Q&A with Designed Good Co-Founder Imran Khoja

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Q&A with Designed Good Co-Founder Imran Khoja

What doe558978_10150663804188262_734989851_ns it mean to be not only designed well, but also to be designed good?

Imran Khoja, co-founder of Designed Good, and the Designed Good team are changing the world, one globally advantageous product at a time. By selling only products that give back to the community, Imran has helped create a socially conscious organization with the potential to make an immeasurable impact. The recently launched business is a fully functioning, international, innovative do-gooder – the quintessential success story originating from a collegiate business competition. Now, Designed Good, with its eco-friendly products, is reaching out, spreading the word, and making change. Talk about “good” standing.

The WALK: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how Designed Good came to be?

Imran Khoja (IK): I just graduated from Williams College, but I grew up all over. I was born in London, but I’ve lived in Pakistan, Poland, Dubai, the works. Both of my parents are social entrepreneurs, so I grew up with a sense of business giving back. Part of that was my own sense and how I tried to buy things. I kept coming across all of these cool NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and brands doing awesome things, but I didn’t have enough exposure. I thought there should be a way to put them all together in a cool place with awesome pieces. Designed Good was founded in June 2012, literally right after my graduation. Katy Gathright and I won a business competition with $15,000 to get started. I just didn’t want to do anything else, so I thought, hey, I have this awesome opportunity and someone who wants to work with me on it, so why not give it a shot?

WALK: How did you come to pair up with your co-founder, Katy Gathright?

IK: We studied abroad together. We went to a Williams program at Oxford. For our competition, we needed two people on a team and I asked her if she’d sign her name and be on the ticket. She did, and she made it clear she wanted no part of it at all, but I kind of roped her in as time went on.

WALK: Designed good instead of designed well…why is that so important to you?

IK: The whole idea behind the name is that we’re trying to be super fun and approachable and not on a high horse. There’s definitely been a trend for eco-space and marketing, and we really want to be about transparency and giving you this educational and approachable experience. Part of that is not taking ourselves too seriously, so we tried to do that in the name.

WALK: How do you decide on which items to sell and how “good” they are?

IK: That’s just been one of those things where since I’ve been in school, I have compiled a huge list of brands. Now we’re making our way through that and getting in touch with people. There’s also a mix of people and brands approaching us. We really try and think about how these products empower [people], and how compelling of a story we can tell about them. One popular product, for example, is the Ordinary Acts of Kindness (OAK) backpack, where for every bag we sell another bag goes to a student in Austin, TX or Rwanda. The product first and foremost has to be really cool. Finding that is first, and then comes kind of sugar coating or adding the “special sauce”…a story of social change that’s kind of tucked in there as well.

Austin, TX wasn’t our choice, but that of OAK’s. They have their logistics set up for giving. It makes the story way more compelling. The founders are from Austin, TX and have done volunteer work in the community and know exactly where the bags are going. It’s very intentional and not just a handout.

WALK: Do you change what you sell regularly? What is/has been your most popular piece?

IK: Every single week we have new products with different stories of how they make a difference. It keeps [Designed Good] fresh and you can discover the latest, greatest, socially conscious style. The backpacks have been awesome, and the Vers Speakers (these amazing Bluetooth speakers made out of commonly available wood.) They’re the most eco-friendly speakers on the market, and the sound quality is amazing. And JOCO cups – glass coffee cups in pretty awesome colors. We’re the only place you can get them.

WALK: What do you think draws people to Designed Good more: The creativity and uniqueness of pieces or the social implications behind them?

IK: I think in the end it’s that people can come to Designed Good and find something they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Not only that, but that they can buy something and be able to tell a really cool story to their friends. You immediately want to tell your friends about it because the story is that compelling. It’s that idea of discovering your next favorite item. We try to pick things that are really functional. You might pick up a sweater to wear five days a week or a backpack for every day. It’s something people will see – it will attract their attention – and ideally allow you to tell that story.

WALK: In selecting socially responsible brands to partner with, how do you form this partnership? How do you designate a brand as “socially responsible”?

IK: We actually do a lot of outreach and try to set up an interview with them to get more information. First we’ll do a superficial look, set up an interview and get the nitty gritty details settled. If we find they have a compelling story of whether they’re usually socially-conscious or use socially-conscious materials, we’ll decide to move forward with them. Because we have more of a start-up style, we have a different technique with each of our vendors depending on what works. There’s no recipe exactly.

WALK: Is there a balance between you and Katy coming up with product ideas and receiving products from outside sources?

IK: So far, it’s just been products from outside sources. We’re thinking about creating our own products as well, but we’re really just at the beginning of that.

WALK: How do you see social responsibility and Designed Good intersecting? Why is that important to you?

IK: I think there are a lot of causes, and they’re all pretty compelling. Designed Good becomes an awesome way of bringing new people in. When you look at an organization like charity: water, they use design to make giving cool. You end up feeling really great about yourself.

DG allows you to kill two birds with one stone. You feel awesome about giving back while getting a product that lasts a long time, and your friends will want to talk about it. You can’t just find it at the mall. That’s the way to do it. You’re not going to be able to attract a mainstream audience without making things cool and fun, without creating that “feeling”. That’s what we’re all about.

WALK: Since The WALK offers a lot of shopping and fashion-related guidance to our readers, can you highlight two stand-out products Designed Good offers? Either fan favorites, or your own?

IK: The OAK backpacks and these awesome, witty doormats that are made from organic materials by Reed Wilson Designs. Also, JOCO cups! JOCO cups are glass, eco-friendly coffee mugs in great colors meant to reduce paper use.

 

This backpack was created by OAK, a company in Austin, Texas that literally designs backpacks for kindness and education: Each bag contains a pouch for you to carry something extra for a quick act of kindness (say, a snack or a cell phone for someone’s emergency call) and each purchase provides a child with a backpack and school supplies.” – Designed Good

 

 

 

Reed Wilson Design puts a brand new spotlight on the home. Design helps define the places and spaces where we live – places that are more fun when shared with others. Why not welcome people to your home with a message for the light of heart? Each mat is composed of recycled vinyl and sustainable coconut fibers, the latter of which are all-natural and taken directly from coconut husks.” -Designed Good 

 

“2.5 billion paper cups are used globally every year; paper cups cut down 50 million trees every year. JOCO, then, is a pretty amazing design accomplishment: the cyclonic base pulls the sugar in your coffee to the base of your cup, hastening the dissolving time and balancing the flavor of your coffee. The thermal silicone sleeve keeps the coffee warm, your hands at a pleasant human temperature, and the cup in a colorful style of your choosing. Plus, glass prevents anything extra from messing with the taste of your perfectly brewed beans.” -Designed Good

 

Designed Good is a members-only shopping community. Sign up for free membership here.

Designed Good is currently hiring, so any interested students can get in touch via imran@designedgood.com. They’re looking for campus reps, writers, and interns for the summer.

 

-Erica Ligenza

 Images courtesy of Designed Good.

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