To celebrate the release of their Fall 2012 line, we asked The Vanity Project co-founders and NYC natives Jason Sochol and Omri Bojko everything you’d want to ask two successful social entrepreneurs. TVP works with non-profit organizations to design high-end graphic shirts and hoodies based on their logos, and 51% of the proceeds from every sale are donated back to the cause. Wow! Find out what makes Jason & Omri tick:
The Vanity Project co-founders Jason Sochol & Omri Bojko
Roozt: Where do you usually find yourself around noon on a Sunday?
Jason: Gearing up to watch the Ravens.
Omri: Biking to one of New York’s many street festivals, like Smorgasburd Flea Food Market in Brooklyn.
Roozt: What are the top 5 most played songs on your iTunes right now?
Jason: “My Passion” by Akcent, “Power Happy” by Con Bro Chill, “Lights” (Bassnectar remix) by Ellie Goulding, “Black Velvet” by Ferry Corsten, “Come With Me” (Jidax Remix) by Steve Aoki.
Omri: I’m more of a Pandora guy so I’ll give my top 5 artists—Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, Florence + The Machine, Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, The Beatles.
Roozt: What are you most passionate about and why?
Jason: I want to create natural, convenient systems to make our society more sustainable. Whether it’s recycling or using more environmentally-friendly sources of energy, there are many opportunities to make small, seamless changes that can have a huge impact. Trying to change human nature is a losing battle—we need to work with human nature and steer its natural impulses toward doing good. TVP is an example of this. Our desire to look good should not be shamed. Rather, we should harness that desire to do great things, like helping those in need.
Omri: I’d say I’m most passionate about two things. The first is just to create things. It’s unbelievably rewarding…the day after one of our first events in Chicago I saw a person in my neighborhood wearing a shirt of ours. That alone put a huge smile on my face and justified every risk we took in starting TVP. The second thing is creating systems that improve society through increased efficiency. JFK said something to the effect of “there is no problem that mankind cannot solve.” I truly believe that and am committed to being a part of the solution.
Roozt: Who inspires you the most?
Jason: Lincoln, Washington, John Lennon, Muhammad Ali….and Russell Crowe in Gladiator. People who fought against the status quo and held on to a near impossible vision of the future.
Omri: People being true to themselves and going against the grain when it is so much easier to just go with the crowd. Whether it’s a kid standing up for another on the playground or a revolutionary leading a struggle against oppression, being true to yourself is the one thing all great leaders have in common.
Roozt: What’s the story behind starting your company?
Jason: It’s hard to say when the story starts, but if I had to pinpoint it, it was the day Omri and I were sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago, and he turned to me and said: “What if we put really cool charity logos on soft vintage tees?” Intrigued, I responded: “Go on…” If you did a CAT scan at that exact moment I’d bet you’d see something like cerebral fireworks exploding all over the place.
Omri: Jason and I were both working in finance in Chicago. We felt unfulfilled with our jobs and began to volunteer with local non-profits. One thing we noticed was how much of a burden doing T-shirts was on their already strained resources; we also noticed (as everyone else does) how bad the shirts produced for charitable events are. At the same time, I found myself becoming increasingly disenchanted with the retail graphic clothing market. I’d walk into any major retailer or even small boutique and couldn’t find anything that adequately expressed anything about me. Why would you wear something that said “Varsity Soccer Team 1975″ when you were not on the soccer team or alive in 1975? So we looked at the market from both angles.
Jason: We started out calling a few charities to gauge their interest. Immediately they were intrigued—”Wait, so you’re going to pay for them, produce them, sell them, and send us checks? And there won’t be unsold boxes of shirts in our offices anymore? And these are actually going to look cool and be good quality? What’s the catch?” We sold our first round of shirts in 2011; in 2012 we held our official launch at New York Fashion Week. It was a huge success, and from then on we began raising capital, securing office space, establishing relationships with printers and suppliers, reaching out to retailers, and engaging new non-profits. Now we’re ready to scale.
Roozt: Why are you committed to giving back through business?
Jason: I think corporate social responsibility is very important—and logical—given businesses only exist because of their consumers. It’s unfortunate that there’s so much animosity out there right now between businesses and society. We exist because of our consumers. We know that. We all have a lot to be thankful for, and a great way to do that if you’re a business owner is to give back—that could be personally, or it could be baked into every transaction, like our apparel at TVP.
Omri: In my mind this is just the next evolution of our society and economy. I really don’t like the traditional non-profit model of just asking people for money. Once I started volunteering, I thought to myself that there has to be a better way to engage people and get them invested in a cause. I’m also a big believer in capitalism and its ability to make our world a better place, when harnessed correctly. We can afford to incorporate a way to give back into our business model—this is also something that consumers do and should demand. Unchecked consumerism got us to a bad point as a country and we believe conscious consumerism should and will be the next paradigm.
Roozt: Any wise words for aspiring social entrepreneurs out there?
Omri: The first thing I would tell anyone starting any business is to prove your concept on a small scale, see if people buy into your idea and it’s economically feasible. After that (and I know this sounds like a huge cliche) it’s just to persevere. Along the way at literally every step there are people who tell you that you cannot get it done, especially when it comes to social enterprise, which by definition isn’t solely profit driven—people will tell you it’s crazy and you can’t do it. Screw that! Keep trying.
Jason: One of our partner charities has a great slogan that comes to mind: “Lead The Fight.” No one else is going to. Don’t look around for someone to do it for you. If you know how, or see the way, then do it. Don’t make any excuses or feel bad for yourself. Somebody somewhere has it way worse. Be thankful for the opportunity and honored to play this role.
Omri: If you start 10 endeavors and 9 of them fail but one succeeds you are a successful business person. Go out there, take chances. What’s the worst that can happen?
Thanks, Jason & Omri! Two inspiring & inspired dudes. Check out TVP’s gorgeous new Fall 2012 line here.