Mike and Kory left their 9 to 5 behind to bring about change for Canadian children in need of a meal. Their ethical apparel line, Tenfed, provides 10 meals with every item sold, working alongside their charity partner, Kids Against Hunger Canada. Their collection of shirts, snapbacks, and signature Canadian toque, have been making some serious waves in Canada, as both a stylish line and a social purpose fashion company.
Not only is Tenfed positively affecting youth throughout Canada, they are also providing meals to children in developing countries such as Haiti.
Below is a Q&A with Kory McLaughlin and Mike Wallis, co-founders of Tenfed.
Tenfed has been a journey for just about a year and half now. Tell us a little about this journey and how it’s brought Tenfed to where it is today!
Yes – it has been quite the journey so far. The idea for Tenfed actually originated from our first company called Passion12, where we were partnering with a different charity each month to help raise awareness and funds for each cause – so really, this journey began about 3 years ago. When we started our first company, we had a goal of helping as many people as we possibly could. We realized very quickly that switching from charity to charity each month was not a sustainable business model and we made the decision to focus on one cause – to help feed as many hungry children as possible through the help of our charitable partner, Kids Against Hunger Canada.
Since we made the decision to focus on one cause, we’ve been able to build our brand and identity around it. Our giveback is now very tangible – it’s not just a percentage of profit or revenue – we donate the exact amount ($3.00) that it takes to provide 10 meals through our charity partner. This not only allows us to track and gauge the impact that we’re making with Tenfed, but it also allows for us to set goals for how many meals we’re able to provide and get our customers and retailers on board to help us reach these goals. Since launching Tenfed 18 months ago, we’ve been able to help provide more than 45,000 meals to hungry children around the globe.
We’ve been selling our brand mainly online and we’re also now into over a dozen retail stores in Canada. We also participate in as many markets and events as we’re able to in order to help spread awareness about our brand and get people talking about us.
When we first started out, we were reaching out to everyone we could think of to see who’d be willing to help us out. Now in the last 6 months or so, we find that we have people reaching out to us because they like what we’re doing and they want to help out and be a part of it. It’s so nice to see that people are willing to just help out of the goodness of their heart.
How did you come across partnering with Kids Against Hunger Canada?
When we were running Passion12, we were cold calling a lot of different charities to see who would be interested in working with us. When we reached out to Kids Against Hunger Canada, there was an immediate connection between us. They loved what we were doing and we loved what they were doing – so we made an agreement to create an exclusive partnership with them and restructure our brand around feeding hungry children. That’s how the idea for Tenfed was born.
One really cool part about KAH Canada is that they distribute approximately 1/3 of the meals locally here in Canada – the food goes to shelters, food banks and to the Reserves up in the northern part of the country. The other 2/3 of the food gets shipped to developing countries where children are actually dying of hunger and malnutrition related diseases.
Kids Against Hunger Canada is a relatively small organization. They started in 1999 and have packaged and shipped out almost 1.5 million meals since then. Our goal is to help them grow into a massive organization that is able to help millions of people every year.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you two as fully committed social entrepreneurs, running Tenfed full time?
The biggest challenge for us so far has been cash flow. Running and growing a business on a tight budget is definitely a challenge – every decision has to be made with extreme caution. Tenfed has been all self-funded so far; every dollar that we make from Tenfed gets invested right back into the company. We’ve had to build organically, as we simply don’t have the capital to invest into any large-scale marketing or big promotions.
Personally, we’ve been going without a steady income for the past 3 years. Before we started our business, Kory ran his own landscaping company and I worked in the corporate world for TD Bank –
We’ve had to make sacrifices in our own personal lives and really cut down to the bare essentials. We know that the results will be there and this will be a profitable business so we can make a living from it, but we have to remain patient – we realize that building a clothing brand from the ground up doesn’t happen overnight, or even over a year or two for that matter.
Your pricing is very affordable and the quality of your apparel line is incredible, crafted from bamboo and organic cotton. How are you able to make your line so economical while being so environmentally friendly?
We’re actually moving away from the bamboo and organic cotton for our clothing. When we first started out, making everything locally here in Canada was very important to us. After a year and a half in the industry, we are now realizing that it’s very challenging to make everything locally and still be profitable. We are currently looking into other ethical options for our production overseas to help bring our costs down and improve our margins. This will allow us to be more profitable and will allow for us to grow, which will ultimately lead to more hungry children being fed as a result.
Before we line up any of our production overseas, our top priority is to dig in thoroughly and make sure that the factory conditions are up to standard and workers are treated fairly. We can’t run a company that helps feed hungry children where our production methods are unethical.
Our long-term goal is to set up our clothing production in the countries where we’re actually helping feed kids – this way, not only are we helping feed people who really need it, but we’re also contributing to creating a sustainable community where workers can make a living under fair working conditions.
You’re planning to do an exciting mission trip later this year. Can you give us any details at the moment?
We were actually planning on doing a mission trip to Haiti with Kids Against Hunger Canada last year, but the trip had to be called off because it was not safe to travel within the country. However, we’ve got another one planned for the fall where we’ll going to Haiti with KAH Canada to help distribute food to the various villages throughout the country where children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We plan on documenting the experience with a video crew – we feel that this will really help bring our story to life. Doing what we do here is one thing, but to go over there and meet some of the children that we’re helping will be a life-changing experience.