Shannon Keith is the founder and CEO of Sudara, a thriving B corp and apparel brand that makes striking beautiful loungewear. Sudara’s mission is rooted in job creation for women in India who are at a high risk or survivors of sex trafficking. More than a give-back model, Sudara enables women to have freedom-filled choices for themselves and for their families. Shannon is a 2016 Bend Venture Conference Social Impact Winner, TedX Speaker and was selected as a Top 25 SheEO World Venture Finalist.
Places to Find Shannon:
Article from Entrepreneur magazine.
Sudara on Instagram @sudaragoods
On LinkedIn @shannonkeith
[3:00] minute: Set the stage for us, we know a trip to India changed your life at one point, but where were you before that?
- Married without kids in southern California, had a corporate career, and was doing some humanitarian work and world travel.
- Passion for the poor and marginalized, and wanted to help those who lacked opportunity.
- Fell in love with India on a trip in 2004 and started to go back yearly.
- Donated a water well that ended up going in a red light district, and learned a lot about human trafficking while being there for the dedication of the well.
- Began focusing on job creation for the women in danger there to try and set them up long term.
[7:00] minute: Sustainability is key, you didn’t want to put a band-aid on the problem and hope it goes away as you are really just solving a temporary pain, vs creating jobs which is a permanent scaleable solution.
- This was all in 2005, way before B-corps, and at the time the American way was just throwing money at problems.
- She saw the changes that needed to be made and that helped her focus on the job creation / sustainable solutions.
[8:20] minute: Before all this, what were you doing career wise?
- Corporate sales, which allowed her to be social and be around people – which she loved and was a skill that was then transferable to her work now.
- Her past career helped her narrow down and go with the idea of women’s pajamas as a product for the women in India to make and sell.
[9:30] minute: Once you had this inspiration and decided you wanted to create these clothes and set up this company, what were the first few months like, how did you get it started?
- All her friends were starting families and her and her partner were struggling to get pregnant. She chose to see this as an advantage that gave them the freedom to travel the world.
- Had to break through the stigma that non-profits were the things that helped out people in need, as the idea of business as a solution wasn’t as popular.
[12:00] minute: How did it evolve then from the idea of a non-profit into the B-corp model?
- Definition of a B-corp: designation by the IRS that puts the benefit or the mission of the company on par with profitability.
- Started as a 501c3 non-profit and ran that way for years before she was able to make the change happen into a hybrid for-profit and non-profit combined model.
[14:20] minute: When did you quit your day job then?
- Not immediately as she had the luxury of time off to be able to take trips to India and begin the groundwork.
- Wanted to put in the research and leg-work to make sure what they were going to do would work and there would be interest on the receiving end. Wanted to avoid the “big white savior” complex.
- Once there was a small staff and things were really starting to run, she quit her job, her family moved, and she stayed on the board of the non-profit.
- To secure the transition from a non-profit to a for-profit business she had to purchase the operations side of the non-profit. Rebranded as Sudara, Inc.
[20:30] minute: What an amazing gift to have had those struggles with fertility but then it all worked out with you having twins later on after you got things with the business started.
- Grateful for how everything has worked. Her fertility issues were a
- Life is hard work, and relationships and family are hard work.
- Self-sustainability are important and modeling that is vital, but sometimes you have to ask, “what is enough?”.
[24:30] minute: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced growing this business where your team was so far away?
- There has to be concessions made, you have to understand the people you are working with.
- Create a work environment suitable for the employees you have. Keep the human element there, remember the women have had a lot more challenges and baggage in their life and that affects them.
- The reason the company exists is to help these people and give them jobs, so keeping that the focus and building it into financial models and business metrics is key.
- Business partnerships on an international level can bring its own challenges of trust.
[29:45] minute: Could you share with us what Sudara makes and where to find it?
- Supply chains are so important and are something consumers need to think about when voting with their dollars.
- Sudara makes sure the labor of the garment is fair; the labor is paid properly and working in proper conditions. From there they keep going further down the supply chain to commit to making every single step fair and decent.
- Sudara’s product line is mostly women’s pajamas and lounge wear; a utility product that will be used for the long-term. Easy to love, easy to wear brand.
[36:15] minute: Who has been the most impactful person in your journey to do well and achieve financial success?
- Her Grandmother. She had a great relationship with money, always used it well and used it to benefit her family and others.
[37:00] minute: Who has been the most impactful person in feeding your drive to do good and make an impact?
- Her husband. His support in the beginning was vital.
[37:35] minute: When you’re having a bad day, what do you do to get yourself out of the funk? Do you have any sort of regular personal development practice?
- Meet up with her husband and have a Manhattan by the fire pit.
- Be with her kids and be around the relationships that matter.
- For solitude she will go in the woods with her Bible and do some prayer.
[38:40] minute: What book do you find yourself recommending to people most often?
- The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
- It hits on all the important things in life from two world leaders who are opposing faith perspectives but agree on so many things.
[39:20] minute: What is the best piece of advice related to happiness that you’d give to my listeners?
- Not an external endeavor. It is found within. You can take all your miserable externalities and do away with those and still be unhappy, so it’s not those that dictate happiness. It’s a mindset rooted in gratitude.
Do Well & Do Good Challenge Nominee:
Sudara Freedom Fund – the non profit arm of her business that provides the support for her employees and others affected by the human trafficking problems in India.
Sudara Freedom Fund was originally founded in 2005 as International Princess Project — a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Our mission is the same today as it was then: empower women and families in India through job creation, safe housing and education. After a decade of carrying out this mission, though, we realized that we wanted — and needed — to do more. And, our little non-profit didn’t have the capability or scaleability to meet those growing needs.
In 2015, after a lot of research and conversations about furthering our impact, our founder started a new benefit corporation, Sudara, and we became Sudara Freedom Fund — the 501(c)3 non-profit arm of Sudara. This new “hybrid model” allows Sudara to work directly with our partners in India to create jobs for even more women and gain access to a global market. It allows us to work with our partners to provide those same women with safe housing and medical care. And, equip even more women and their children with education and housing and micro-loans — tools needed to build and sustain a new life.
We are proud of this benefit corporation / non-profit hybrid model as it allows us to carry out our shared mission and work at a more scaleable and impactful level than if we were solely operating as a 501(c)3 non-profit. And, that greater impact is why we’re here.
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