An ecopreneur is an entrepreneur (or intrapreneur/leader) focused on creating and selling environmentally-friendly products and services. On the other hand, a social entrepreneur a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change. Although they sound very similar, these two concepts are entirely different. One tries to be generous with environmental impact, with a circular and systems view. The only way way the two may be the same is considering intersectionality within their company, although social entrepreneurs have a strong focus on addressing a variety of societal issues. In that case, is it possible for someone to be both an ecopreneur and a social entrepreneur? The answer is yes, and in this blog article, Natalie Festa, founder of Fair + Square, will tell us how making pocket squares made her life more impactful as an ecopreneur and social entrepreneur.
What was the inspiration behind your company’s name?
"We started off making only pocket squares and wanted to have a fair business model in that. Thus, FAIR+SQUARE came to be."
How did everything start?
"I was working, in a big office building, in the accounting department, and
wanted to start learning to sew as a creative outlet noticed how pocket squares started becoming trendy amongst people who wore suits in my building. Then, I thought that I should start making some, which my grandmother later taught me how to sew them. After that, I would shop around, gather materials I loved, and I started sewing pocket squares as gifts to friends. My friends loved them so much that they subsequently encouraged me to sell them. I guess it came from me wanting to create an impact right away because I only wanted to sell them if I could allocate the proceeds to a cause I cared about. Immediately, I thought about how it would be so cool for a predominantly male product to support women empowerment initiatives, directly engaging men in women’s advancements."
What are some of your achievements? Proudest moments?
"Going to Tanzania and connecting with a group of artisans who helped to create a special batch of pocket squares and also became our beneficiary – the recipients of our proceeds. I love meeting the people we involve because it helps to legitimize the impact – we have real relationships with real people. Then when I receive direct messages from my contacts such as “You changed my life,” it makes it so much more real."
What motivates you to keep Fair+Square going?
"It’s a wonderful creative outlet that has an impact. I love testing new ideas and online concepts, and the reaction from our beneficiaries in Tanzania keeps us going. Despite being small, the feel-good component keeps me going."
Do you think there are enough businesses that adopt socially responsible decisions? "It’s becoming increasingly popular which is great. There is a great app called “Good on You” which rates different brands on their socially responsible decisions which help consumers make assisted decisions and think twice about buying from businesses that do not adopt socially responsible practices, according to the app’s research."
Do you think ecopreneurs and social entrepreneurs have the same impact on society? Why? "Measuring impact is always a tough one, but yes I think both are equally impactful. They are both changing consumerism to have another purpose other than trading money for a good – they are businesses/entrepreneurs that take it one step further, and to me – that’s all that matters."
Does Fair + Square have any plans on supporting other social issues in the future?
"Yes, always! Women’s empowerment is at our core but it’s a multi-faceted umbrella with numerous social issues embedded which makes growth really tangible. Other women’s issues – perhaps education, incubator supporting, mentoring."
Did you upcycle to make any of your products? If so, how? "The bangles are made from upcycled brass cutlery, which is really cool! So, it takes a product that would otherwise go to the landfill and turns them into something of value. Our makers in Tanzania are orphans who become trained and skilled in this craft and are provided with a place to live and work in a safe space."
How do your mantra bangles relate to ecopreneurship? "Recycled materials, and employing a marginalized community and providing them superior working conditions and an opportunity to turn their lives around."
How did you come up with the idea of making mantra bangles?
"While spending 6 months in Tanzania, I came across several makers of beautiful products. One of them was Pamoja – a group of orphans who are trained to make beautiful brass products. A few people around town would wear these bangles, and I fell in love with their story. I knew I wanted to add them to my collection and they were aligned with my overall mission: empowering women in underprivileged communities through handmade craft and storytelling. It’s all about connections, story sharing, and making an impact."
Do you have any tips to give to people who want to be more conscious about the social impact of their choices?
"Rather than buying from more socially responsible businesses, which is also great, try not buying at all or doing less with more. Upcycling, which is the concept of reusing and turning something into something else of higher value, is a great way to simply do more with less."
What would you like to share with your future customers?
"Your dollar is your voice when shopping; where you spend it is how you speak for what you want in the world. Also, when you purchase from a small business, someone somewhere does a small happy dance – true story!"
Thank you, Natalie, for taking the time to do this interview with Pitch It Green. I think we all learned something valuable through this article. For me, it was how being sustainable doesn’t mean you’re only helping the environment. In Natalie’s case, she has a positive impact on both the environment and the empowerment of women. We tend to forget that everything is interconnected, so how much of an impact do our actions hold in reality? If you want to learn more about Fair+Square or you want to get your hands on their products, please go check out their social media platforms and online store! If you thoroughly enjoyed reading this article, I would suggest you stay tuned as more of them are coming soon…