Donating money, collecting clothes or participating in buy-one-give-one programs are common ways to support people living in developing communities. Enrou has a more sustainable method in mind.
Co-founded by two UCLA alumna last year, Enrou is one of the startup businesses participating in the 2014 Startup Rivalry: UCLA vs. USC, a competition in which UCLA and USC students pitch their startup ideas for public online voting.
Enrou, a one-stop online store, aims to create a positive social, financial and sustainable impact on global communities through the power of consumerism. The company sells clothes, shoes, accessories and home decor produced by entrepreneurs in developing communities across the globe.
“Enrou stems from ‘enroute,’ meaning ‘on the way,’” said Jessica Willison, Enrou co-founder and chief communication officer. “All of the brands that we work with, such as The Base Project, are socially motivated … to provide (locals in developing communities) with jobs and training in skills that can help them build their business.”
Enrou co-founder and CEO, Ann Wang, who received her bachelor’s degree in international development studies, said she found a love for international work through interning at different organizations during her years at UCLA.
Having known Wang since 7th grade, Willison said she learned a lot on the topic of global issues through her. One weekend when they were returning from the CLASSY Awards, an annual event held in San Diego that recognizes social achievement, Wang told her about her ideas for Enrou.
“We realize some of these brands are successful and some aren’t,” Wang said. “It would be amazing to put them all onto one central market. We wanted to help (the organizations) market their brands and sell more products so they can focus on the good that they are doing for that community.“
Willison, who was a communication studies student at UCLA and an editorial intern for the fashion website Refinery29, said Enrou blends both Wang’s and her interests.
“(Wang) focuses to make sure the product has a positive impact on the global communities,” Willison said. “I make sure that the products are fashionable for the market and are produced sustainably.”
As the idea burgeoned, Wang recruited three other UCLA students from the UCLA Volunteer Center and two friends from UCSD and UCSC as part of the company’s founding team.
Willison said one of Enrou’s main efforts is to create a new form of consumerism by sharing the stories of their brand partners and of the people who are making the products.
“What makes us really special is that consumers get to know where their products are coming from,” Wang said. “They get to see who it impacts other than themselves. We want the buyers to be part of the global story in that relationship.”
Willison began reaching out to brands last May, in addition to promoting Enrou through social media. She said the company handpicks each of the brands that it works with to make sure their visions for community development through global consumerism align.
They decided to participate in the 2014 Startup Contest, where the startups that get the highest amount of votes go on to pitch their stories to investors. Wang said that as Enrou grows, capital limitation is an obstacle the staff encounters when setting up its business.
“We bootstrap,” she said. “It means you use your own capital. We’ve probably put $5,000 into the company to get it to where it is now.”
Wang and Willison said that, although they are faced with numerous challenges while starting up Enrou, passion is the drive that pushes them to do everything.
“We are passionate about the idea and people we work with,” Willison said. “We have other people across the world depending on us to sell their products and to create a better life for themselves. (Our) passion has really pushed those challenges when they
Sarah Barritt, a second-year political science student who has been receiving updates about Enrou from Wang, said she is very satisfied with her experience purchasing on the company’s website.
“(Enrou) is like Amazon for nonprofit organizations,” Barritt said. “People sometimes want to shop by brand and by cause, and people can do that on Enrou’s website very easily.”
Barritt said that she has been asked about a distinctive-looking bracelet she wears, and she is able to share the story behind it because of the detail provided for every product on Enrou’s website.
Wang said that sharing these stories is more impactful than simply buying products. She said it creates a culture that is going to share the idea of sustainable consumerism and believes that there is a better chance in the world for people in developing communities.
“(Enrou) is creating a new way to purchase,” Willison said. “We are on our way to a new form of consumerism and development.”