[L to R; Co-founders Omri Bojko and Jason Sochol wearing The Vanity Project hoodies – Bojko wearing Chicago Coalition For The Homeless logo; Sochol wearing American Friends of The Israel Sport Center For The Disabled logo]
Two twenty-somethings living in Chicago are unhappy at their jobs as respective traders and real estate analysts. Sounds familiar, right? While our generation is known as one to be indecisive, coddled by our parents and their upper/middle-class lifestyles and not strongly career driven, we are going to dive into the lives of two individuals who do not fall into these stereotypes. They used their friendship and passion for entrepreneurship to form a unique new retail/charity driven company called The Vanity Project.
Consisting of two Northwestern alums and college buddies, we explore with co-founders Omri Bojko and Jason Sochol the history behind the company as well as how it plans to grow and make itself a relevant company in the struggling non-profit world and competitive retail industry.
“It’s more of a personal journey as cliche as that sounds… I was ill prepared for the new world after college,” said Bojko of his post-college life.
Both Omri and Jason were very involved in their local communities by working with various non-profit organizations during their time in Chicago. Around the time after Jason’s mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer (and now fully recovered!) they both sat down to discuss how they could make a profitable business by working with non-profits and have them see the benefits.
Co-founder Omri realized, “there are so many inefficiencies in how non-profits operated… Just because I’m a non-profit doesn’t mean I can’t run a successful business.”
Here is where the idea for a retail based company was born – use non-profit logos and add them to casual apparel and sell. The idea is to “take a charity logo, make it cool to wear the logo and represent a charity or something socially conscious,” explained Sochol.
When Bojko wasn’t working, he would run from store to store, including places like Urban Outfitters and find the apparel/materials he thought would be most comfortable, easy-to-wear and marked the breakdown of materials. He recognized that, “fashion and clothing is the most prevalent form of self-expression we have and I feel it’s completely under-utilized.”
Under their model, 51% of profits made from the purchase of each item go back to the charity featured. The Vanity Project is in charge of manufacturing the product and creative/marketing, if requested by the client. Most of their clothing manufacturing is handled by Alternative Apparel and “as a result, everything we produce adheres to socially responsible standards,” states Sochol. They are currently selling t-shirts, sweatshirts, tanks and just began thermal wear. Eventually they hope to expand into other accessories including hats, scarves and other basic wear.
Since many of these small organizations don’t have the money or resources to dedicate towards marketing techniques, The Vanity Project is filling that void by providing aid in this area where both sides can exchange resources.
“We’re almost an agency for these non-profits,” said Bojko. We’re going to help you develop your brand, market you…You have little organizations that are doing such good grass-roots, hands-on stuff. They’re not just advocacy groups, they’re really helping people out and those are the ones that need us more than anyone else,” says Bojko of their work with local organizations.
As anyone who starts a new business knows, it starts with a lot of cold calls. To start with small steps when reaching out to Chicago-based organizations, “We started with the Chicago Coalition For The Homeless. It was a cold call, but they perked up immediately,” says co-founder Sochol after explaining their thorough business plan. They’ve been working with them ever since.
Since these initial calls, they now acquired permission of logos for nine organizations that they are working closely with, including Rainbow House, Boys and Girls Club, Aspergers Awareness and their first children-based organization Story Pirates. Sochol and Bojko have an interest in working with a variety of non-profits both on a local and national scale.
Said Bojko, “Our goal is to have a very wide sweep of organizations that represent all major causes including equal rights, environment, education, homelessness, medical, disease prevention.”
“We came into this with a good heart and that was the importance for this entire thing.. But, people want to look good too. If we can provide them with a seamless way to look good and buy things that are good quality, we will build brands out of these causes and direct people towards learning about charities,” proclaims Bojko. They hope that by seeing these logos, people will eventually learn to remember their associations to the non-profits and share that information with others.
Some fashion brands they used as inspiration to start The Vanity Project include Levi, Urban Outfitters, Vicarious by Nature, Free People and E. Village vintage shops. Bojko and Sochol see what brands like these are doing to increase social consumerism, which makes the timing for The Vanity Project an ideal one.
To market themselves in the fashion landscape, they’ve traveled to various cities selling their merchandise at festivals charity and other related events. They also just hosted their first sponsored event during NYC Fashion Week this month, which was a big success.
As of February, they have revamped their website so you can purchase items, learn about the non-profit organizations and upcoming events. They are also continuing to explore funding opportunities — if anyone would like to know more information, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly.
To summarize The Vanity Project, it was best stated by Bojko: “When people tell you that you’re nuts, you know that you’re onto something good.”