It's a fact: A majority of consumers prefer to buy products from socially responsible companies. In a survey of 1,010 Americans, 60 percent make an effort to buy from such companies, according to Good.Must.Grow, a marketing firm. Consumers especially want to buy from corporations that focus on "being green" (83%) and contribute financially to nonprofits (65%).
There are a number of incentive merchandise providers that are both socially responsible and fashion-forward. OluKai, based in Aliso Viejo, CA., produces environmentally friendly footwear worn by surfers and fashionistas alike. The company uses 30 percent recycled material in all of its outsoles and 100 percent recycled material in its packaging. OluKai sources all of its leathers exclusively from tanneries that are certified as environmentally conscious.
But it's equally devoted to fashion. These hot-selling U'I (translation: "beautiful") women's gold metallic women's sandals "can be dressed up or down for a day at the beach or worn simply when you need some bohemian glam," says Sara Sarwan, corporate gifts manager. (Anyone who doubts the popularity of metallic right now should check out the hundreds of Pinterest boards devoted specifically to metallic fashion--ranging from sandals to tattoos to yes, even underwear.)
For men, OluKai's Hiapo (translation: "first born") sandals are a hit because of their comfort, which is based on the "wet sand principle," Sarwan says. "Imagine your foot in firm wet sand -- your arch fills up and is supported, the heel is cupped and stabilized, and the toes are allowed to splay out in a very natural manner."
OluKai footwear is also available for "merchandise bars" at incentive travel events and meetings through Boulder, CO-based Cultivate Premium Corporate Gifts, which can provide a variety of sandals in various styles from which participants can select.
Another socially responsible firm with a large incentive division is Helping Hand Partners, a non-profit founded by Michael Arkes, the former president and CEO of Chicago-based Hinda Incentives. It works with fair trade organizations around the world. Among this summer's top sellers: This Scout bag, made from industrial netting, was envisioned by two Italian designers who partnered with Cambodian artisans to mass produce it. So far, this line of products has generated $120,000 in income and afforded 15 artisans free daycare and preschool for their children, according to Dena Hirschberg, Helping Hands' vice president of marketing and sales.
"Employees want to work for an employer who is making a difference in the world," Hirschberg says. "What better way to show that than by incentivizing them with socially-responsible products?"