A designer handbag probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind as a means of improving the world, but Stacey Boyd, founder and CEO of the luxury e-commerce Olive treehe wants to prove that this is exactly what it can be.
The site sells the same luxury goods you’ll find NET-A-PORTER or Farfetchat the same prices, except at Olivela 20% net income goes to one of the sites more than 25 challenge partners. These partners are key to Olive’s model, not only because they give customers a way to feel good about their purchase, but also because the halo effect of “free” cause-related publicity helps make the whole thing work financially.
Boyd’s journey to founding Olivela — which just celebrated its own fifth anniversary in September 2022 — was busy. After earning her MBA and Masters in Public Policy from Harvard, she founded a number of companies in education, information systems and online resale. “My line has always used the power of the market, the power of capitalism, the power of scale, to give the world a little boost”, she said in an interview for Retail touch points.
That’s exactly what she’s trying to do now with Olivella, which has garnered endorsements from celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Mindy Kaling, Jessica Alba and Selena Gomez, as well as brands including Valentine, Ganni, Vampire’s wife and Spinelli Kilcollin.
Here’s how Boyd is harnessing the dynamics of luxury retail to “move the world”…and make that effort financially rewarding.
‘Turning shopping into a force for good’
Olivela’s origin story goes back to Dadaab in Kenya. In 2016, Boyd was attending an event with Nobel laureate and activist Malala to support the Malala Fund, which advocates for girls’ education, when she had an epiphany. “I reached into my bag to pull out my phone to take pictures of Malala and this amazing group of young women, and I realized two things,” Boyd recalled. “One is that the talent is equally distributed, but the opportunities are not. And secondly, and even more important for what Olivela is today, it was that a fraction of the cost of my bag could send one of those girls to school for a year.”
At the time, Boyd was running her previous startup School, which allows parents to consign and resell used clothes to raise money for their children’s school. “We had a scale of five schools to 35,000 and they cultivated 10,000 units a day,” Boyd said. “And I thought, God, if I can process 10,000 $5 to $10 subject, well imagine what I could do if I could process $10,000 $500 to $5,000 items — and Olivela was born.”
The site can now boast tens of thousands SKUs of more than 400 luxury brands and we just completed a soup-to-nuts website redesign and re-platforming on Shopify Plus in order to better convey the story of the cause of the brand.
The charity component of the site is very simple — 20% the net income from each sale goes to one of Olivela’s partners. That donation is referenced at every step of the sales process, from the product details page to checkout, with a direct calculation of how much money will be given to charity. By default, these donations will go to whichever charity Olivela currently supports, but customers can change this to make their donation go to any charity Olivela works with during checkout.
“We thought it was really important for everyone to have that agency,” Boyd explained. “The basic idea of Olivela is turning everyday actions like shopping into a force for goodand I think the more we can give people the ability to choose where they want their good work to go, the more scalable it will be.”
Donations that do not cost customers a penny
Olivela has three basic charitable pillars: gender equality, climate action and health and well-beingwhich Boyd said has primarily focused on food insecurity over the past few years.
The numbers are staggering. Last fall, Olivela moved on 1 million dollars a sign of support for Ukrainian refugees through Save the Children. During the pandemic, the site raised enough money for food 350,000 of children through the partnership with No Kid Hungry and Save the Children, and with other donations, they provided almost 1 million education days for children around the world.
“Whether it’s our response to COVID-19 in the US or our current work supporting refugee children in Ukraine and around the world, Olive’s support has a significant impact on the lives of the children and families we work with,” said Janti Soeripto, President and CEO of Save the Children in comments shared with Retail touch points.
All this is free for customers who buy Olivela or brands sold on the site — products cost the same as anywhere else. Which begs the question: How can a company afford to be so generous?
In short, the free marketing that Olive’s initiative partners (and the celebrities who support these charities) provide to the platform drastically reduces the brand’s marketing and customer acquisition costs. “We raised half a million dollars for St. Jude’s, for example, and they had Jennifer Aniston a few times for us,” Boyd explained. “So this ultimately reduces our overall marketing costs, allowing us to do more on the charitable giving side.”
“You can buy the same bag in several different places, but if you buy it at Olivela, you’re sending a little girl to school or planting trees or feeding kids who might not otherwise have access to food — that’s a pretty compelling selling point,” Boyd said. Especially in the world we currently live in, people are looking for ways to make the world a better place, so giving them an easy way to do it is powerful.”
This comprehensive messaging is enhanced with exclusive collaborations that help raise awareness of the Olivela platform. For example, a new campaign featuring fashion designer LaQuan Smith will be unveiled two dozen exclusive pieces, falling during five months, which customers will not be able to find anywhere else.
“Brands are a really big part of what we do,” Boyd said. “I think they’re really excited about finding ways to give the world a little boost.”