Lauren Bush Lauren Helps FEED the World
by Blake Mycoskie
Lauren and I met in 2007 at a dinner our mutual friend Summer Rayne Oakes hosted in the Hamptons. It happened to be a mix of different designers, architects, and people doing things with an environmental or social purpose. Lauren and I instantly connected with TOMS and FEED breathing the same message. And so began the conversations about manufacturing, warehousing, design, collaboration, life, and so much more. It was exciting to compare notes and see what TOMS could be doing differently based on her experiences with FEED.
We’ve been fortunate to remain friends over the years, sharing our biggest challenges and celebrating our biggest successes—even partnering on a TOMS x FEED shoe earlier this year, which provided new shoes and meals to children around the world. It was a perfect collaboration because of the simplicity of our brands and what we do. You buy a pair of TOMS or a FEED product, and someone is helped—we provide them with pair of shoes or meals for a whole year, or we help with problems like sight restoration.
It’s great to have a close friend in this space, showing the world that business and philanthropy don’t have to be separate and can work together hand in hand. I feel so honored to call her a friend and a philanthropic entrepreneur I can really learn from every day.
Blake Mycoskie: Last year at Aspen Fashion Week you were a part of a panel of designers who had adopted philanthropy into their business model. How has your past participation in Aspen Fashion Week inspired you?
Lauren Bush Lauren: Aspen Fashion Week has been a really great thing for FEED to be a part of for the last four years and, compared to other Fashion Weeks, it’s definitely more on the outdoorsy side. But for my team, it’s been our unofficial corporate retreat every year, which has been really fun. We ski and hang out, and also participate in all the Aspen Fashion Week events. This past year we met the Krochet Kids guys, which was also inspiring.
BM: What are you working on right now?
LBL: We are in our fifth year, and it’s been an exciting one for us. We’ve done a lot of cool initiatives outside of just products. We just did a Run 10 FEED 10 with Women’s Health magazine—10K races in 11 cities around the country to raise money for hunger. One of our newer initiatives is not only to focus on hunger abroad, but to really focus on hunger in America as well.
BM: I think that so many people don’t see a lot of poverty firsthand in America, but it definitely exists and it’s deep. What areas are you focusing on and what’s the approach?
LBL: Hunger in America is so different from hunger abroad, and it is quite shocking. Like you said, it’s not something that we’re confronted with, but 49 million Americans are food-insecure, which means at some point during the week, month, or year, they rely on food assistance. One in five children are living in food-insecure households, so it’s a massive issue in our own country. In America there is a bit more of a safety net that obviously doesn’t exist in so many countries, but there’s such a need.
BM: And whom do you partner with in the States?
LBL: The biggest player is Feeding America. And there’s a conglomerate of food banks and soup kitchens. So even City Harvest, which is great and operates in New York, is an affiliate of Feeding America. Share Our Strength is more on the lobbying side but we’re supportive of them as well.
BM: What new products have you launched this year and what can we look forward to seeing in the future?
LBL: We did a partnership with your great company, TOMS shoes, which went really well and was so cool because you give shoes and meals. We also did a partnership with DKNY—a cool “city survivor” collection. [We recently added] a diaper bag, which is something a lot of FEED customers have been asking for. We’re also coming out with a lot of fun stuff for the holidays, things made with artisan groups in Haiti and Kenya. Whenever we can, we like to work with artisan groups and then have the money go back to support hunger programs within that country.
BM: I just got married a month ago and my wife had the bridal FEED bag. When did that come out?
LBL: Yay! That came out just this spring. During my whole process of getting married last year I thought, you know, every bride is toting around a million papers and binders and things, why not make a special lacy bridal bag for them?
BM: Where do you see FEED Projects’ model going? Is it going to be more programs like the one you launched this year with the running program or are you going to continue focusing on bags, or are there going to be other products beside the bags?
LBL: What’s unique about FEED and TOMS is that the money and awareness we’re raising for these causes is really through the sale of consumer products, although we have these side initiatives like the run and we’ve done this million-meal concert and other events that aren’t product-driven, the real focus and where we spend most of our time really is in product development. So we will be continuing down that path and growing that. And I do think FEED, beyond bags and accessories, which is our stronghold right now, lends itself so well to different product categories, which we’ll explore as we go. But for me, just growing it authentically and organically, as we have, is important.
BM: What was the pivotal moment when you realized that not only is FEED Projects an idea, but also that it could be sustainable?
LBL: I thought of the idea when I was studying abroad in Australia. I had just gone to the grocery store and was carrying a reusable bag, and I was thinking I’d just gone on a trip to Cambodia with the World Food Programme (WFP). I was walking back from the beach and it just occurred to me like, Gosh! Why not create a reusable bag that’s cool-looking, that people want to carry around, that they can buy for their friends and family, and that also feeds a child in school for a year? I intended to just give World Food Programme my idea and have it sell the bag, but after amazon.com placed its first order, WFP said, for legal reasons, it couldn’t sell the bag. So we started a separate company, FEED Projects, just to fulfill that first order. Every other step of the way has been an awesome surprise and a great evolution for us.
BM: How do you stay motivated when FEED is now an established brand? Hunger is such a huge problem. You’re not going to solve it, no one’s going to solve it in our lifetime, so how do you stay motivated creatively and also when you’re dealing with something that is as big as hunger?
LBL: Traveling gets exhausting, but it is so important for me to take at least one or two trips a year to go see the programs we’re supporting in action, so that’s obviously one huge way to stay motivated. Honduras was the last trip; I’m planning to go back to Africa next year. I’m very engaged in the day-to-day, so it’s still that exciting process of problem solving and working with partners, and figuring out how best to craft a program that’s going to be good for the FEED brand and mission. And I still love designing, so I work a lot with artisan groups. No two days are the same, so it keeps me on my toes.
BM: My last trip in the field was in Honduras as well. Whom do you work with there?
LBL: The World Food Programme. We went and visited schools and different places where it’s distributing food and we took our partner Clarins with us. It’s beautiful but it’s so dangerous there, though. Did you get that?
BM: It was the first trip I’ve been on with pretty intense security and I was questioning it; I thought it was overkill, and then, when I got home, everyone told me how dangerous it is.
LBL: We got this brief when we arrived from the UN and they were like, if you leave your hotel, you might be kidnapped and killed. We had security with guns and it was a bit much. But it’s a beautiful country.
BM: You got married last year to David Lauren. You’re both working in somewhat of the same businesses—how much of your dinner conversation is about what’s going on with work?
LBL: You know, that’s a funny question. Very little. I think when we’re together, especially after work, we just want to relax and take a break. But David is definitely the first person I go to for advice. Although I love what I do, I don’t come home and want to relive work per se.
BM: Does David go with you on some of these trips?
LBL: He has. He didn’t go with me on the last one, but it is fun for him to experience that with me; I know Heather [Blake’s wife] goes with you, just to share that, because it is such a life-changing experience.
photography by melanie dunea; Styling by Sarah Leibowitz; Hair by Luca Blandi for Oscar Blandi Salon/Haircare; Makeup by Jean Fayard for Clarins USA; Manicure by Julie Kandalec for Chanel at ba-reps.com