ING Dreamstarter has been supporting social enterprises for more than four years, and so far has helped over 70 businesses reach their goals.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to start a business with your significant other, the answer, it seems, is challenging.
At least that’s been the case for Alex Knorr and Lauren Williams, the co-founders of sustainable headwear brand Will & Bear.
They were quick to point out that it’s also really rewarding, and that there are a number of pros and cons to weigh up if you’re considering it.
“It’s really good working with someone who you’re so close to, because you tend to have the same set of values and morals, and that means it’s easy to make the big decisions,” Lauren explains.
“But the small stuff can get too personal and that doesn’t happen with a normal business partner.”
Not only were Alex and Lauren working together side-by-side, day-in and day-out, on their range of hats, they were also living together in the small confines of a Kombi for almost a year.
“That proved to be a bit challenging,” said Alex with a laugh, adding that it was a great way of getting their hats into various markets and trade shows around Australia.
“We got the van at exactly the same time that Will & Bear started to pick up – it wasn’t the best working situation in the end. But we loved the van and life on the road is beautiful,” he added.
In fact, Alex and Lauren agreed that the biggest challenge wasn’t running a business while living in such close quarters – it was the lack of meaning they found in running a business more generally that they had to overcome.
“The first few months were hard, because it’s hard to run a business without having a reason why,” recalls Lauren.
“Were we just selling hats? That didn’t make me want to get out of bed in the morning. It was hard for us to run a business that didn’t have a social benefit to it.”
Alex and Lauren put their heads together and spent a couple of months brainstorming different ideas. High on their list of concerns was the environment, so they decided to team up with trees.org.
For every hat sold, 10 trees are planted in areas affected by deforestation. In two years, more than 40,000 trees have been planted thanks to Will & Bear; the equivalent of 27 football fields.
Another boost for the social enterprise was winning a spot in ING’s Dreamstarter program last November.
“Even doing the campaign helped our business greatly, because so many people in our community got behind it. We’d been nervous about applying and had left it to the last minute – but our friends had told us we had to do it,” says Lauren.
With the support of the program, Lauren and Alex managed to raise $20,000 through crowdfunding, which will support them in launching a new range of hats made from recycled materials, with the new items scheduled to appear later this year.
Their plan is to make beanies and caps out of wool sourced from second-hand garments, offcuts from other factories or offcuts from their own manufacturing process, as well as recycled paper.
“We see the embedded energy of a particular product that’s on the market – manufacturing clothes using petroleum, for example, uses a crazy amount of energy.”
By using renewable and recycled materials, Will & Bear will be offsetting some of the negative impacts fast fashion has on the environment – and contributing to this positive change puts an extra spring in their step.
“We didn’t have the time or money to do this when we first started the business, which is why we started out with natural fibres like wool,” explains Alex.
“We would have gone down the same path of using new materials, but the Dreamstarter program allowed us to do it faster and with heaps more confidence, because there were so many people who got onboard,” he adds.
Learn more about ING Dreamstarter here.