Welcome to a new series, in which we interview the like-minded people who inspire us. First up: Lauren Bush Lauren, who has had a big year.
2017 is the tenth anniversary of FEED Projects, her pioneering luxury brand that was among the very first built on the ideas of transparency and giving back. (A portion of the proceeds from every purchase goes toward fighting world hunger; the brand has provided an astonishing 95 million meals and counting through its partner organizations.) FEED also opened its first store and cafe in May, in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. And last but not least, she recently had her first child, a boy, with her husband, David Lauren.
We spoke with her about these exciting things, and—because we’re obsessed with all things fragrance—her favorite scent memories, too. She was kind enough to indulge us just after returning from a giving trip to Mozambique and Madagascar.
PHLUR: So first, congrats on ten years of FEED.
L: Thank you.
P: While the brand obviously has a massive following, there might be some people who need a quick refresher on your background and on your mission.
L: Perfect. I started FEED almost ten years ago after having the unique experience of traveling as a student with the UN World Food Programme. And through that, I was exposed to the realities of extreme poverty and hunger that unfortunately so many still face around the world. I came back from those travels and that experience wanting to give back and wanting to do more, and to engage others in the seemingly overwhelming and abstract issue of world hunger.
That’s where I came up with the idea for the FEED bag. Because I also really loved design and the fashion industry. I was personally thinking about a career in either the fashion industry or humanitarian aid work. So FEED is kind of born out of that passion for both.
P: That makes sense. But even before you started FEED, what drew you to this mission?
L: I majored in anthropology, I’ve always loved to travel and been curious about how other people live around the world. So when I was able to see parts of the world through the World Food Programme’s work, it really opened my eyes. One in nine people are born into a life of hunger and poverty. That’s over 800 million people who wake up every day and don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. There’s these overwhelming statistics, and yet when you meet with these individuals and communities and schools and children, they become very real. So I think I knew I wanted—even before taking that first trip—to be helpful in some way to the world.
P: And you found a unique way to do it.
L: When I had the aha moment for the FEED bag, it wasn’t, for me, about starting another organization. FEED for me is here to support organizations that are already well established and doing amazing work, but need a bit of extra support. So that’s what we’re doing.
P: Ten years in, what’s working better than you would’ve expected, and what still proves challenging?
L: Oh, gosh. I think even in the last ten years—just talking about the cause right now, not the company—there has been great improvement. Like that statistic, the one in nine, it used to be one in eight. People tend to kind of tune out the issue of hunger because it’s too big, too massive, but in fact progress has been made. So that gives me hope.
P: And what about on the business side?
L: For me my day-to-day is essentially running, as you guys do, a consumer goods company and brand. So the challenges there are how to scale, how to stay true to the brand, how to attract more customers and raise awareness about what you’re trying to do. Over the last 10 years, as retail has changed and what consumers are looking for has changed, FEED has evolved as well. But that’s part of the fun of it.
“People tend to tune out the issue of hunger because it’s too big, too massive. But in fact progress has been made. That gives me hope.”
P: When you created FEED, the idea of building an entire brand around giving back was totally new. Now, if you’re launching a business, it’s almost expected that you champion a cause or an organization. What do you make of that evolution?
L: I find it so exciting that this is the way consumerism has gone in the past ten years, and that companies—new companies, but also older and more-established brands—have sort of caught on to the trend, if you will. It really has been consumer-driven: People want to spend money with companies that are doing good for the world, not just selling products. It’s something that I’m proud of, that FEED was one of the first, but I’m even more proud of the fact that more have joined us.
P: So what’s next?
L: People want meaningful experiences and meaningful connection to what they’re spending their money and their time on, and that’s one reason why we launched our first store. Which is not just a store to sell products and bags, but also a place to get coffee and hang out. Kind of creating that community center vibe and allowing people to engage with the brand beyond making that singular purchase.
P: With the shop, how did you ensure the music and design elements and the coffee fit the overall brand mission?
