Fairware co-founder and CEO Denise Taschereau is an activist first, entrepreneur second, and evangelist pretty much all the time. Here, she talks turkey about promotional merchandise and why it matters.
Q: As “changemakers” and “brand guardians,” just what does Fairware do?
A: We specialize in merchandise for internal and external giveaways that properly represents a brand and tells the right story. We focus on ethical supply chains so that promotional merchandise is consistent with clients’ brand mission. This is a $22 billion industry—we want to change the way all that money is spent.
Q: What gave you the idea for Fairware—your “Eureka!” moment?
A: As director of sustainability for a large outdoor retailer, I was looking for event merchandise for our team. I couldn’t find organic cotton shirts or lip balm without parabens. Then I started noticing that I was getting bad merchandise from brands I admired—things made in places, such as Myanmar, which have deplorable human rights records. I knew those products didn’t reflect the retailer’s brand values.
Q: Why is promotional merchandise so critical to brand strategy?
A: Seventy-eight percent of people recall the promotional products they received in the last year. People pay attention to this merchandise. In fact, we’ve seen brands called out at trade shows and made to look bad because of merchandising blunders. Millennials in particular are a critical audience, and their No. 1 criterion for choosing brands—both as consumers and as employees—is values alignment.
Q: What are some common mistakes otherwise conscientious brands make?
A: We often see three missteps:
1) Values disconnect: An organic foods company wants to buy a cheap, non-organic cotton T-shirt.
2) Messaging contradiction: A client puts “buying local” messaging on a bag sourced from China. Recipients read the message on the outside, then look at the tag inside and roll their eyes.
3) Stretching the claims of a product—perfect example, tote bags often are technically recyclable but not practically recyclable and, therefore, don’t meet FTC guidelines for environmental claims.
Q: What should every business consider when buying promotional merchandise?
A: Materials quality and sourcing; human rights issues in source countries; worker pay and conditions; and the delivery footprint.
Q: Give us some examples of what you bring to the party beyond product sourcing.
A: We make the item memorable. Imagine your T-shirt drawer. You have 20; you wear four. Why? Probably because those four don’t just have a logo—there’s something cool about them or they carry some interesting messaging. Putting a logo on something is not telling a story. We advise clients to add a salient fact. We also find ways to reuse end-of-life materials. We took one company’s ski lifties’ outfits and refashioned them into company tote bags. We support business models that reach into communities. We’re working now with a company that makes beautiful soy candles by employing local high-school moms. We’re always looking at how you can drive change with your spending.
Q: It seems you’ve got tentacles everywhere. How do you do it?
A: We’ve been at it for 10 years. It’s our passion, and it’s what differentiates us. We’re very confident in our knowledge base. That’s why clients use us.
Q: DIY documents, such as your “Ethical Sourcing Primer,” help brands source responsibly on their own. Doesn’t that threaten your own business?
A: Remember, we’re activists first and entrepreneurs second. We exist to change the world through the simple act of buying.
Download Fairware’s Ethical Sourcing Primer, or contact Fairware at 1.866.606.3247, email@example.com.