What inspired you to start an organic underwear company?
I like to say that I started an organic Pima underwear company – Pima actually being even more unusual and rare than organic but we’ll talk more about that later. I hope the story of Marc Skid inspires other people to hold onto their dreams and ideas and make them a reality when the time to do so is right. There are two key points of inspiration for the brand. The idea behind Marc Skid came to me more than 25 years ago. I was drinking a few beers and chatting with a good buddy. We started talking about underwear because he had a pair of high-end underwear on the coffee table. Both of us got a kick out of observing that all an underwear company needed to do to sell its product is put a “fly bod” on its packaging and roll with it.
More than any other apparel item, underwear seemed to embrace this empty, superficial, vanity-driven marketing approach.
That’s when the idea came to us that all brands – not just underwear –should possess the same qualities as people we admire, those qualities being a sense of humor, a strong character, and a goal of living a purposeful life. My Dad often taught little lessons with quotes. One of his more frequent quotes was, “Everybody would be beautiful if they could be.” Yes, it is true that we all aspire to a better self. Physical beauty might be one aspiration – but there are so many more important aspirations. One of the main desires of Marc Skid was to make those aspirations immediately actionable. When you buy a pair of Marc Skid underwear, you are making an eco-friendly choice – that’s an action. When you decide which charity to donate $4 to – that’s an action that can impact the world.
The other key inspiration for me came from being blessed to see great examples in my life about the responsibility of the individual to give back to the greater world. The closest examples were my parents and Sister Laurinda – each of whom now has a Marc Skid underwear style named after them. My parents have been, and are to this day, very involved in my hometown. Each of my parents has served my hometown community in elected offices and as volunteers in programs bettering the community. Sister Laurinda, my Mom’s childhood best friend, became a nun, and started a mission in Honduras. I saw her good works in action when I joined her in doing mission work in Honduras. To this day, nothing has impacted me more than my mission trips. So, in 2015, when my 25 year career in the beer business ended, I had no doubt what I wanted to do next!
Would you tell me about the product line and what each color represents?
When I wrote the business plan in 2015, the first thing I wrote was the brand’s call to action: Make your Marc on the World. It is the ethos of the brand and drove me to want to do more in every phase to bring the brand to fruition. This isn’t about me, Dan Barry, wanting to Make his Marc on the World but, rather, the purchaser. What causes are important to the purchaser? Thus, when writing the business plan, I conducted a survey of millennials, my presumed target market, to learn what was important to them. That’s how I came up with the three cause initiatives: Feed, Save, and Cure the World. In addition, the survey helped me make decisions on style, color, and size offerings. You can find a summary of key points discovered by the survey in our website’s FAQ section here.
As a self-financed start-up, many decisions are limited by financial and opportunity constraints. In production, there are often minimum quantities for fabric and even color. All those things led me to having colors represent each initiative: green undies support the cause of feeding the hungry (Feed the World), blue undies support the desire to help environmental causes (Save the World), and red undies impact health-related issues (Cure the World). In honor of my Dad, who has always been a “tighty whitey man,” we also have white underwear and purchasers of white undies may choose any of the three initiatives.
Our giving back model is different than most in that it is clear and transparent about the money given on behalf of the customer. Once a customer decides whether he or she wants to Feed, Save, or Cure the World, that customer then decides which of the nine 4-star charity partners, three of them for each initiative, will receive a $4 donation from the customer’s purchase. To maximize our efforts to make a difference, we believe that money in the hands of the expert charities is the most efficient and effective way to Make our Marc on the World.
What is the difference between organic Pima cotton and regular cotton?
Let’s first talk about regular, conventional cotton. It is loved by all for its wonderful characteristics.
Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. It is the largest non-food crop in the world. Unfortunately, it is widely considered the most environmentally unfriendly crop.
Conventional cotton growing relies heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides that threaten soil and water quality and endanger ecological balance as well as the health of farm workers and those living nearby. Here at Marc Skid, we exclusively use organic Pima cotton. Organically grown tells you that it was grown in an eco-friendly manner you can value and trust. Our organic cotton underwear is sourced from family farms that shun GMO’s and toxic pesticides in favor of environmentally sound techniques like crop rotation, intercropping, hand or mechanical weeding, mulches and the use of beneficial insects that control harmful insects.
