Feed is continuing to evolve as it approaches its 10-year anniversary this fall.
The company, which donates meals to children in need with every purchase, has become synonymous over the years with the canvas totes donned by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Katie Holmes. Today, Feed includes a full line of bags beyond the iconic tote, ranging in both style and price point, as well as a collection of apparel and accessories. Each item is marked with the number of meals it will provide, so consumers have a clear sense of how their purchase directly makes an impact. To date, the company has donated nearly 100 million meals to children in 63 countries.
CEO and founder Lauren Bush Lauren, the niece of former president George W. Bush and the daughter-in-law of Ralph Lauren, created the company after visiting several impoverished countries during her time as a student ambassador for the World Food Program at Princeton. It helped that she was already well-versed in the world of fashion, with modeling experience for major companies like Tommy Hilfiger and Isaac Mizrahi under her belt. Using her insider perspective and passion for humanitarian work, she fused the two to form Feed, one of the first companies to operate on the “get one, give one” model, along with early adopter Toms.
“Having that experience in college and then moving to New York opened my eyes,” Lauren said. “Being able to travel as a student allowed me to see the issue of hunger firsthand and led to the a-ha moment to create Feed. I was focused on creating a product that can stand for more than just fashion.”
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend in a holiday campaign for Feed in 2014
Now the company is continuing to diversify its products and solidify itself as a full lifestyle brand. As part of the effort, the 20-person team has started forging partnerships with companies including West Elm, and this year, it opened its first physical retail shop in Brooklyn. It sells a collection of Feed products and food and beverages from local cafes. Beyond serving as an additional outlet to sell goods, Lauren said she hopes the store will help cultivate a community of philanthropic consumers who can work together toward the cause.
We caught up with Lauren to look back on a decade of Feed, and inquire about her take on socially conscious business and her goals for the future of the company.
What inspired the push into physical retail?
After 10 years, we wanted to see the brand in a physical manifestation and have a community space for people to gather around Feed and the mission. Not only are we selling Feed products, but we’re also selling Feed coffee and muffins, so it allows for a daily reason to buy Feed.
Makes sense. How have you evolved your designs over the years beyond the original tote?
We saw it as an extension of the bag — especially for the women who had one already. We wanted to offer her other ways to wear Feed and be a part of Feed. We began to focus on the possibility of doing bags that are more primary bags — not just secondary, weekend, farmers market bags. They’re styles she can wear to work or take out at night.
What do you think sets Feed apart from other impact-driven companies, like Toms or Warby Parker?
The Feed model, from the beginning, has included putting a number on every product, which signifies the amount of meals we’re able to donate. It’s a very straightforward model that’s been part of the success. It’s in place of saying we’re donating a percentage of profits. Hunger is an issue where there is a clear solution — a meal — and that solution has a very clear metric that can be built into the cost of a product.
So it becomes tangible to consumers, and that resonates. How do you think the concept of ethical fashion has changed the most over the years?
It’s exciting to me that conscious commerce, which wasn’t even a buzzword when I started Feed, is really very commonplace now. It’s almost expected that companies have a larger purpose or a transparent supply chain. I’m proud that Feed was at the forefront of that.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you while at the helm of Feed?
For us, it’s balancing out the bottom line of being extremely charitable but also being a growth-oriented business. Feed is my first job out of college, so it’s really been a learn-as-you-go thing, by being surrounded by a really awesome, smart, dedicated team. It takes a village.
How do you manage to balance donations with turning a profit?
It’s something we’ve fine-tuned over the years. We build the donation cost into our margins and treat the donation cost as a good. However, it’s also about accepting that our margins may not be as big as a traditional company, while realizing there’s a business advantage, as well, to the goodwill factor.
Do you actively engage with the communities Feed supports?
I feel really lucky to continue to have that first-hand experience of visiting the programs that are helping, supporting and feeding the kids on the ground. In June, I took a trip with my whole team to Madagascar. We’re so centered and focused every day on the mission of Feed and feeding kids, but you can get mired in the details and the nitty gritty of building a business sometimes. [Visiting the kids has] been really important for my team.
How has social media played a role in the way companies like Feed do business?
It’s evening the playing field. Companies and brands that can’t spend large amounts on advertising can still very powerfully cultivate a community and communicate what they’re doing, and have a dialogue with customers.