Style with a Purpose, with Hamilton Perkins, Hamilton Perkins Collection

Hamilton Perkins Collection is a certified B Corporation offering designer travel bags at an affordable price. Each bag is made from recycled plastic bottles and lined with vinyl from upcycled billboards.

Hamilton Perkins, Hamilton Perkins Collection

Hamilton Perkins, Hamilton Perkins Collection

Hamilton Perkins found his niche early with retail sales. During university, he had a sneaker business on eBay. He made and sold leather bags. After college he entered financial services, rising through the ranks at Bank of America and Merrill Lynch. Yet, he had an entrepreneurial itch. So, he enrolled in an MBA program at William & Mary while working full-time.

Not only was Hamilton working full time while pursuing his MBA, but he also had a side-hustle business creating leather bags. To make sure he was creating something that customers would want, he conducted over 1,000 customer interviews. Hamilton describes his strategy, “I spent every break, and every lunch and every happy hour with a customer throughout business school.”

One of the key learnings was that consumers wanted their purchases to have a social impact. “A lot of people want more out of the companies they support,” Hamilton explains.

Hamilton consumed a lot of water from plastic bottles. “I saw what eight plastic water bottles every day for a week looked like,” he says. Hamilton researched and found a company, Thread, that makes material out of water bottles. He found a source of used billboard vinyl. He put them together into a prototype bag.

To test interest in the bag, they set up an event at a new art gallery and invited potential customers. That evening Hamilton gave a 90-second speech. That night they received a couple dozen orders. This gave them the confidence to move to a Kickstarter campaign. They launched the campaign with a goal of raising $10,000. They hit their goal in under a week.

With the upcycled billboard liner, each bag is unique. But, Hamilton says, “We’re not making a bag that is eco-friendly and crafty. It’s eco-friendly and stylish. It starts with style, then it’s quality, and then it’s impact.” For every Hamilton Perkins Collection bag, they use material from 17 plastic bottles. The inside is lined with one square yard of upcycled billboard vinyl.

Customers have responded. “We just need to make the product,” Hamilton says. “Once we make it, it sells out.”

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Hamilton Perkins

“Everything I was trying to do was pointing me in the direction of ‘Why don’t you go start a company?’”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“A bag came to me because I needed it. I wanted to travel.” @HamiltonPerkins”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“No two bags are ever exactly the same.” @HamiltonPerkins”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“It’s cleaning up the environment. It’s also providing dignified income opportunities.” @HamiltonPerkins”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“The real business plan was, would people buy it?” @HamiltonPerkins”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“We wanted to make a product that mattered.” @HamiltonPerkins”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”“I learned a whole lot about patience in the first six months.” @HamiltonPerkins”]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:


142, Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace Middle East | Connecting Environmental Protection and Peace in the Middle East

EcoPeace Middle East uses environmental protection as a means of peacebuilding and peacebuilding as a means of environmental protection.

In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accord was signed by the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It attempted to create a framework that would eventually lead to the resolution of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. At the time, it appeared that a permanent peace in the Middle East was imminent.

In light of the coming peace, developers rushed in. “There were 50,000 new hotel rooms being proposed around the Dead Sea,” says Gidon Bromberg of EcoPeace Middle East. At the time, Gidon was a student at American University in Washington, D.C. As part of his Master’s thesis, he proposed an important question. “I asked the question…is peace going to be good for the environment?” He did not like the answer.

Gidon recognizes how interconnected the ecosystem of the Middle East is. Water, pollution and environmental degradation do not respect national boundaries. Tens of millions of people live in close proximity across the Middle East. The Jordan River Basin, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Dead Sea are eco-systems shared across borders, cultures and religions. Therefore, despite traditional enmity, regional cooperation on environmental issues is required.

Gidon proposed a first-of-its-kind gathering of environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from across the Middle East. Because of his youth and inexperience, his idea was met with cynicism. Gidon told me, “I met with about a dozen people who said to me, ‘Nice idea. Come back to us when you’re older.’”

Gidon was not willing to take no for an answer. After his initial meetings, he followed up with a letter. One of the people that received his letter called him and offered to fund the meeting. In December, 1994, Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists met at Taba, Egypt with the shared goal of sustainable development and peace across the region. This meeting was the origin of the organization known today as EcoPeace Middle East.

