..Lese Dunton..

So Much More in Store

Samples For (Eco)mpassion, an enchanted store in Greenwich Village, New York, provides sample sales with fabulous savings on amazing clothes. As if that weren't enough, customers can also discover how easy it is to change lives.

By getting that incredible bargain outfit which makes you look stunning, you make possible the planting of gorgeous trees in areas that badly need them. How about providing a ton of clean water for someone who has none? You can generate any number of helpful deeds just by shopping for yourself.

Samples For (Eco)mpassion owner, Ike Rodriquez, gives 5% of the proceeds to a wide variety of good causes. And he makes it fun.

The store has also become a platform for positive activities. A new kind of hot spot. At one of his recent events, Mr. Rodriquez hosted a screening of the Tribeca Film Festival documentary, For Tomorrow: The First Step of The Revolution. It's about a shoe company called Toms Shoes, founded by his like-minded friend, Blake Mycoskie. For every pair of shoes that you buy, another pair is given to shoeless children. Over 65,000 have been given away so far.

Both men have business models that work on all levels including profitability, generosity, life and planet improvement, and lots of joy.

Everyone loves a sample sale, so people come in, and then what happens?

Ike Rodriquez: They come into the store, or they read the email, and see that in addition to having these great designers we also support various charities. I guess we have a good energy in the store so we make them feel great for supporting through the everyday shopping.

So we tell them how many trees they planted with their purchase, or we tell them if they buy this bottle of water what it means for someone. When they make a purchase we put it in the corn bag, and we tell them the bag is biodegradable; it's made from corn. It kind of wakes them up and makes them feel good that we are really doing what we can.

Lese Dunton: On your website, GreenFinds, you have a list of companies, like Pangea Organics and Guayaki Teas, for example. Do you feature them in your store sometimes, too?

IR: Yeah, sometimes. That was a website that I started just to sell green products but the online retail business doesn't generate the income that sample sales do, and I want to generate income so I can donate more to charity.

LD: So they're on the website and that's great, but it's more of an in-house, in-person kind of thing. Maybe there's a trend of people getting off the computer for a while and meeting each other face to face more — exchanging ideas, helpfulness, money, whatever it is.

IR: It's that human contact thing. Everyone is in front of the computer way too much. With all the communication technology, nothing beats a good face-to-face or phone call.

LD: So you have monthly events, or every so often?

IR: We try to, at least once a month, do something really great. And once every week or two we send an email out with some type of new arrival or something new that we're doing.

LD: Be it clothes or...

IR: It might be just clothes or it might like the screening that just popped up.

LD: So you're matching like-minded companies, people, products, that kind of thing.

IR: Right, right. We're just trying to keep it all connected and going, trying to build a greater momentum.

LD: How long have you been doing this — in this particular kind of way?

IR:Well, I"ve been doing sample sales for a long time. That was my old business. I had a chain of stores. I had four of them — the Off-Price sample sale business. But this new concept with the charity is kind of like a new thing.

I wanted to be socially conscious about my business but I can't just sell green eco-friendly products. So I thought, how am I going to do this? How am I going to make more of an impact to the people who really need it, which are the charities? This is the best thing I came up with that I can do. It's pretty cool.

LD: Very cool. You seem to also be the center point for a lot of other people, places and products. It's like a rallying area...

IR: It's a staging area. People are calling it a platform for all of this to happen.

LD: Blake Mycoskie (Toms Shoes), did you know him anyway or how did you meet him?

IR: I knew of him, but I was introduced through a mutual friend of ours, Lauren Bush, who does the Feed Project Bags because she thought that he and I are like-minded, and we live on sailboats and we both do the same kind of work and she was like, you guys must work together. We just took it from there. We made the connection.

He said, "Hey man, I'll be in New York, I'll come visit you. I'm going to have a film in the Tribeca Film Festival." I said, "Well, why don't we just have a screening date at our place?" And it just all worked out. It is a very powerful film.

LD: You both mentioned, something to the effect of, when things are meant to be they tend to happen kind of fast, they just fall into place.

IR: Godspeed. The speed of thought. It really works like that. It lines up. It syncs up and it goes. It's a great way. We're all on the same wave. We're missing pieces of the puzzle that we're all working on. It's like okay, this is the part that's needed, and this person is here right now. Godspeed. No doubt.

LD: That's good. I love it. No doubt.

IR: Yeah, no doubt.

LD: Sometimes also with life there are times when people have to work and try and try and try, Thomas Edison being the classic example. He just trusted and kept going.

IR: I mean, I had a hard time trying to figure out exactly how I was going to reinvent myself. Coming from my regular outlet stores to this was a process that in some parts, in the beginning, was kind of tough. Big shift. Really big shift.

LD: And you and Blake are both for-profit companies with new kinds of business models. You don't always have to be asking other people for money because you're generating your own.

IR: Yeah, that's why I decided to jump into the sample sale business.

One weekend we did a really light sample sale and planted 19,000 trees.
This is the type of stuff we're talking about.

You sit around asking people, and rejection is one of the worst feelings you can have, but being a "self-sustained provider" is one of the best feelings I have. That's what I do and that what Blake does. We're setting a new standard of how things should be happening and hopefully people will follow.

LD: So tell a bit about how you changed.

IR: I just wanted to experience a whole different pace of how things are done. So I started changing things. I got a boat. I started living kind of simple. That whole green living. I didn't consume much.

I started trying things that were different, like the GreenFinds website, and started becoming active in sustainable green, socially responsible ways. It morphed into doing the same business that I left, but in a different way.

There's a double bottom line now — being a profitable business that sustains itself, and then being profitable enough to give back. So I added the whole conscious consumerism part to the old business and now it's a morph between the two businesses.

LD: A hybrid kind of feeling.

IR: Exactly.

LD: Do you feel like you're getting more profitable with this model just because of the mysterious ways that life works? When you give away, all of a sudden things happen.

IR: That's exactly the way it is. It's much more profitable, and also the morale with the people who I work with is very inspirational. It's a pleasure to be around. Happiness is very contagious.

LD: Your store has become one of the hot spots where people gather. Have you taken on an unofficial role of spearheading various things?

IR: Yes, because I'm in the position of providing a platform; facilitating bringing this out to a broader spectrum of people who are open. A sustainable provider.

LD: Do you have favorite charities or a list of charities?

IR: Definitely Charity Water. That's my number one. When there's one person with a major vision really driving it, that's what I tend to like. Trees for the Future has that, too. And Toms Shoes, with Blake Mycoskie. In a way, they're like Super Heroes, flying all over the world — and they have their good agenda.

LD: Any upcoming events?

IR: There are so many in the works. Everything is in the moment. It comes up, we figure it out, we get it done. That's what usually happens in life.

LD: Yeah, that's amazing.

IR: It's trippy.

LD: Really good. So, what's your ideal vision for your company, your life, and this community?

IR: I'm pretty much open to whatever happens. I try to show how business can be done, what the possibilities are, and the benefits of doing positive things. It's very easy, you know.

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