Kfir Gavrieli: “You don’t have to wait to do it”

Helping others is the most rewarding thing you can do in life and you don’t have to wait to do it. Like entrepreneurship, helping others is an everyday practice and mindset. You can build it into what you do on a daily basis, even if it’s as simple as picking up trash and throwing it […]

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Helping others is the most rewarding thing you can do in life and you don’t have to wait to do it. Like entrepreneurship, helping others is an everyday practice and mindset. You can build it into what you do on a daily basis, even if it’s as simple as picking up trash and throwing it away when you see it on the sidewalk, or offering to help an elderly person in a store lift something heavy. It can be as simple as making sure that you sincerely thank people when they help you and thinking about how you can pass that kindness on.

Those are small examples, but young people are also capable of doing big things. With growing access to technology, a young person with a laptop and internet access can teach themselves how to advocate for causes they care about, work to spread helpful information in an easily digestible format, or build online tools that inspire people to give back as well.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kfir Gavrieli. Kfir Gavrieli is the co-founder and CEO of Tieks. Tieks designs and sells a line of women’s flat shoes known for its signature split-sole, Italian leather, comfort, and portability. Tieks was one of the early brands to sell exclusively through its own website and today is one of the top web-only fashion brands in the world. Kfir founded the company with his siblings in 2008, and the line officially launched in 2010. The company has been recognized by Forbes (25 Most Innovative Consumer Brands), Inc (30 Under 30), Entrepreneur (Top 30 Startups to Watch), The Oprah Magazine (The O List), and several other national publications.

Tieks is committed to women’s empowerment and, through the Gavrieli Foundation, has become the largest individual lender in the world on Kiva, sending over $10,000,000 to women entrepreneurs living in poverty around the world. Prior to Tieks, Kfir worked in the hedge fund, venture capital, real estate, and tech industries. He received his BA, MS, and MBA degrees at Stanford and lives in Los Angeles. Kfir is also an investor and is actively involved in several non-profits.

During the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, Kfir led Tieks to help increase the supply of PPE to frontline health care workers by producing masks at the Tieks factory, partnering with businesses to secure and donate critical N95 masks to hospitals and health workers, and launching Operation #SewTogether, a social media campaign that encouraged Tieks fans to produce hundreds of thousands of masks across the country for essential healthcare workers.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

My family immigrated to America when I was a young child and my parents set an incredible example for me and my four siblings.

My parents barely spoke English when we moved to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. They came here to give us a better life by building a successful business from scratch, where my siblings and I learned the value of hard work as we were growing up.

Most importantly, they showed us the importance of family and the true meaning of hard work through the power of their example. They always put their family first — and have given me the love and support to make my dreams possible. My parents have stood behind me through good times and tough times, and I’ll always treasure that unconditional support.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, is packed with wisdom. It resonated with me because it clearly lays out how limited our time is on earth when put it into the context of the span of history. It also makes clear that the comparative advantage that human beings enjoy — the reason we came to become the most successful species on the planet — is because of our ability to work together.

Those same lessons are present in the Jewish tradition. If you understand that your success, happiness, and sense of purpose comes from something bigger than yourself it drives every decision you make in your personal and professional life.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“We should use our imagination more than our memory.” Former Israeli Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres.

In our business, we strive to approach every decision with fresh eyes. We must not only consider what we’ve done in the past, but also what could be possible in the future. This outlook has been instrumental in my work. This is what helped us pioneer a new shoe and an entirely new approach to retail in 2008. Tieks, as foldable shoes, are an innovation in an industry that has been around for millennia, and our direct-to-consumer approach to retail sales was new when we started. This perspective is also what helped us become the biggest lender in the world on KIVA because we were determined to be the people setting, not following, trends. I have never been confined to just doing what existed in the past.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