EcoPeace uses both a “top-down” (advocacy) approach and with a “bottom-up” (community) approach.

They maintain independent offices with a Director in each office: Munqeth Mehyar (Amman), Nader el Khateeb (Bethlehem), Gidon Bromberg (Tel Aviv). And yet, they operate as one unit. This allows for a cultural-specific approach with one shared objective: to protect their shared environmental heritage. In this way, they are able to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in the Middle East.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Gidon Bromberg

“The reason we, as entrepreneurs, have been able to succeed is, we’re constantly trying to learn.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We were actually the model of how peace could take place.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME”]

“We are making a new path on what environmental peace building is all about.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Half of our program is bottom-up. It’s community-based.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It’s a whole watershed approach.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME   #WASH“]

“The streams cross the borders. The groundwater doesn’t stop at any political barrier.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Many of our problems are cross-border problems.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

“You can only create a constituency in support of working cross-border when you speak to the self-interest of your own community.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘How else are we going to solve the critical issues that affect your child?’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We often start with school kids.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

“We have staff working in a parallel manner if each country.”

“The textbooks are co-authored by Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians together.”

“For the first time in close to 50 years, fresh water is flowing from the Sea of Galilee, to the lower Jordan River.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘The first lesson is persistence.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

“Take risks. If we continue to play by the existing games, we’re not going to see real change.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Always stay true to your mission.’ @gidonb, @EcoPeaceME“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

133, Rashmi Bharti, AVANI Society | Create Sustainable Livelihood Through an Ethical, Green Brand

AVANI is creating sustainable livelihood for women in the Himalayas.

The story of AVANI is really two stories. There is the story of the business and it is the story of their products.

The story of the business is not unlike many businesses. Rashmi Bharti and her husband found unmet needs, looked around for the assets at hand, and then applied appropriate technology to solve the problems. The twist to this story is that it takes place in the remote Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, located in the middle ranges of the Central Himalayan region.

But this is also the story of the products produced by the Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative. They create hand-crafted finished goods for conscious consumers.

Rashmi grew up in Delhi. After obtaining her degree in mathematics, she and her husband wanted their lives and their work to be aligned. Rashmi told me that when they moved to the Kumaon region, “We didn’t have a blueprint. We just followed as needs emerged.”

One immediate need that they found was that the electricity was often unavailable for long periods of time. They thought that they could improve energy access by simply moving the production and consumption of electricity closer to one another. And so, they used the abundant resources at hand to create an energy company. They noticed that there was an abundance of pine needles. Pine needles are a source of frequent wildfires in the region. AVANI started producing electricity from pine needles. They also produce solar energy.

Their energy production is a social business, not a charity. They insist that their customers pay. When poorer customers could not pay, they looked for ways to create livelihood.

Within the villages, they found that most of the men had migrated to the cities or to the military to make a living. That left a population of socially vulnerable women, such as widows, physically challenged or abandoned by their husbands. These women and girls had no source of income.

Because the middle school was a long distance from the village, girls were often not educated beyond the fifth grade. These girls were at home and were often married off, even if they were not yet eighteen years-old.

To create a livelihood for these women and girls, AVANI created an artisan-owned cooperative called “Kumaon Earthcraft Cooperative.” Kumaon Earthcraft is a social enterprise based on the traditional skills of hand-spinning and hand weaving. The women produce finished goods from hand-spun yarn, dyed with plant based pigments, produced by local farmers. Young girls became trainees, which lead to livelihood and often leads to a delay in the age of marriage.

AVANI also produces natural detergents and natural dyes which they use in their products and supply to other companies.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Rashmi Bharti

“There was always the belief that my work and life should be contiguous.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We didn’t have a blueprint. We just followed as needs emerged.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon”]

“The production and consumption of energy, if it close to each other, the reliability increases.”

“It was a model where we were insisting that people should pay.”

“If we wanted the poorest of the poor to participate, then increasing their income becomes our responsibility too.”

“We looked for traditional skills.”

“We started with 20 families and over the years this enterprises has grown to about 50 villages. It benefits about 1,500 families at the moment.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We are located seven hours from the nearest train station.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“We decided to take these school dropout girls, between the age of 15 and 17, as vocational trainees.”

“The age of marriage was delayed, sometimes eight to ten years.”

“For the last 14 years, this enterprise has been bringing income every month.”

