The mindset of many entrepreneurs has transitioned from profit-first to responsibility first, and it’s a good thing. In a competitive space like the world of fashion, it may not seem that building a successful sustainable clothing brand is the best move – but Jason Grullón and the team at Virtu have made it happen.
In this conversation, I talk with Jason about how he transitioned from Law School into the world of fashion and how he created a company that is not only profitable but is producing quality clothing in a socially responsible way.
Socially responsible companies can be amazingly profitable.
The key to Virtu as a socially responsible clothing brand is their Latin American producers. Hand crafting all of the Virtu clothing is a workforce based in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, with plans to expand to Haiti soon. But before you judge them for chasing a cheap source of labor, look again. The company is paying a higher wage than is typically paid in these poor countries and is doing so intentionally to raise the bar for the entire community.
In addition, the company is committed to putting 50% of its profits back into the communities of its producers. They are not only in this to make a profit, they are in it to make a difference in the lives of those who work for them and the communities they live in. Profit and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.
The importance of traceability in building a transparent sustainable clothing brand.
It’s important to Jason and the entire team at Virtu that consumers know that the claims made by the company about helping local producers are true. The company’s traceability feature allows you to know exactly who made the item of clothing you purchase and where they made it. Right on the garment, you’ll find a tag that introduces you to the person who made your item and it includes a web link that enables you to learn more about them, their community, and their personal story.
It’s the company’s hope that one day a system will be in place that will enable consumers who care to do so, to communicate directly with the person who produced their item to find out exactly how their purchase has made an impact in their life.
People are going to criticize but you have to do what you set out to do.
When I compared Virtu to the model followed by Tom’s Shoes, perhaps the most well-known socially responsible company, Jason was quick to say that even Tom’s has its share of naysayers. But his attitude was as positive as the difference he’s making. He said that people are going to find fault, but you can’t let that deter you from making the difference you want to make.
I enjoyed my conversation with Jason immensely. He’s an example of a Latin American entrepreneur who’s making a big difference in the lives of real people who truly need an opportunity. Find out more about Jason and the Virtu story, on this episode of Crossing Borders.
Outline of This Episode
- [0:25] Who is Jason Grullón?
- [1:51] What is virtu and how does the company work to change people’s lives?
- [3:08] Why Jason’s company uses employees from a slum.
- [5:06] Meeting the demand of the Kickstarter success.
- [8:50] The difference the company is making by paying the living wage for the Dominican Republic.
- [13:04] Finding producers in Bolivia and the organic process that happened.
- [18:01] Why the company is profitable because it is socially responsible.
- [22:14] How did Jason wind up going to law school and moving into fashion?
- [26:43] The business opportunities that exist in the Dominican Republic.
- [31:51] Jason’s predictions about the D.R. economy and business climate in the future.
- [34:39] The mistakes companies make when attempting a sustainable brand.
- [41:22] The social and PR benefits of having Virtu provide business uniforms.
- [45:09] Advice Jason would give to himself if he were starting over.
- [48:52] The response Jason’s friends and family had to his business ideas.
- [52:17] Streamlining and expanding to Haiti as the company moves ahead.
Resources & People Mentioned
- http://www.virtu.rocks/ – sustainable fashion
- Startup Chile
- Episode 5 of Crossing Borders with Devin Baptiste
- Tom’s Shoes
- U.S. Aid
- Guillaume Vaslin-Reimann – Jason’s business partner and cofounder of Virtu
- Fabrice Grinda – Entrepreneur/Investor with tech team in Dominican Republic
- Instacarro – Brazilian startup with Dominican Republic tech team