Identifying Mission-Driven Brands To Support This Shopping Season

Photo by For Good / Girlfriend Collective

Catie Marron has made a career of supporting public projects. She chaired the board of the New York Public Library for seven years, ensuring millions of New Yorkers had free access to its holdings, and as the chairman of the board of the High Line, she's helping to boost appreciation for greenery in New York and beyond with her book City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughtsan anthology of love letters to public parks around the world.

This year, Marron brought a longtime dream to fruition when she created For Good—a nonprofit online platform that compiles brands doing inspiring work in the philanthropic world she knows so well.

The rise in mission-driven brands:

The concept first came to Marron years ago during a conversation with Anna Wintour (she's also a contributing editor to Vogue) about the future of retail. "I suddenly had this idea for a store where all profits go to good causes, and the customers actually vote on the causes," Marron tells mbg. After experimenting with a brick-and-mortar store concept, she toyed with the idea of website where people could go for easy-to-digest information about brands doing good.

And with the recent increase in consumer demand for mission-driven companies, now became the perfect time to launch it. "Particularly last year, I noticed more companies were entering this world, and I thought why not give it a go," she says. Recent data shows that 87 percent of people will choose a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and 76 percent of them will refuse to purchase from a brand that goes against their beliefs. Furthermore, 90 percent of Americans are more likely to trust a brand that has some kind of philanthropic giving program. Millennials are spearheading this shift, but other generations are signing on too. Marron describes people of all different ages—her husband who told her about Bombas socks, a friend who recommended Tom's—as catalysts for this new project.

How to choose one you can trust:

We've entered a time when it's unique for a new company not to have some kind of giving component, so here are a few of Marron and her team's top tips for choosing the right one to shop with this holiday season:

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1. Look for concrete commitments and numbers.

"When companies say that they give a percentage away but don't say what the percentage is, you really don't know what they're doing," says Marron. If a brand has built a giveback function into their core business model, they will publicize that loud and clear on their website. Look out for actual numbers about the amount of money they've donated, and the results of these charitable efforts.

2. Be wary of greenwashing.

As the charitable business market grows, so, too, do the number of brands that are greenwashing or making false claims to win the trust of consumers. Again, looking at a company's website is key here. If you see vague, unsubstantiated terms or promises, Marron says it's best to steer clear: "They wouldn't get away for long with advertising something in black and white."

3. Look for a story.

Marron explains that many of the new brands she's seeing—from purveyors of eyewear to clothes to home goods—have an interesting backstory fueling their mission. She recommends reading those "about" pages and letting their stories move you. "When I go read into these companies, I'm so pleasantly surprised. There's so much generosity and creativity out there, and I've really enjoyed learning more about it."

Looking for a different kind of gift this year? Here's mbg's guide to experiential holiday giving.

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