Pyjamas for Purpose
2 October 2013 at 11:08 am
In this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise, Nadia Boyce investigates a trendy new social enterprise spruiking pyjamas to support those sleeping rough on our streets.
Hard times after a failed business venture spurred an interest in social justice for one young Australian entrepreneur, whose burgeoning sleepwear label is taking a stand against youth homelessness.
Young upstart, Jamie Green has always been a business enthusiast, and his social enterprise One Night Stand is the latest in his string of ventures – some successful, some not.
First hand making and selling jewellery at 17, Green went on to start an events company, a custom bike studio and eventually a cafe in 2010.
It was here that he hit a stumbling block that changed the trajectory of his business career – for the better.
“I opened up a cafe on Flinders Street (in Melbourne) that went horribly wrong. I was broke after six months and didn’t have a place to call home.”
It was a difficult time for Green, who resorted to sleeping on the floor of his cafe at night.
Green says he plodded along and managed to sell the cafe after 13 months. The sale allowed him to get back on his feet and move beyond his debts and the mental toll.
“They don’t tell you about that emotional rollercoaster,” he says.
Yet Green is reluctant to have his background presented as a sob story – it was the difficult experiences, he says, that led him to think about those who did not have an asset they could sell to get back on track as he did.
He began investigating ways he could help reduce youth homelessness, including a career as a social worker or starting a Not for Profit.
Green’s admiration for Richard Branson and his philosophies around using business as a force for social change prompted Green to forge a profit-for-purpose model.
“I loved business and I thought that doing business while doing something good would be perfect,” he says.
Sleepwear and Synergy
The brand borne of Green’s idea, One Night Stand, taps into the retail market.
Green competes with market leaders Peter Alexander, Cotton On and Bonds, selling sleepwear and reinvesting a percentage of the profits into charities tackling youth homelessness.
“People are spending money anyway in the retail sector so we thought we would enter that market,” he says.
“We thought we could enter this realm where people could buy something for their comfort while making others comfortable as well.”
In addition to synergy of product and cause, Green’s model is defined by its transparency. A set percentage of funds is immediately taken out of sales, an approach Green says was modelled on that of successful food and beverage social enterprise, Thankyou.
One Night Stand is conscious of investing in projects that are having an impact, Green says.
He laments the difficulty in getting a comprehensive picture of the project’s impact when the nature of the change is not quantifiable.
“Impact is such a hard thing to track – it’s just an improvement of life,” he says.
One Night Stand is a noble operation in many ways – besides the positive social impact, the brand also promotes ethical and sustainable manufacturing.
Green is unconcerned that the label’s social mission will be drowned out by value-adding promises.
“We don’t heavily market the ethical stuff. You need that one message but when people start to research the business, they’ll see it,” he says.
“I think if you are going to do something for a social cause, treating the environment like crap doesn’t add up.”
A striking feature of One Night Stand is its off-beat branding. The approach has earned the social enterprise media coverage in youth-oriented fringe publications including Frankie Magazine.
Green says that image has been hugely important in getting One Night Stand on its feet.
“Our target market thinks youth homelessness is really ugly. If you can appeal to people through image that’s great,” he says.
“People love things that are new and fresh.
“If it’s not cool they’re not going to be interested.
“Sometimes it can go the opposite way with corporates though – they’re risk averse.”
One Night Stand has been running a pilot program for the past 10 months, during which they have sold 150 units of sleepwear in the USA, Canada and Australia.
He maintains that for the product to continue to succeed, it must be quality.
“I think its really important that their product is the number one reason they buy – if it’s a crappy product they’re not going to come.”
An advocate for business alternatives
“I’m not sure if it’s going to be a generational thing for those under 30,” he says.”I’m really hoping we can grow as a generation, now that we’re more seeing interest in social and environmental causes.”
As a young person whose passion for business preceded his passion for social change, Green emphasises generational change when speculating on the possible emergence of further social enterprises from the business sector.
His enthusiasm for using business as a force to solve social problems is evident.
Green also notes the power of figureheads. He refers to Richard Branson's influence as the CEO of a major global company, and says that may be what it takes to grow the movement.
“There are already big banks doing it. It’s a matter of there being one big player in Australia,” he says.
“An in-your-face model – or person. As humans, we love innovation.”
Waking up to the possibilities at home
Green was previously living on the Gold Coast, but moved to Melbourne to be part of the city he describes as “one of the essential hubs of social enterprise”.
Yet Green says Melbourne is a relatively small place and the growth of the movement in Australia will require greater awareness outside traditional social enterprise hotspots.
He is heartened to see some progress. Earlier this year, the School for Social Entrepreneurs, where Green prepared his plan for One Night Stand, opened a campus in Brisbane.
Yet other barriers remain, he says.
The lack of a legal structure for social enterprises in Australia has proven a stumbling block, he says.
“We need that for the industry to grow,” Green says.
“Just recently we’ve had a lot of trouble with the actual business model.
“There’s no money for social enterprises because philanthropists don’t get a tax deduction as with Not for Profits.”
This is despite One Night Stand being staffed by a team of 17 volunteers including graphic designers, pattern makers, photographers and communications assistants.
The growing social enterprise community is supporting one another and networking, Green says, and has been beneficial in getting his ideas moving.
He can look to the success stories to understand how he can improve.
“For this venture I’ve had a lot more mentoring support. Without guidance things get really hard so you have to make sure you have some solid mentors behind you.”
Green hopes that one day One Night Stand can turnover 1 per cent of sleepwear giant Peter Alexander’s annual $40 million profits.
“I don’t know how long it could take us to get there. I’m optimistic,” Green says.
“If you are thinking about growing a business, think about a social enterprise. If you get to go to work, make an income and do good, that’s a great thing.
“On a bigger scale, wouldn’t it be fantastic! Imagine if every product was going to help people.
“I think it’s going to be a long journey.”