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Ethix Ventures changing the world, conscientiously

By Rod Lee

Rest assured Ethix Ventures Inc.’s name personifies the company’s corporate philosophy, even if liberties have been taken with the spelling of the key word.

Springing “from the ashes of SweatX,” a firm founded by Kevin O’Brien, Pierre Ferrari and Chris Mackin, Ethix, which has locations in Sutton (in the Manchaug Mills complex) and Seattle—and vendors across the U.S. and in Canada—is what Ethix Board Member Daniel Cardozo describes as an “ethically oriented/socially responsible business.” The reason for this is easily explained, Mr. Cardozo said. “Along with personal activism and nonprofit advocacy, business is one of the best ways to change the world. Creating a good job for someone, with living wages and healthy working conditions, can transform their lives and, ultimately, their communities.”

Ethix Ventures believes this and so do customers of Ethix like the United Nurses Associations of California, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and “our largest single-client category…labor unions, which order custom-printed merchandise for their events, rallies and members.”

Mr. Cardozo, a UC/Berkeley graduate, notorious “bleeding heart” and perennial activist/volunteer who as a company profile puts it is “surprised to find himself so strongly attached to the idea of changing the world through business,” said in his opinion the biggest mistake businesses make in trying to change the economy to make it work for everyone is “rejecting business fundamentals.”

At the same time he notes that “while it’s healthy to be skeptical about accepted business practices because they have led to massive inequality, it’s important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Many of the tried and true methods of growing a business are morally neutral. You don’t have to be a corporate fat cat to write a functional business plan or do a drip marketing campaign. In fact, I would argue that socially responsible businesses need to adhere even more strongly to proven growth strategies, because their values put them at a disadvantage in the marketplace.

“For example,” he says, “Ethix Ventures routinely declines business if potential clients do not choose to adhere to our minimum ethical standards. At Ethix, our philosophy of the triple bottom line—People, Planet, Profit—helps us maintain the right balance. Treating people and our environment well, up and down the supply chain, is essential to who we are. But if we don’t profit and grow, we won’t make the kind of impact we want to make in changing our industry and the world for the better.”

Mr. Cardozo said that the company’s founders learned a lot of tough lessons during the brief existence of SweatX. “One of these lessons,” he said, “was that selling sweatshop-free merchandise to organizations is a lot easier than selling to individuals. So whereas SweatX was focused on retail, Ethix Ventures is focused on wholesale, for the time being, through the advertising specialty industry. Ethix has much stronger fundamentals than SweatX, but we didn’t have the same startup capital. SweatX was founded with strong funding from Ben and Jerry’s Hot Fudge Venture Capital Fund, but Ethix Ventures is growing with sweat and elbow grease, and funding our growth with profit and some very small outside investments. Starting from just a few hundred dollars in revenue during our first year, we are forecasting between 2.5 to 3 million in sales in 2017. Our goal is to crack the Top 40 of promotional product distributors in the United States.”

Both Mr. Cardozo and Ruth Vecchione who is general manager of the Sutton office said the Manchaug Mills location represents the heart and soul of the company. It’s where a large percentage of Ethix’s sales are made and where every Ethix Ventures project is processed. “We are also building out our new webstore service in the mill,” Mr. Cardozo said. “Manchaug Mills is a powerful symbol for Ethix. The Fruit of the Loom brand started there. And now, of course, Fruit of the Loom produces the vast majority of its apparel outside the U.S., in subcontracted factories with codes of conduct that are virtually impossible to enforce. Operating inside the mill is a constant reminder of what we are trying to do, to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S., yes, but also to help create fairness and decency throughout the global supply chain.

“As we grow, we hope to become a force for positive change in Central Massachusetts by offering stable, good-paying employment and also by donating a share of our profits to local organizations that are protecting and providing opportunity to the most vulnerable citizens in the community.”

Ms. Vecchione, who started with Ethix part-time and has gone from bookkeeper to GM, said “I’m hoping for more growth for the company and me individually. The company philosophy trickles down to the employees.”

When Ethix becomes the first ethically-oriented company in the industry to crack the Top 40 in sales, “it will mean that we’re able to sustain a significant number of living-wage jobs here and abroad, while serving our clients with the highest quality promotions for their members, fans and events,” Mr. Cardozo said. From there, the sky is the limit, he said. “Among other things, we plan to start our own retail brand—a la American Apparel, but with a unionized workforce earning a living wage. We also plan to expand into collegiate licensed apparel, expand the availability of genuinely ʽfair-trade’ apparel and start a nationwide ethical-business fellowship program for undergraduates.”

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.