L: In designing the space, we chose to use natural materials because that’s really true to FEED’s heritage. We use copper a lot because, on our original bags and on a lot of our products, we use copper rivets. So very mindfully, [we made] sure the space reflects the aesthetic of FEED. And the music, too, has an activism vibe to it, which goes nicely with the brand and with the space.
P: Any artists we should be finding on Spotify?
L: Oh, I mean, definitely a lot of Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, that ‘70s kind of folk vibe. We mix it up occasionally, but I made a playlist. And the store staff’s really cheery and optimistic, and really educating people on the brand, as well as welcoming them in to have their daily cup of coffee and muffin.
P: Sounds amazing. You’re doing workshops there, too, right?
L: We’re still getting the programming set, but we already did a flower one, which went really well. We’re gonna start organizing monthly or bi-monthly volunteer activities, so people can sign up through the store and then go volunteer. So meet at FEED, have a cup of coffee in the morning and then head out to a local food pantry to lend a hand.
P: That’s genius. We might steal that.
L: It came through friends saying “I would volunteer, but I don’t know where to or how to.” I think people want to do good, it’s just about making it really easy and accessible for them to do so.
P: Exactly. You guys also do a great job with your messaging—your emails, your social media feeds. They never seem preachy, just light, mindful, luxurious. How do you achieve that balance?
L: Thank you, I’m gonna tell my marketing team you said that. [Laughs.] No, we don’t want to be too high-and-mighty. For us it’s just about being solution-oriented and being someone’s friend and allowing them, through FEED, a way to give back and be that global citizen I think so many people want to be. So it’s definitely not about being preachy because you kind of lose people in that. It’s about being accessible and warm and proactive and, again, solution-oriented.
P: You’ve brought that to life with the shop, too.
L: Thank you. We try to. If you’re someone who wants to do a little something, and wants to feel good about where that three or four bucks you’re spending on your morning coffee is going, hopefully we’re that kind of go-to destination. First and foremost, people have to love the products. They have to love the bags. They have to love the coffee. That’s the reason they come back time and again. But the icing on the cake, and I think the extra reason for the loyalty, is the give-back, and the goodwill feeling they get from purchasing FEED, and knowing the purchase is giving 20 meals, ten meals, five meals.
P: We talk about that all the time, balancing those priorities. So I wanted to ask you about becoming a mother, and how that affected your passion for FEED’s mission.
L: It definitely has increased it. As you know, so much of your time as a parent is spent worrying about what your child is eating, and how much nutrition they’re getting, and how well they’re growing, and how healthy they are. To put that hat on as you view the world, and view parents around the world who aren’t able to provide for their kids, it’s just unimaginable. So it’s definitely made my work at FEED more personal to me.
P: I bet.
L: I just took my first big giving trip with my team since having James [her son]. We went to Mozambique and then Madagascar, and it really took me by surprise almost—I felt even more emotional than I have in the past, meeting kids and seeing moms with their babies, and really feeling for them on another level.
P: How often do you go on giving trips?
L: I generally go on one a year. Having had my son a year and a half ago, I had a bit of a lapse in that. But I try to go at least once in a year. This was really special as I was able to bring my whole team with me. So they were able to go and see it all first-hand, which was great.
P: That’s incredible. So I’m going to abruptly shift gears and ask you some lightning-round questions about scent.
P: Did you have a favorite summer scent?
L: Hmm. Favorite summer scent. Hmm. I like florals mixed with musky smells, kind of year round. But in the summer… maybe jasmine?
P: All right. Good pick. Is there a scent that reminds you of childhood?
L: I would say pine. I grew up partly in Colorado, till I was 7 years old. So that fresh smell of the mountains, and pine trees, always reminds me of childhood.
P: Final question: What’s next for FEED?
L: I’m really excited about our ten-year, and growing our brand and our mission and our giving. All the things that we’ve already planted the seeds for. Just new and better ways to continue to be involved with FEED—through our products, and also through our experiences.
P: We’ll be watching. Thank you so much for your time.
L: Thank you.