This originally appeared in San Francisco Chronicle.
Lazing in a hammock can be a good thing – in more ways than one.
That’s what San Francisco’s Yellow Leaf Hammocks argues. Woven by tribal communities in northern Thailand, the hammocks aim to leave a positive footprint while encouraging “stressed out Americans to relax,” says founder Joe Demin.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks is part of a new breed of companies that are combining consumerism with a social mission. Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms Shoes, the original “do good” retail brand based on the one-for-one model (buy a pair of shoes, a pair is donated on your behalf), has created a new online marketplace for companies like Yellow Leaf Hammocks.
Aptly named Toms Marketplace, the online shop debuted in November with a cohort of brands with a social conscience: Giving Keys (homeless individuals learning jewelry making); the Honest Co. (actor Jessica Alba‘s eco-friendly line of skin-care, cleaning and bath products); Lemlem (model Liya Kebede‘s line of fabrics handwoven by Ethiopian women); and One World Futbol Project (buy a soccer ball, another is donated to children in developing countries) are a few of the companies included.s
“Our hope is that (the marketplace) becomes a sustainable model that lives on and takes on new people, companies and products,” Mycoskie says.
Like Toms Marketplace, Giving Tuesday, a United Nations Foundation initiative, encourages shoppers to support brands that “give back,” says Aaron Sherinian, a spokesman for the U.N. Foundation. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday but targets foundations, social enterprises and nonprofits to create awareness and encourage donations.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks is one of the 4,000 organizations and companies that have joined the movement. The company motto incorporates the charitable sentiment – it reads, “Do Good. Relax.”
Demin was vacationing in Thailand when he learned about the plight of the Mlabri tribe, a marginalized community vulnerable to the sex trade, poor health and limited job opportunities. But the Mlabri community knew the art of weaving, specifically hammocks.
“Joe came home with a backpack full of hammocks, all in different sizes, packaged haphazardly, and said he wanted to start a business,” says Rachel Connors, co-founder and Demin’s girlfriend.
Connors and Demin returned to Thailand shortly thereafter to start the company. “Everything just clicked,” says Demin. “The product had commercial viability, the potential to grow into a larger brand, and yet it also empowered a community.”
“We were naive, though,” interjects Connors. It wasn’t easy to build a consistent supply chain, measure the social impact and oversee foreign operations. “We figured it out through trial and error, really,” Demin says.
Two years later, Yellow Leaf Hammocks has grown to working with 200 artisans in rural Thailand. The company reports that weavers earn six times as much as the average worker in the region. Traditionally, these communities partake in “slash and burn” farming, Connors says. With Yellow Leaf, a weaver can earn in one week what it would take a whole family to earn in a month clearing farmland. Plus, with the added wages, children can go to school.
“Job creation is what solves the systemic problem,” Demin says.
By partnering with Toms Marketplace, Connors says Yellow Leaf can extend its reach. “Toms has a huge microphone, a massive platform and can connect with the Millennial generation,” she says.
Moreover, she says, “Toms is making this industry cool, this idea of being a social entrepreneur.”