It started when Founder and CEO Stacey Boyd joined Malala Yousafzai on a visit to refugee camps in Kenya and Rwanda. There she met amazing girls with extraordinary stories of overcoming poverty and war and escaping forced marriage to pursue their educations. She realized that the opportunities she and her two daughters are lucky enough to have—access to education and the ability to live life on their own terms—these girls literally had to risk their lives for. In that moment, it became crystal clear that while talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. It was from that realization that a new kind of retailer was born, one with giving back built into every, single transaction.
Six years ago, I founded Schoola, an online retail site that sells new and gently-worn clothing to support public schools in need. Last summer, I launched Olivela an online luxury store to support girls’ education worldwide. Both Olivela and Schoola were conceived as shopping destinations with a purpose: to improve the lives of children through access to quality schooling. Our version of retail is incredibly powerful—A shopper at Olivela can see exactly how each luxury purchase makes a difference. That information is presented with transparency throughout the customer’s journey. Say you’re looking at a Valentino bag on our site, next to it you will see the price, but also the explicit benefit —the number of days of school we will donate on your behalf when you check out with that item. Our shopper feels great knowing that by selecting a fashion or beauty item for herself, she has also just secured education for at-risk girls through one of our cause partners CARE, Malala Fund and Too Young To Wed.
I am continually thrilled by how emphatically and quickly fashion and beauty brands have embraced our concept and have signed on to participate. In less than one year, we have grown our portfolio of a dozen launch brands to over 200 brands confirmed. That is a 19x increase in inventory and brands in just nine months. Brands are looking for innovative ways to extend the good that they can do, whether it is through an investment in sustainability or working with Olivela to ensure that every transaction can be exponentially positive and beneficial.
We are so proud that our online shoppers have already provided over 6,750 days of school to Syrian refugees through a partnership with the organization CARE. There is also a very real opportunity for us to inspire new customers at the brick-and-mortar level, using innovative digital technology in store. This month, in fact, we are opening our first pop-up shop in Nantucket. Customers will be able to browse apparel, accessories, beauty products and more. And when they interact with the product they will also be able to learn where the donated money will go. Pick up a pair of Dior shoes and learn not only what makes them so special, but also about the girl they might help support in Jordan. It’s very exciting!
The idea for Olivela came to me about two years ago, when I flew to Kenya and Rwanda to celebrate what is known there as Malala Day, the birthday of 2014 Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, now 20 and studying at Oxford. Traveling with Malala, I met girls in makeshift primary schools in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, and in Mahama, another camp that provides safe haven to more than 50,000 Burundians, 4,000 of them unaccompanied minors. There is nothing starker than realizing that it’s a lottery when your child is born. That they’re just really lucky to be born in a place that has so much to offer. I knew then that we could unleash the equity in luxury shopping to yield benefit and opportunity for so many children around the globe. And I knew that I could draw on experience and expertise from having launched Schoola which aims to benefit public schools here in the United States. We could not be prouder of our partnership with organizations such as CARE, Malala Fund and Too Young To Wed, all of whom are thoroughly committed to empowering girls through education.
After launching our pop-up this summer in Nantucket, we plan to open 15 similar boutiques in 2019. We are also excited about extending Olivela into more categories and evolving the cause partnerships, both in depth and specificity. We will continue to bring on new brands, as well, fulfilling our promise to make Olivela the ultimate philanthropic retail destination.
The ideal experience for an Olivela customer: to discover just the right fashion or beauty item at just the right price and to enjoy the warm satisfaction in learning that not only has she scored something she will absolutely love but also that she has provided days of schooling to at-risk girls across the globe. We aim to make every transaction both transparent and affirming.
It’s about believing in your dream and vision, no matter how grand—and once you launch, focus on the details taking the build step by step without distraction. You do that by attracting and creating an awesome team that can do amazing things. You want to make sure that you hire people who buy into the vision and who believe in the culture that you’re building. Then you organize your team and your resources all around that vision.