This post comes a bit late, but I thought it would still be useful to share with you. I had never been to the Buy Good Feel Good Expo before, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
From the event website, it seemed like there would be a dinner for the buyers/brokers while we heard some speeches. I thought it would be a good opportunity to network with potential retail clients. It was the main reason I had signed up for the conference, and I was really looking forward to it.
Well, it turns out there was no such dinner! There were 2 food vendors, some tables and on another area of the facility there were rows of empty chairs in front of a small stage. I asked one of the organizers and they confirmed my misunderstanding. I was quite disappointed.
But of course I wasn’t going to let that get me down. I decided to make the best of the situation. I talked to the two other people that were at the stage area for a little bit (none of them were buyers).
Sense of Belonging
Then I went to get something to eat (at my own expense, which was, again, not clear from the event website) and browse the booths of the exhibiting brands.
As I walked around the exhibition floor, I tried to spot other buyers (one of the organizers had explained to me what their badge looked like), but I couldn’t find any!
It was great meeting all the brands and connecting with them, though. It was very motivating to see so many social enterprises all at once, meet the entrepreneurs in person, and share a sense of purpose with them. It helped me feel like I’m not alone in my endeavour to make the world a better place through business and commerce.
Sense of Community
Then, all of a sudden I heard the beginning of a speech coming from the stage area. I started walking towards that direction and noticed that the seats were all taken! There were also many people standing around the stage (it looked like the organizers had underestimated the number of attendees).
I felt like I had missed my chance to get a seat, not just to have some rest (because I had been standing for 3 hours), but also because it would have been an opportunity for a “forced networking” situation (this is a networking tip I learned from a KPMG consultant: when people are sitting next to you and there is nowhere to go, they have no option but to talk to you; if they were standing up, they could just walk away). Once again, I decided to make the best of it and focus on the speeches.
The speakers were all excellent. Once again I felt a sense of shared purpose and a sense of belonging. Feeling surrounded by people who think like you is very powerful! It was also very significant to have the presence of the Honourable Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Her words were very motivating and encouraging! It makes a huge difference to know that the provincial government is on our side.
Sense of Purpose
But the Keynote Speech was the one that moved me the most. Nasreen Sheikh told us her story of what it was like to be a sweatshop worker. I had already been aware of sweatshops and their terrible working conditions for many years. The 2013 Bangladesh collapse had made it even more real for me, and motivated me even more to continue my ethical fashion buying behaviours.
But Nasreen’s speech took it to a whole other level. It is one thing to read articles and see news and documentaries about sweatshops, but it is a completely different experience to see a real person, in flesh and bone, who got exploited by our society. As she talked about her experience – with tears in her eyes, and interrupting herself at times to control her emotions – I felt more and more frustrated with our society. I kept shaking my head and thinking “I can’t believe we are doing this to other human beings“.
I already had a huge sense of purpose with this business, but Nasreen’s speech made it even stronger. My internal drive to run this business was very strong, but after Nasreen’s speech I also feel a strong external drive. I started this business because I wanted to help other people. But these “other people” were always abstract in my mind. Now I am able to think that I am doing this to help Nasreen’s relatives, countrymen, etc. It’s hard to explain how, but it just feels more personal.
I won’t dig further into my feelings of anger, sadness, incredulity and frustration with society (just writing this post has stirred me up). I really prefer to live in the light rather than darkness. But what I will say is this: if you don’t do it already, please please please start thinking about what you are buying. Start thinking about the impact of every purchase you make on the environment and on the people across the supply chain. Try to find out how things are made or grown. Understand that the “cheap” $2 T-Shirt has a huge cost for people and the planet, not just on the other side of the world where you can’t see it, but also in your own life (I will make a separate post to explain how this works). Accept that for things to be made fairly and sustainably they have to cost more. Understand that if you spend more on less quantity but good quality clothes, they will last longer, thus costing you the same (or less) as the $2 T-shirt in the long run.
Going back to the Buy Good Feel Good event, it was a good learning experience.
From a revenue point of view it was a bad return on investment (for a bootstrapped startup). Even though the event itself was free and I was able to stay the weekend with a friend of mine who lives in Toronto, I still spent a significant amount of money on food, parking, gas, marketing materials, etc. Yes, I met a lot of new brands, which (if they become my clients – and some are in process of doing that) will pay me commissions. But this will only happen if I find stores (or distributors) who are interested in buying their products. And unfortunately the Buy Good Feel Good expo did not give me the opportunity to meet any buyers (I did meet one distributor, but he’s not open to buying right now).
If there’s one thing I have learned as a bootstrapped entrepreneur is that revenue has to come first. So I understood from this experience that these types of events are not the right ones for me (I am still looking for a buyers-focused event, so if anyone knows any, please leave a comment). I also learned that I need to find out more details about events before signing up, to make sure they meet my business needs.
Will I go back next year? It will depend on where my business is and what makes sense financially at the time.
Last but not least, if you know anyone who is an apparel/fashion distributor, store owner or buyer, please leave a comment because I would love to meet them and see if their store/business is a good fit with my brands.
Thanks for reading!