SocialBusiness.org recently got the opportunity to dig deeper into the You and Who story with Dan Gigante, its Founder and President. Like many social entrepreneurs we've interviewed, he was inspired by the TOMS Shoes story. He shares that and much more on how the business started, and what his creative rituals are.
Four Questions with You and Who Founder and President Dan Gigante
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
I had the idea for You and Who after watching a video of TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie. As many have been inspired by Blake and the efforts of TOMS, I too was inspired by the notion of giving back with every purchase. Except, in my case, I immediately had the idea to do t-shirts and to work with artists from across the country to design our shirts, making them a high-quality garment that acts, essentially, as wearable art. Because the artists are such an integral part of what we do, we decided it was appropriate to compensate them $1 for every shirt sold with their design. We also decided to tie the donated shirts to the artists' hometowns, placing a hyperlocal focus on and creating even more meaning behind our product. In other words, consumers can shop by which designs they like best, or they can shop to help people in need and support artists from a specific community within the United States.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
I'm a web and mobile app developer by trade, and started my own web development company in 2000. I was a partner at clevermethod until I left to start You and Who in September 2010. It was a surreal experience to give up one baby for another, but I believed so strongly in the idea of You and Who that I couldn't shake the urge to do it. As hard as making that leap was, I've never looked back.
Also, I've always had a thing for t-shirts, ever since I was a kid. Never did I think that would one day my love of t-shirts would place me in the retail industry, but here I am. More apropos is that I find myself amongst other companies and efforts that are trying to give back to those in need. I've sat on a few nonprofit boards in my day, have contributed to many fundraising campaigns, and, generally speaking, have always led a life of giving back to others. I love that I've been able to find a way to combine a few of my loves: helping others by working with incredibly talented artists to create t-shirts that help benefit communities in a hyperlocal way. Just being able to say that makes me incredibly proud.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
I traveled to 30 U.S. cities in 90 days last fall, visiting approximately 60 shelters that help the homeless, runaway or at-risk youth, and victims of domestic violence. Without a doubt, the most inspiring part of my job -- and what keeps me going on a daily basis -- is knowing that what we do is truly helping someone that needs it. I met some incredible people at these shelters, both the guests and the employees. Meeting some of the guests and understanding their struggles is a humbling experience, and all you want to do is help them in any way possible.
What was amazing to me was witnessing first-hand the perseverance and dedication of the staff that helps these folks on a daily basis. They have a difficult job that is enormously taxing. They typically don't earn much, and there is usually high-turnover where they work. I take a tremendous amount of inspiration from the staff at these shelters, knowing they do it not because it's easy, but because they truly care for the people they help, and they want to be a positive force in someone's life. If I can play any part in positively impacting people's lives, that's enough for me. I know You and Who is doing something right when I meet some of our "Who's." I've handed out new, fantastic-looking shirts to people with only the clothes on their back. The feeling you get when you see the look on their faces and the amount of gratitude and happiness they display -- that feeling is indescribable. And that's what makes every second of this venture worth it, and then some.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I play a lot of loud music -- it gets me in the zone. But when it comes to creativity, I'm never short on ideas. They come to me so regularly, it's impossible to shut off. And to be honest, I do my best thinking when I'm in the shower. Last Christmas, my girlfriend bought me one of those waterproof notepads and pencils to keep on the shower wall, and I can tell you it's come in handy quite a few times. Maybe it's a flaw, but I like to pursue as many of those ideas as I can. I've never been afraid to act on instinct, for better or for worse. When I'm faced with a moment when I need clarity, I usually take a shower, or I'll play some Paul McCartney. There's not much Sir Paul can't make right with the world.