How One Business Helps Fund Mental Health Programs
Advocacy Kim Widener, founder and CEO of WovenWell, advocates for women and mental health awareness.
Keeping Philosophy at the Core of a Brand
How TOMS engages and connects with consumers beyond a simple sales transaction.
What drew you to work for a brand that has philanthropy at its core?
Amy Smith: My professional background is a mix of corporate and non-profit experience. I had been following the TOMS journey since Blake Mycoskie founded the company in 2006. It was such an innovative idea to combine business and philanthropy. I really believe in the power of profit with purpose and think it is a powerful tool to make positive change in the world. I believe in this business model and hope we continue to inspire companies across the globe.
What’s the biggest challenge clothing and retail brands face today?
Brands today are continually challenged with how to engage and connect with consumers beyond a product sales transaction. One of our biggest challenges continues to be how we help our consumers see and understand the incredible impact they are directly making in a child’s life through their engagement with TOMS.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of the work you do everyday?
The most rewarding part of the work we do here at TOMS is knowing that we are enabling our customers to give. Between TOMS employees, our Giving Partners and our customers, we as a team are all working together to help those in need, whether it’s through a pair of shoes, safe birth training, water, solar light or bullying prevention services. These gives are usually integrated into a larger health and education program so our Giving Partners can address the biggest needs in their community. We understand that the TOMS gives are a part of the solution, not the whole solution.
What are some steps readers can take to shop more responsibly and sustainably?
There are so many incredible socially-conscious brands now putting wonderful products into the marketplace. Whenever possible, I try to advocate for those brands and learn more about what I can do to support social entrepreneurs who are pushing to change the world. I think it’s important that we encourage people to seek out the businesses that incorporate philanthropy in their model so we can collectively continue to use business to improve lives.
One in four people worldwide are affected by mental health issues, according to the World Health Organization. The stigma of mental health problems can be crippling, a reality that Kim Widener, founder and CEO of WovenWell, has seen all too often.
“We know that there’s tremendous stigma in the United States towards people with a mental illness,” Widener says. “Similarly in a developing country, it contributes to poverty and human rights violations.”
WovenWell sells contemporary clothing and accessories made with vibrant textiles that are handcrafted in Ghana, and 20 percent of WovenWell’s profits are given back to fund mental health programs in Ghana and across the globe. But Widener isn’t stopping there. She’s also using her business to support another widely underrepresented group: women.
WovenWell is a wholly women-owned company, a fact that Widener believes boosts productivity.
Entrepreneurs like Widener are doing their part to level the playing field. According to a report by the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 9.4 million firms in the US are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015. Despite these rosy figures, owning a business doesn’t come without its challenges.
“I think by nature, [women] try to do everything, and we can’t,” Widener says. In a 2015 Ernst & Young report, 24 percent of US employees said their work-life balance was getting tougher to manage. “For me, my family is most important, but my business is also important. You have to make sure that neither one is suffering, and you prioritize whatever needs to be prioritized in that moment while keeping the other one afloat.”
“We just don’t give up,” she says. “We’re so used to solving other people’s problems that it doesn’t feel overwhelming if we hit a roadblock.”
Widener’s advice for women looking to start their own business? Be flexible.
“Be prepared to navigate the road bumps,” she cautions. “With any startup, there are disappointments. Collect yourself and decide how you’re going to get around it.”