Apolis works, and they also provide a transparent look at the manufacturer they partner with to produce their products.
Hunt for the unusual and showcase the truth
Apolis’ Middle East project is a testament of two truths: the world is getting smaller and friendship can transform communities. They came across Shlomy Azolay, a third generation Israeli leather craftsman, by stumbling across his work online and sending him an email. As their friendship evolved, he slowly shared the story of his cross-border collaboration designing sandals in Israel’s coastal community of Tel Aviv and manufacturing them with his friend Mohammad Altzatari in the largest city within the West Bank—Hebron. Watch Apolis’ recent film that shares the amazing story of Shlomy and Mohammad working together for five years through online communications before they met face to face.
Turn retail into hospitality
The team at Apolis believes that it’s their responsibility to inspire people to join their brand and help to create brands in communities—whether that’s communities in other parts of the world or within their own area of downtown Los Angeles. The creation of their Common Gallery provides opportunities for people to gather for gallery exhibits, dinners, film releases, new Apolis collection debuts, keynote speakers, panel discussions, book signings and live musical performances. The Parton brothers see their retail space as an expression of their hospitality and a way to serve the community while connecting global advocacy.
Use scale and influence to inspire social change
Whereas super-lifestyle brands like Ralph Lauren have massive reach and influence, Apolis is still a growing brand. Ralph Lauren has designed an idealized view of life and invited people to shape their own life through its lens. And while their social responsibility initiatives are meaningful, the super brands have a significant opportunity and responsibility to explore new ways to invite their consumers to join their brand through a deeper and more meaningful story like Apolis. Textiles and apparel are a meaningful inroad for people in rural poverty to reach the first step on the development ladder, from the grower to the seamstress, and super brands can help shape these evolving communities with positive change while making a significant difference in people’s lives.
Shawn Parr is the CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego. Clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.
[Image: Flickr user WestPeak Photography]