When COVID-19 hit in early March, I heard of the critical shortages and the need for more PPE for healthcare and essential workers, so my company Tieks quickly reoriented our manufacturing facility into a mask-making assembly line, producing hundreds of masks for donation to the area’s front line health workers. We soon realized our in-house team was limited in our capacity to help and the team alone could not produce as many masks as were needed in time for the oncoming crisis in the L.A. County area. We decided to get our fans and customers involved and launched Operation #SewTogether, an online social media campaign that rewards customers and supporters with gift cards for masks sewn and donated. For every 25 masks sewn and delivered, people were rewarded with a $50 gift card, and for every 50 masks, a $100 gift card. Thanks to our amazing customers and fans, the campaign spread like wildfire and hundreds of thousands of masks were donated within weeks. We are thrilled to have met our goal of over 1 million masks sewed and donated across the country to date through this initiative. The cloth masks provide essential protection for general healthcare workers who work in a hospital setting but have no direct contact with COVID patients. This means that the essential N95 masks can be reserved for front line workers who need them most, and that cloth masks can be used in conjunction with N95 to prolong their life.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

Heroes are people who put others ahead of themselves, especially when it’s inconvenient, challenging, or even dangerous. Right now, I see many heroes as the ones who are doing difficult things day-in, day-out, because it’s the right thing to do, as all of the medical workers, from nurses and doctors to EMTs and technicians, to hospital janitors and receptionists, who have been on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus crisis.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

For several months, Tieks for Heroes offered $100 gift cards to thank first responders, doctors, nurses, and military service members who sacrifice so much for us. But I think the Tieks fans who participated in our #SewTogether campaigns embody heroism: self-sacrifice, responsibility, kindness, tenacity, and compassion.

Monica Ovalle (@rnmonica) embodies self-sacrifice because she herself works in the medical field, and still made the time to make and donate 50 masks to her work family at Clovis Community Medical Center.

Melody Dutcher (@melodydutcher) embodies responsibility by donating masks to an ER in Colorado and helping people in the medical field stay safe.

Sandra Lee (@thelifeofsandralee) embodies kindness, donating the masks she made to assisted living facilities and nurses in San Jose, California, and focusing on the people who are protecting and caring for a population that is incredibly vulnerable to coronavirus. 
Lucy Blaylock (@lucysloveblanket) embodies tenacity because she is only 11 years old and, along with her siblings and family, sewed and donated 100 masks to healthcare workers at TriStar in Gallatin, Tennessee.

My team at Tieks embodies compassion because they have worked day-in, day-out to help make sure we were able to mobilize our fan community to help with COVID, alongside our other efforts to get first responders PPEs.

Truly, everyone who has been working on the frontlines of this pandemic or supporting the people on the frontlines is a hero in my book.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

Heroism serves a higher purpose. Everyone and anyone can be driven to be heroic because it is ultimately more fulfilling to help others than to help ourselves. Of course, just because it is most fulfilling to help others, it doesn’t mean heroes shouldn’t take care of themselves. The people who sacrifice a lot sometimes need to be reminded to look after themselves.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a family friend of mine who works at a hospital told me of the shortages and how healthcare workers were in desperate need of masks, worried that they wouldn’t be protected. As soon as I learned of this coming shortage, I knew we had a responsibility to reorient our business and do everything we can to help protect professionals on the front lines. It was less a question of “If we can help,” but more determining, “How can we help and be most effective in our efforts?”

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My parents are my biggest heroes. While I understood their sacrifices to a certain degree while I was growing up, now that I run my own business, I see just how much strength and perseverance they needed to move to a new country — where they barely spoke the language — to give their children more opportunities.

Like many, I also see the first responders as heroes because they have chosen a job where they are dealing with emergencies, doing their best to save peoples’ lives in incredibly stressful and difficult situations.

Lastly, the members of my team are all my personal heroes. Each one of them is more driven to help others than I have ever seen, and they are the ones who have enabled and facilitated everything we have done to help with coronavirus. They’re the ones responsible for driving our campaign and they deserve the credit for the massive impact we made through our fans and customers.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

To be very frank, the fact that we could have seen it coming and didn’t have proper protocols in place scared me. It’s frustrating to see how slow our response was and that, while we were aware of the risks of a pandemic like this, our medical systems had to scramble to even get support. I’m very grateful I am in a position where I could think creatively to try to help and I know that many other business and community leaders who have done similar things feel the same way.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain why?

