'It's not just something that we put on our website': Prose's vp of social impact Helen Nwosu on keeping a scaling company ethical

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Prose is a hair care company in growth mode, but it's also laser-focused on remaining a responsible brand. One of the people behind this push is Helen Nwosu, the company's vp of social impact.

On this week's episode of the Modern Retail Podcast, Nwosu spoke about how she juggles the needs of a scaling brand while maintaining Prose's core values -- which include being transparent about its sustainability efforts, providing a safe and equitable workplace and making its products accessible to more people around the world.

"My role is really tied to the fact that my founders... all wanted to have social impact and business as a source for good clearly embedded in the business from the get-go," Nwosu said.

That doesn't mean that Prose, which was founded in 2017, isn't riding a rocket ship, business-wise. The company, which sells custom hair products, has seen revenue grow 3x for three years in a row. It brought in $80 million of revenue in 2021.

According to Nwosu, who has spent her career working at the intersection of social impact and business at companies like Louis Vuitton, the way to keep a company honest is to work beyond a marketing lens. For example, Prose has been a certified B-corp since 2019 -- which means that company has to prove certain elements of social and environmental performance. What's more, Prose is also a public benefit corporation.

"What's interesting is that it makes our public benefit a mandate to our board," said Nwosu. That is, Prose doesn't have to just write nice-sounding marketing copy about why it's acting both sustainably and ethically, but it was to report on all of its initiatives to its board and external organizations. "It's part of our legal charter," she said. "It's not just something that we put on our website."

With that, some days she's working on front-facing activation and other days she's poring over technical documents.

"It's really technical," Nwosu said, "I do like that aspect of the job because that's where the magic is."

Another part, she said, is making sure the entire company is in lockstep with its values -- including how the products are made. For example, all of Prose's manufacturing happens in Brooklyn. "In this day and age, where most manufacturing companies -- specifically for consumer good -- are moving outside of big urban areas, we're allowed to provide really great jobs," Nwosu said.

Right now, Nwosu is working on many projects -- including trying to cater to wider swathes of customers as well as keep Prose's many sustainability efforts up to date. For example, the company has sharing resources with other beauty B-corporations, allowing them to "really talk about transportation, logistics and ingredient sourcing." Those, she said, "are probably the three biggest challenges for a company of our size." So far, Prose says, it has reduced its carbon intensity by 67%.

"At the end of the day, three times growth means we're making more product [and thus] we're using more of the planet's resources," Nwosu said. "So that has to be something that I mold the company to do mindfully -- let's build each product that we build better. So that's where my focus is really."

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