‘[spp-tweet tweet=”The economic empowerment led to this change.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“We are addressing the entire cycle from fiber to fabric.”

“We want to develop a mountain brand – an acknowledgement for local weavers.”

“Our job is to identify local skills available and to create product lines that cater to them.”

“We are creating completely natural products that are hand knitted.”

“We were very conscious that the dies we use should not cause soil and water pollution.”

“We are making colorings from local plants and providing livelihood to people.”

“We are the only company I know of who is making pure bees wax crayons with natural colorants.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Follow your dream.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Be willing to work hard.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“The results don’t come very soon.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We as urban people need to learn how to slow down.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“Our job is to learn how to function in a way which is in harmony with where we are working.”

“It’s not about decreasing consumption, but being very conscious of how much and what we buy.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘People want natural, sustainable and cheap. It doesn’t work.’ Rashmi Bharti, @Avanikumaon“]

“When we buy, we really must look at where it is coming from, and look for people who are working in an environmentally sustainable way.”

“We as consumers should leave a very small footprint on this earth. Then only have we lived well.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

131, Paul Rice, Fair Trade USA | Vote with Your Dollars

Fair Trade USA fights poverty by matching conscious consumers with responsible companies.

Increasingly, consumers are seeking out fair trade products. Almost 60% of US consumers are aware of the Fair Trade Certified label. Back in August when we spoke, Paul Rice told me, “I think it’s very empowering for people to realize that they can only vote for president once every four years, but they can vote for a better world with their shopping dollars, every single day.”

Paul knew from a young age that he wanted to work in the social justice movement. He studied agricultural development and sustainability. When he graduated from college, he went to Nicaragua for what he thought would be a one-year visit. He ended up staying for eleven years. While he was there, he worked in agricultural development projects, many of them aimed at lifting farmers out of poverty. Paul told me, “We were just not effective at helping farmers in the communities to develop their own capacity to solve their own problems.”

In 1990, Paul first heard about “fair traders” in Europe. That summer, Paul organized Nicaragua’s first fair trade co-op. In their first year, twenty farmers joined the co-op. They produced one shipping container of coffee for sale. The farmers sold their coffee to Equal Exchange in Boston, for $1.20 per pound. At the time, the local price for coffee was $0.10 per pound.

Over the next four years, Paul grew the co-op to 3,000 families. They exported over 100 containers of fair trade coffee on an annual basis. The farm families used the profits to engage in social, environmental and economic development. They dug wells, built schools and ran health programs. They trained women to be entrepreneurs. They started an organic certification program. Besides the obvious benefits to fair trade, there were less visual impacts as well, such as hope, pride and dignity. All of these benefits were thanks to the model of direct and equitable trade.

After four years, Paul realized that, while the fair trade movement was going well in Europe, it was still in a nascent state in the United States. “I just realized that fair trade was a model that needed to extend to the US,” he said.

He returned to the US, where he enrolled in an MBA program. “I knew how to organize farmers up in the hills,” Paul told me, “but I didn’t know how to organize the US business community.”

Today, Fair Trade USA is the leading independent certifier of fair trade products in the US. They work with farmers and workers in 80 countries across more than 30 product categories. These producers have earned more than $44 Million in premiums. Over 1,000 US Brands carry fair trade certified products.

Fair Trade USA has recently started certifying new product lines such as fish, clothing and household goods. While they have traditionally worked with producers across the global south, they have plans to begin certifying products produced in the United States.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Paul Rice

“I decided at the age of 17 that I wanted to dedicate my life to social justice.”

“So much of the international aid that goes out just creates dependency on aid.”

“I heard about these crazy people in Europe who called themselves fair traders.”

“We were getting farmers more than ten times more money than they would have.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It sparked a movement.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA”]

“They were learning how to be exporters and truckers and bankers.”

“The market it quite possibly the most powerful force for change that we could hope to have.”

“I pivoted from being an anti-capitalist to embracing social enterprise.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I was a man on a mission.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“People, planet and profit – they can go together.”

“There was an elegant link between quality of life for the grower and quality of product.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘All of us learned about fairness on the playground.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“Consumers are increasingly asking, where’s my food coming from?”

