Feel Good, Do Good: How Eco-Luxury Towels Provide Access to Clean Water
By Gilad Lang. Edited by Julia Dopp
I worked in the non-profit, community development, and social innovation sectors for over a decade, and a lot of my background is in behavior change communication initiatives. So when I decided to join my mom’s company after spending years in the nonprofit sector, I knew we had the potential to combine our strengths for social good. By leveraging her success with my non-profit experience, we have created a way for consumers to indulge while also giving back through the Madison Collection, which makes luxury bathrobes and towels. Our product model allows clients to share their privilege with others who don’t yet have access to a clean water supply, by gifting a family with a ceramic water filter. This seemingly simple model is called the Feel Good, Do Good campaign, and it’s been a long time coming.
In 2013, I was in Cape Town, doing a social incubator program that the mayor facilitated. She explained the government’s need for the incubator in a way that really stuck with me: the people with know-how and influence are few, and, by default, are stretched thin enough to exist in an echo chamber. They have too many pressing tasks to spend much time sourcing new viewpoints. Meanwhile, outsiders don’t know how things work or have the context they’d need to engage with insiders. Think tanks are all well and good, but action tanks, with all the quick prototyping and real-world integration that implies, are the only way to get results that can scale fast enough to have real impact.
Our first project was a major failure. Our group of advertisers, communicators and government officials came together to produce a product we called Hope Soap, in an attempt to encourage hand-washing to lower rates of infection among local children. Hope Soap consisted of a clear bar of soap with a toy in the middle, which kids would “unlock” through use. No training required, no advertising efforts necessary- just deliver the soap, and let kids be kids. What we didn’t account for was the sheer and utter lack of access to clean water. When kids wash their hands with sewer water, it doesn’t matter how good the soap is. I realized then that while you can have all the social and health innovations you want, without safe water any impact they have will be fleeting. I also realized that I was rapidly becoming disillusioned with the scarcity mindset that forced me into competition with other innovators and non-profits, when the root of the problem was so much broader than any of our approaches could tackle.
A few years later, I started working for a cruise ship line that was designed to combine social impact work with travel opportunities. One of our impact bases was in the Dominican Republic, where we partnered with a ceramic water filter factory. In this factory, generations of local master artisans work with organic clays, led by a man named Radames who told us about how he had been bedridden for years due to the tainted local water supply. His sons had to drop out of school to provide for the family, and most of the family’s resources went to medications and doctors’ appointments. From my work with this community, I also learned that the job of collecting water falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women and girls, whose daily 2–3 hour treks have an added danger of assault and rape (not to mention time lost that could be redirected to education or providing for their families).
From these experiences, I realized just how radically positive the impact of something as simple as a ceramic water filter can be. Now, through the Madison Collection, we’ve found a way to broaden our partnerships and help scale access to clean water for the people who need it most.
Our mission isn’t to dramatically change consumer behavior, but rather, to encourage a thoughtful, appreciation-based approach to sustainability. In other words, we believe that you can recognize and appreciate the privileges you have without beating yourself up about them- and while giving back. For me, that plays out in little moments every day, like when I’m brushing my teeth in the morning and I’m reminded to turn the water off. That’s when the mission clicks. I kind of have that moment of pause when I respect my access to these resources and know I’m working to share them, and that’s what I want for other people. We want people enjoying what they have, respecting that they have a safe water supply, unlike so much of the world, and feeling like they’re able to do their part to spread that access.
So far, we’ve donated over 100 filters. That’s more than 1,000 people with access to clean and safe water. Now that we have proof our clientele will go in for conscious consumption, we can start putting some really strategy and muscle behind this resources — getting to that 1,000 families, or 10,000 people served, which we’ve set as our next milestone. A lot of our success so far has been by word of mouth, and that’s led us to where we are now, expanding our focus so we can reach consumers directly.
In my past career, I relied on donors, philanthropists, and other organizations- the select few with know-how, again competing for resources in that echo chamber I mentioned earlier. Now, I truly believe that the most powerful force for change is the everyday consumer. People vote for the society they want to see with every dollar they spend, and offering these people the choices and options to build a better world is something I’m really passionate about. I never thought I’d find myself in the luxury hospitality industry, but here I am, and it’s reinvigorating my belief that scalable change is possible. By tapping into the laws of the marketplace, we can change the world.
Email Gilad: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Gilad’s LinkedIn Page: Gilad Lang
The Maidson Collection Website: www.themadisoncollection