Most experts will tell you that regular cotton and organically grown cotton are roughly equal as far as quality and comfort. What makes Marc Skid stand out is that we exclusively use organic Pima cotton. Often called “the cashmere of cotton,” Pima is the generic term for cotton boasting extra-long fibers. Ordinary cotton fibers are between ½” to ¾” inches in length. Pima is a luxuriously long 1 3/8 inches in length. As is true of any natural fiber, the longer and smoother the cotton fiber, the softer. Peruvian Pima cotton has special softness, durability, and resistance to pilling. Pima cotton alone makes up less than 2% of the world’s cotton, and Organic Pima is even rarer. Indeed, Organic Pima cotton, the world’s very best, makes up only 0.0005% of the world’s cotton supply – and only this most exclusively fine cotton is used to make Marc Skid underwear!
The Marc Skid waistband in the underwear is made from a recycled water bottle. How did you come up with that concept and why?
Although I’d love to take credit for such a cool concept, that credit belongs to REPREVE®. The practice has been around awhile and isn’t magic.
Many people may not know this but water bottles are made of polyester. Thus, those discarded water bottles can be recovered and upcycled into textile polyester.
There is absolutely no difference between REPREVE® and virgin polyester made from scratch. The recovery and upcycling process is not inexpensive and is one which many companies find cost-prohibitive. Although expensive for us, it is the right thing to do because of the problems caused by just discarding the plastic.
85% of plastic waste, which can take from 500 to 1,000 years to decompose, goes to landfills.
By upcycling it into waistbands, we make positive use of material that would otherwise be landfill bound. As far as we are concerned, no virgin polyester should be made until every water bottle has been upcycled.
What charities do you partner with?
At launch, all our charity partners were ranked 4-star – the highest possible ranking – by Charity Navigator, America’s premier charity evaluator. For Save the World, we have partnered with Amazon Conservation Association, Carbon Fund and Water.org. For Feed the World, we have partnered with Action Against Hunger, feedONE and The Hunger Project. For Cure the World, we have partnered with Catholic Medical Mission Board, Concern Foundation, and Project C.U.R.E. If you sign up for our newsletter, I’ll send $1 on your behalf to Sister Laurinda to help with the cost of the lifesaving clinic she recently renovated.
Tell us about the cheeky name?
During that same conversation with my buddy about all things underwear, we discovered that when we were children, both our mothers fretted about embarrassment due to the condition of our undies, i.e., family doctor visits. The cheeky name is a fictional fashionista evolved from our mothers’ concerns. During my mission work, I noticed that no matter how tough people had it, laughter was always present. Mark Twain famously said, “Humanity has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” The true purpose of the name is to remind the wearer of the great gift of laughter. I feel that if just once the wearer going through his or her morning routine smiles and is reminded of this gift, the name will have served its purpose.
What has been your biggest struggle so far in starting your social impact brand?
I would say the fact that I am self-financed with a modest marketing budget. Since I’m an e-commerce only brand, I must create brand awareness primarily through social media. This is a landscape with many options and one that is constantly changing. Additionally, since I’m not myself a millennial, I am constantly educating myself about social media.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs who want to start a social impact brand?
My first comment would not be advice but a “thank you” to anyone who wants to Make a Marc on the World.
Most importantly, my advice is to be inspired every day by your purpose as a brand. Believe me, in your journey there will be plenty of ups and downs. You will need the energy of your purpose. For me, I focus on the impact that my brand could make if successful. To put it in simple terms, this is what one pair of undies and a $4 donation can do to Save, Feed, and Cure the World: plant four trees, feed a child in the developing world for twelve days, vaccinate two children, or provide safe drinking water for an individual for seven years.
We are a brand new start-up but for a second, let’s let our optimism run wild and say we sold 2.5 million pairs of underwear! That would be $10 million given to our wonderful charity partners. $10 million would plant 10 million trees, provide 30 million days of full meals to children, vaccinate 5 million children, or provide seven years of safe drinking water for 2.5 million people.
From a pure business advice standpoint, I hate to profess a common adage, repeated to all, but I have found it is indeed true that whatever your timeline from concept to launch is, double it!
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