Everyone who is living through this time is now going to understand the importance of public health and we will now be better prepared for the future. People have also come together to help in inspiring and moving ways around the world. We have been able to see people give so much of themselves — whether it’s ER doctors whose lives are at risks, pharmacists who make sure people get life-saving drugs, postal service workers who deliver packages, caregivers to seniors who have been isolating to stay safe, or grocery store workers making sure we can all stay fed — and we can appreciate the selflessness of these heroes who are sacrificing so much during this crisis.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

I continue to be inspired by the power of community and the eagerness of people to do their part in donating goods, raising awareness, and more. The Tieks fans have inspired me beyond what I could have ever imagined in their individual and collective efforts to create and donate the PPEs needed to protect our essential workers. I’ve seen a shift in people’s actions and priorities, realizing now, more than ever, that we are really all in this together and a lot of good can come from slowing down, taking stock of what really matters and where our time, money and efforts are needed most right now.

While many small businesses and companies are struggling to stay afloat, I’m disappointed that some large corporations have taken bailouts and PPP loans simply because they could. These loans were designed to reduce layoffs and furloughs and save the small businesses already fighting for their lives. Larger corporations have access to lines and modes of credit that smaller businesses simply do not. I’ve been shocked to see such well-known business leaders take advantage of this.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

There are always going to be good people and there are always going to be bad people. That hasn’t changed.

Humans will always learn to try to be better — and this happens in spite of negative forces that will always exist. We can all work to prioritize helping others and being compassionate. Shifting that balance means paying more attention to good people with good intentions. Even though it can be easy to focus on the bad, especially now, during a pandemic, when there is a lot of bad to focus on, we can still focus on the heroes of this moment who are bravely working to save lives.

The most challenging times are the times when humans also show our greatest capacity to hope for better and to help each other. Right now, community by community, I think most people are rising to meet the moment.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

It can be very easy in our day-to-day lives to close off and just try to get our work done. I hope that after this, we see more openness, a commitment to transparency, and a deeper sense of compassion. We need to see the humanness in each other to do better.

Through our campaign, I saw the power of communications and social media to change consumer behavior for the better. We have more opportunities for people to express their values through their consumption habits and other choices they make. It’s the job of business leaders to empower people to express their values in how they buy. As people making products, we need to meet all the needs of our consumers: not just that the shoes they have to look great and are comfortable, but that we think about our impact on everyone around us and do what we think is right. No business leader and no company is perfect, because we are all human, but we have to be conscious of our roles in communities.

I do believe that, at the end of the day, people are good. People don’t need to go through curators and arbiters of taste to know what’s right and what’s wrong. The will of the people, I believe, is altruistic. After this challenging time, people are going to remember the importance of altruism and caring about each other.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Helping others is the most rewarding thing you can do in life and you don’t have to wait to do it. Like entrepreneurship, helping others is an everyday practice and mindset. You can build it into what you do on a daily basis, even if it’s as simple as picking up trash and throwing it away when you see it on the sidewalk, or offering to help an elderly person in a store lift something heavy. It can be as simple as making sure that you sincerely thank people when they help you and thinking about how you can pass that kindness on.

Those are small examples, but young people are also capable of doing big things. With growing access to technology, a young person with a laptop and internet access can teach themselves how to advocate for causes they care about, work to spread helpful information in an easily digestible format, or build online tools that inspire people to give back as well.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I would support has already been started: KIVA. This organization invests in something very basic and powerful: supporting women in undeveloped and developing countries who have so much to offer and haven’t had adequate opportunities to contribute. Empowering these women with small business loans changes communities because their instincts are to help those around them, especially their families, and they care deeply about the impact of their business broadly. Small loans to women uplift communities and societies around the world. We will only see the contributions of women increase in the coming years. That’s a movement we should all get behind.

One way to build on that is to extend this idea through small investments in businesses and careers for other underrepresented groups. The same truth prevails. There are a number of groups that share this idea — I am not the first person to advocate for this.It would be inspiring to see a broader movement toward making capital available to people who have not had access to it and who are ready to start building their own businesses.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Netta Barzilai. Her commitment to originality and authentically being herself is what has made her a successful artist in Israel and around the world. Her fearlessness and positivity are inspiring, and I think we could have a great conversation in either Hebrew or English.

How can our readers follow you online?

Facebook: @kfirgavrieli1

Instagram: @kfirgavrieli

Twitter: @KfirGavrieli

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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