The Healing Arts Guide is very proud to continue our series called Responsible Capitalism. In each issue, we feature enlightening conversations with corporate leaders who are dedicated to producing sustainable products through strategic initiatives and innovation.
Many companies, large and small, are being more socially responsible. They’re recognizing that their customers are demanding ethical leadership and protecting the planet we live on. As the NMI (Natural Marketing Institute) reports, “Almost one in four American consumers state that when given the choice to buy a product or service, they make decisions with an understanding of the effect the purchase will have on the health and sustainability of the world, its environment and people.” With this in mind, Responsible Capitalism, will help you make informed choices by highlighting not only the economics behind a business, but also the environmental and social aspects as well.
Conversation with Paulette Cole, CEO and Creative Director of ABC Home at ABC Carpet & Home
What is your professional background?
I started in the ready-to-wear fashion business for a couple of years and then went into the carpet business before I co-created ABC Home in 1985. The mission was to guide people to invest in individuality and personal expression in the home. I wanted to encourage self-expression and the creation of the home as a mirror to that. After all, the ultimate form of comfort comes from your space. The entire experience of finding our products was a cultural awakening. It was the American journey—a melting pot of ideas—and we created a new way of looking at things. There was a huge sense of discovery as we explored the world and I felt incredibly privileged to act as a barometer for the customer while bringing new things to retail and the home business. Additionally, I was studying Eastern philosophy at that time so it was very important for me to bring spirituality into the home.
What is the purpose of a business?
Philosophically, I think that each of us is here with a very4 special gift of our own. Those of us who are able to explore and live a personal journey in a business have a wonderful opportunity. After all, business is a service on so many levels. It is a tool for enhancing lives. Consumerism can be empty and shallow. Therefore, we need to invest in products that have meaning for us—we need to invest meaning into our work. Business is a platform to enact change and be a catalyst to effect change. Business shouldn’t be used as a martyr, but we can use commerce to effect change by creating products that have a high level of quality without asking the customer to compromise. For example, ABC Home’s mission is to serve by manifesting a retail paradigm shift in which we compose a revolutionary platform for offering cause related product through beauty, experience, and magic, in order to guide the consumer to creatively express individuality, values, and to actualize home as sacred space.
In what ways does a business create value, and whom does it really serve?
Our goal is to have each link in the chain between the supplier and consumer to have a positive effect. I believe our job is to serve ALL parties.We believe in fair trade, and in order to create something sustainable, we need to offer products of value and quality. Things that are hand made and have a human element—these things are worthy of investment.
Do all corporations have an obligation not just to shareholders but also to social causes and local communities?
I think a common moral purpose is emerging. My prayer isthat more and more orporations recognize that. It truly feels like we are at a tipping point. An analogy can be made that people once looked to their religion and churches for direction and now people look toward business. It’s a part of the criteria that consumers are demanding. It’s simply good business to be responsible for the footprint you leave behind. It pushes business in the right direction. You have to be
Above: One-of –a kind- Root Chair from the Philippines Below: ABC Homes’ GROUNDED COLLECTION is a “new landscape of modern” featuring Ancient wood fossil tree trunk stools, some 2-3 million years old and excavated from 60 feet below ground which have their tops polished to reveal fossilized growth rings. Root furniture from Indonesia, Philippine mahogany and driftwood function as tables or free-standing bars. Contemporary tables and benches are made from rare fine woods that are all salvaged, recycled or reclaimed and eclectically mixed with a wide array of antique furniture and chandeliers.
competitive, but more importantly, you have to be accountable as well.We’re not talking charity, we’re talking commerce. The moment of manifesting our mission, to offer product expressive of our passion for community, beauty, purity, fair trade, indigenous, good wood, recycled, sustainable, hand and consciously made, is now here.
Can a business promote social causes and yet remain competitive and profitable?
We were able to change all our cleaning products throughout the store as well as paper products and packaging to be environmentally friendly all without more money—you just have to be smart and careful. So, yes, there are definitely ways to be competitive and profitable. You have to have a carefully thought out plan. There is so much potential in business to innovate and consumers want to feel that they are participating in the movement forward. It’s not about us versus them. There should be no war between the onsumer and the business.
How important is it to build a brand that generates great customer loyalty?
For me, that’s where all the fun and passion is. To create a product with a point of view is the opportunity to teward and guide people. Branding with a level of depth is an educational tool and part of a cultural shift. Being a catalyst for change is a blessing and to be received so well inspires me to continue.
What are some of the biggest obstacles in trying to merge financial success with social commitment in today’s global economy?
There is a cultural shift occurring and not everyone is on board. So, a big part of the job is raising awareness and that takes a lot of time. For us, there are obstacles with employees and with suppliers. It’s not always easy to keep all the products sustainable, organic, indigenous—it takes a lot of time and patience to get other people to jump on board. When I came back to ABC Home, we were really in trouble. People didn’t want to invest in a mission to save the planet, they wanted to save the business.We were up against the wall and deeply, deeply challenged. Somehow we were able to integrate the two missions—creating sustainable products and being a profitable business. We are the antidote to the big box businesses.We want to sell the quality AND originality.
Icons used at ABC Home denote specific mission standards for furniture in the Grounded collection. Product which embodies three or more standards is honored with an “ABC LOVES” heart hang tag.
Above: A Suzani slipper chair sits next to root tables from Indonesia displaying a variety of “Good Wood" bowls made from trees harvested from responsibly managed forests and reclaimed sources protecting old growth and endangered species. Below: Zulu-Mama Chair—an “indigenous” piece that mixes traditional basket weaving techniques using recycled plastic or leather practiced by African tribal women with a modern recycled stainless steel chair frame.
Who/what do you see as the next wave of environmental leadership?
Federal legislation is key. I think that basically, we have to demand action and we need laws to protect the nvironment from big business. The demand needs to come from individuals—we can’t wait around for the government. That action is finally speaking to the media and consumers are responding, and therefore, politicians are starting to listen. We all need to have the conviction to make changes.We have all the data in hand, we now need federal regulations.We don’t have that much more time.We need to empower ourselves. Each of us needs to do what we can do—everything has a ripple effect.
What’s in the future for ABC Home?
ABC is the relentless business of infinite potential. Our mission is to bring forth the co-emergence of retail with education, healing, and sanctuary. I believe it’s time for a change and we are in a position to create the emand.
ABC Home at ABC Carpet & Home 888 Broadway New York, NY 10003 www.abchome.com
ABC Home founded in 1985 ABC Carpet founded in 1897 300 employees at ABC Home for more information, call 212.473.3000