Doug and Chris Akin don’t just want you to look good but to feel good too. The twin brother duo are part of a new wave of fashion brands that are designed from the ground up to make the world a better place. Their stylish Base Project bracelets are made by artisans in Namibia who are paid fair trade wages, and every bracelet is made from recycled materials. The profits help fund community development projects in the region the bracelets are made. Doug and Chris want you to wear your impact with pride.
How did you get started with The Base Project?
We were disenchanted with aspects of our corporate jobs. Getting another billboard up for Pepsi, or for a bank, just didn’t have enough meaning anymore. So, we decided, hey let’s do something together. Something that’s triple-bottom-line, and see if we can make a product that benefits the producers, sell it in the US, and use the proceeds to do some community development. That was the concept, and the bracelets are the pilot project for us.
There are lots of socially responsible businesses. Why a fashion company?
It ties to our tagline, ‘Wear your impact’. We thought it was incredibly powerful that you could be making a statement while you walk around every day. It could be a source of pride. We also wanted to create a conversation piece so we could create ambassadors for the brand.
Where does your personal style come from?
I’d say a lot of my style comes from two places. Growing up in New York City and travel. When I’m travelling, I try and blend together different styles and fabrics. Definitely more bohemian, more wanderlust inspired. I do a lot of travel to Asia: India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Vietnam. Africa as well, both for work and for pleasure. And then the Middle East.
Tell us a bit more about the community development work you’re doing?
There are two things to know. One, it’s happening in the region that the producers are making the product. Two, we are trying to do things that have an exponential impact: things like food and water supplies, basic healthcare, basic education. Right now we’re fleshing out the first project that’ll happen in Namibia, where we make the bracelets. In the case of Namibia, there is schooling, but there is a hurdle that people have to pay to get their children into public schools. We’re going to help families access those existing resources who otherwise wouldn’t be able to. We’re hoping to be able to fulfill that project in the summer time.
What do you know now that you really wish you knew when you started The Base Project two years ago?
Neither one of us had any industry background in fashion. The most valuable learning aspect was to figure out distribution. Knowing what retailers or eCommerce stores are going to work well with your brand. We tried everything from direct sales to sales reps to showrooms, to get into the brick & mortar side. Getting the right match is so critical. If you have the right product, but not the right distribution or pricing, you’re not going to get very far.
What advice would you give to your 14 year old self?
Just start something and start it at an early age. If I had started something like this, it might not have looked the same but it would have been a great learning experience. Then I would have been onto my third business by 20, and my fifth by 24. Whether it works or not, I don’t think that really matters.
What’s next for The Base Project?
The goal is clearly to expand out the product line to more than just bracelets. That can take the form of other jewelry and accessories. Maybe other fashion products. The packaging we put our bracelets into are fabric bags from Ghana. Really eclectic fabrics. It’s a fair-trade product, upcycled, made in an orphanage in Ghana. We’re also working on some beadwork products from Botswana that are really beautiful.