“The research indicates that anywhere between thirty and fifty percent of shoppers today are taking these values into account when they go to the store.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Social responsibility is good business.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“Corporate leaders are realizing that their long-term success, their long-term profitability and their long-term reputation as companies, are intimately connected to their supply chains.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘There are no more secrets in the global supply chain.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“Our work in the field, fundamentally, is auditing and certification.”

“We have a very rigorous standard, a 300-point checklist of social, labor and environmental criteria that all of our farmers have to meet.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Fair trade guarantees more money back to the farmer.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“We will start to certify farms here in the United States.”

“It is absolutely unconscionable that we would dedicate ourselves to fighting poverty and promoting sustainability around the world, but ignore the problem that is right here in our own back yard.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I believe that saving the planet and saving the species is task number one.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“I believe the business community and the conscious consumer movement are probably the most powerful and scalable way to make a difference.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘The concept of social entrepreneurship, for most people is relatively new.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“The question is not where you will be most effective. The question is, where will you be happiest? Where is your passion? Because this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘This next generation of social entrepreneurs has the opportunity to save us all.’ Paul Rice, @FairTradeUSA“]

“It may sound crazy that you can change the world with a cup of coffee or a bar of chocolate, but it’s true.”

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

Fair Trade USA:

090, Stacy Flynn, Evrnu | Sustainable Fashion Innovation

If you think about sustainable fashion, conscious consumption or the circular economy, you’ll want to meet Stacy Flynn of Evrnu. Evrnu collects cotton garment waste and turns it into new fiber for premium garments.

Stacy knows the textile and apparel industry. As an industry insider with such companies as DuPont, Target and Eddie Bauer, she was responsible for millions if not billions of yards of fabric being produced. However, on a 2010 trip to China, Stacy had a chance to see first-hand the kind of environmental degradation that textile production was creating. She told me “I was shocked awake.” Stacy made a decision to create innovations for sustainable fashion. She felt that she either had to take responsibility for none of the environmental impact, or all of it. This heartfelt decision eventually led to the founding of Evrnu.

In this compelling interview, Stacy tells the story of how Evrnu went from “three beakers and a dream,” to “what looked like dental floss” to a prototype of Levi 511 jeans. She talks about the struggles of inventing a new industry, while dealing with massive corporations and trying to fund new inventions. Stacy tells the unvarnished truth about what it’s like to liquidate your retirement, max out your credit cards and to be on the cusp of an industry revolution.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Stacy Flynn

“30% of all clothing in the world is made from cotton.”

“[It takes] 700 gallons of water to cultivate enough cotton to make a t-shirt.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘In the United States alone we dispose of over 14 million tons of garment waste’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Right now consumers are throwing 80% of all textiles and apparel directly into landfills.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

“When they see a garment with an Evrnu logo in it…they will know that it’s made from old clothing and that it’s garment recyclable.”

“That’s really the challenge: how do we leverage the waste in our local communities to create new fiber and create good jobs?”

“What really caused the catalyst for this innovation was a trip to China that I took in 2010.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘It was shocking to me how devastating the environmental conditions were.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I was shocked awake.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

“I ended up counting how many millions of yards of fabric…or billions, I had created up to that point. And all of a sudden I became linked to the cause of the problem.”

“I got to the point where, either you take responsibility for all of it, or you take responsibility for none of it.”

“I took those three beakers and my dream and I took them into major retailers.”

“When you’re a social entrepreneur, you cannot see failure. All you see is the path that must happen. And it’s not just for me and my business. It’s for everyone on the planet.”

“I liquidated my retirement fund, we maxed out both of our credit cards to get to what looks like dental floss.”

“We took the first fiber and we turned it into yarn. We dyed the yarn by hand. We wove the fabric by hand. And we presented hand-loomed salvaged denim to Levi’s.”

“I was in the global top 5 of the green challenge in Amsterdam. It was the first time a textile or apparel concept had made it that far.”

“Our technology specializes in taking garment waste, breaking it down and making fiber.”

“Even with all of its imperfections, it was like a baby has just been born and it’s in the form of twins: one 511 for them and one 511 for us.”

“We’re able to move really fast. That’s one benefit a startup has.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We were able to create the fabric of the future in less than three months.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

“We need to protect air, water and soil at meta levels. That’s a non-negotiable. It’s game over if we don’t do that.”

“20% of global water contamination comes out of the textile industry.”

