There are many, many good things to be said for buying designer fashion items or high-end beauty products. After all, there is a reason #selfcare is a perennial favorite on Instagram.
But while there is much to recommend that purchase of goop Eye Cream or Givenchy sunglasses, it is not under most normal circumstances something one would likely classify as a particularly philanthropic activity.
But Olivela Founder Stacey Boyd thought that perhaps it could be, and that retail philanthropy could have a future, if consumers could purchase things they really wanted – and could rest assured that what they were buying was not only enriching their own life, but the lives of others.
Boyd said she stumbled on the idea of Olivela in a rather unexpected way. Two years ago, Boyd told Bustle, she was traveling in Kenya and Rwanda with 2014 Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzay.
“I met girls in makeshift primary schools in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, and in Mahama, another camp that provides safe haven to more than 50,000 Burundians, 4,000 of them unaccompanied minors," she said. "I knew then that we could unleash the equity in luxury shopping to yield benefit and opportunity for so many children around the globe.”
And so in 2017, Boyd founded Olivela, an eCommerce marketplace specializing in designer and luxury apparel, jewelry, accessories and beauty items that enables shoppers to not only buy for themselves, but also for others. For each purchase, 20 percent or so goes to charity partners dedicated to supporting education for girls.
“We launched with a dozen luxury brands, and now feature 225 of the world’s best brands,” Boyd said in an interview. “Our partnership with the brands is what makes all of this possible.”
And while many sites build in a charitable component, promising to donate some share of their profit to a good cause, Olivela makes it very concrete, so the shopper knows exactly what their purchase will provide in terms of educational opportunity. Need some Louboutin mascara? That will purchase one day of schooling for a young woman somewhere in the world. Considering a $2,295 shearling blazer by Emporio Armani? Buying it through Olivela will purchase about 63 days of schooling. And a $3,890 Max Mara coat provides for about 113 days of school.
The designer items on the site come with designer price tags – consumers who are looking to bargain shop will probably not find much to purchase on Olivela. There are, however, smaller cosmetic offerings from upscale (if not designer) brands that fall in the more affordable $20-$30 price range, and will purchase a day or so of schooling for someone who needs it. The brand also provides links to all of the charity websites, so you can donate directly to any organization.
As of today, a little over a year into the business, Olivela has provided over 41,000 days – or about 112 years' – worth of school to at-risk girls through the four charities it works with.
Olivela is mostly an eCommerce operation today. Participating brands send their items to the firm’s warehouse in Columbus, Ohio. From that central hub, Olivela ships to all of the lower 48 states.
However, the shop also has its toe in the world of physical retail, with a 900-square-foot store in Nantucket, Massachusetts featuring a highly curated collection of about 950 items from top designer brands. That pop-up, which will run until the end of this month, sparked a new philanthropic effort for the brand with Nantucket Cottage Hospital. According to reports, Olivela made donations that provided over 19,000 hours of life-saving dialysis through its sales.
And the brand’s physical march forward is planned to continue in 2018 and into 2019, with 15 new pop-up boutiques planned. Aspen will be home to the next one, set to open on Dec. 5. According to Boyd, they will continue to seek out new partnerships and expansions through these forays into physical retail.
“We are excited about extending Olivela into more categories and evolving the cause partnerships, both in depth and specificity,” she added. “We will continue to bring on new brands as well, fulfilling our promise to make Olivela the ultimate philanthropic retail destination.”
So can shopping make the world a better place? That is likely a more complex question than we or even Boyd can answer. But for the students who have attended 41,000 days of school that might not have otherwise been available, they probably remain glad that some shoppers want to give to others while treating themselves.