When shopping online, the average consumer never stops to think about how a particular company treats its employees or if the conditions of the outsourced factory where its mass produced goods originate put human lives in danger for the sake of saving a penny.
Uncommongoods is not one of those businesses. Selling unique, high-quality gifts and artisan-made crafts, the Brooklyn-based online marketplace emphasizes the importance of social responsibility at all levels of doing business.
Before Dave Bolotsky founded Uncommongoods in 1999, he worked as a retail research analyst for Goldman, Sachs & Co. to pay off student loans. Always dreaming of running his own business, Bolotsky often stared across the table at executives and CEOs who were only concerned about numbers and expense reports, and he often wondered if he could do the same thing they were doing.
“My work on Wall Street was fascinating. It paid very well,” Bolotsky says. “But I felt it was amoral, and I wanted to build a business that I could believe in and feel that it would have a positive impact on others.”
Growing up, Bolotsky’s parents instilled his beliefs of creating a positive impact on society and being a good person, as apposed to obsessing over status and money. With his moral values and retail knowledge in tow, Bolotsky left his 14 year career on Wall Street and built one of the earliest websites to offer a wide selection of “green friendly” and individually-made artist crafts.
Though, the business almost popped during the dot-com bubble, Bolotsky praises his dedicated staff for the company’s continued success and survival over the years.
Still, wanting and having great employees are two different things, as Bolotsky points out. To ensure that Uncommongoods’ employees maintain a peace of mind in the workplace and at home, the business tries to help out in ways that many big retail executives would probably laugh at.
“Our starting wage is about 40 percent above minimum wage,” Bolotsky says. “We also work to get people on our medical plan. For example, we’re trying to get a majority of our people working in our warehouse or customer service on our medical plan, even though some of them may not be full-time employees.”
Looking beyond the company, Uncommongoods’ Better To Give program has raised more than $250,000 for non-profit organizations in recent years. Through the program, customers pick one of four groups (American Forests, AmeriCares, Next Generation Nepal, or RAINN) that the company donates a portion of each purchase to.
Uncommongoods also recognizes the struggles of artist and assists when possible.
“We’ve started working in partnership with our designers to take their ideas to reality,” Bolotsky says. “Say somebody has an idea for a product but hasn’t been able to produce it, because they don’t have the money; we try to help them achieve their dream.”