“The challenge is, how do we double our capacity over the next ten years, using only the resources at the current capacity today?”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘I want to be the first billion dollar social purpose corporation.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

“Business is the single largest catalyst for positive environmental and human change on the planet.”

“There are a million reasons why you shouldn’t do something in the world. But a social entrepreneur only needs one reason why they should.”

“The social entrepreneur is not looking for the easy route because they’re not working for themselves. They’re working for everyone.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Never be afraid to risk everything to see it through.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘In order to change the system, customers have to care.’ @stacyeflynn of @futureofapparel“]

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

Programming Note

One piece of consistent feedback that we have received from listeners of Social Entrepreneur is that, while listeners love these stories, they have a hard time keeping up with three episodes per week. As one listener told me, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” So, we’ve made the decision to move Social Entrepreneur to a weekly podcast with new episodes every Monday, starting this week.

Culture Shift Learning Academy

Later in June we will be launching a Beta version of Culture Shift Learning Academy, a comprehensive system to help you flesh out your social impact idea and start achieving it.

Enrollment isn’t open yet, but you can join the waiting list with other changemakers. Just go to and enter your email address. As a thank you, I’ll send you the Social Entrepreneur Startup Readiness Assessment. This useful tool is designed to help you to determine where you are on your startup journey and to successfully focus your development efforts.

030, Jeffrey Hollender, Sustain Natural | A Systems Thinking Approach to Greater Good

If Jeffrey Hollender’s name is familiar to you, it would not be surprising. As the cofounder of Seventh Generation, the author of a half dozen books, and a frequent speaker on using business to do good in the world, he’s a natural fit for a conversation with Social Entrepreneur. But he did not come on the podcast to talk about his past accomplishments. He’s busy taking a systemic approach to his latest business Sustain Natural.

Through Sustain, Jeffrey is connecting the dots between condoms, hunger, health care, poverty, and climate change. Yes, that’s right. I said condoms…and lubricants and wipes. All of which are fair trade, organic and sustainably produced. And, Sustain donates 10% of their profits to help poorer women access health care such as STD testing and breast examinations.

In this interview, Jeffrey talks about the importance of systems thinking in order to take on some of our most pressing problems. He describes the experience of being forced out of the company that he had built and he gives solid advice from his lessons learned.

Key quotes from the interview:

[spp-tweet tweet=”Much of what we consider natural, sustainable products, are less bad rather than good. @JeffHollender”]

“My insight is that we need to move to what I call net-positive businesses: businesses that are providing a net positive effect on the planet.”

“If you were going to hire an employee, you would ask the employee for three references and you call up these people and you ask them what it was like to have this person working for you. Well, we don’t do that when it comes to investors.”

“If we taught first grade children systems thinking, so that they could anticipate the unintended consequences of their actions, that might the most important thing we could do to create a more just, equitable and happy world.”

“It is not easy to be an entrepreneur. You will run across no shortage of challenges and roadblocks. And it is really, really, really important that you choose to do something that you are deeply passionate and committed to. Otherwise there are too many reasons for you to walk away and give up.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”You really have to think, does this business idea help you become the person you want to be? @JeffHollender”]

Books by Jeffrey Hollender:


030, Jeffrey Hollender, Sustain Natural | A Systems Thinking Approach to Greater Good

023, Shanil Samarakoon, Empower Projects| Empowerment as a Community Development Tool

Early in the morning of December 26, 2004, an underwater earthquake sent a massive tsunamis along the countries bordering the Indian Ocean, killing 230,000 people in 14 countries. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. We have talked about this tsunami before, in episode 11 with Gayatri Datar of EarthEnable. In this episode of Social Entrepreneur, Shanil Samarakoon of Empower Projects relates his story of the same tsunami, but in this case, from the perspective of his native Sri Lanka where tens of thousands were killed.

Empower Projects uses an asset-based community development approach. You may have heard this mentioned in the interview with Sasha Fisher of Spark MicroGrants. What is interesting about Empower Projects is that they make a five-year commitment to a community before they begin. This allows them to patiently work through the thorny issues of development. They train community facilitators who conduct a vision workshop, gathering the aspirations of the local community. They help the local villages to create inclusive leadership teams, including women. And they provide access to resources such as microfinance and sustainable technologies. In many cases, these villages are leapfrogging older technologies into the 21st century.


023, Shanil Samarakoon, Empower Projects| Empowerment as a Community Development Tool