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Why We Built a Brand That’s Philanthropically Active

Not an “activist brand."

My cofounder Monica and I started MZ Wallace in 2000 with a simple idea: Great design never goes out of style. We both had longstanding careers in the fashion industry, and we felt there was a gap in the marketplace. It seemed full of logo-heavy handbags that were trend-driven to the point that they would lose relevancy after a season. We wanted MZ Wallace to fill this gap, and that meant creating handbags that women would want to carry year after year. We realized that sustaining that longevity meant building our brand on the core values of authenticity and purpose, which would ultimately be reflected in our products. As our starting point, we focused on our customers’ everyday lives, which helped guide the creation of what we’re known for today—innovative designs that are timeless in style and made to last.

Another important component, in our view, of building our brand on these core values is philanthropic collaborations. MZW Gives Back is our platform to raise funds and awareness for nonprofit and humanitarian organizations we believe in—we’ve accomplished 10 of these projects to date.

Our most recent project is a limited edition of our best-selling Metro Tote, designed in collaboration with Lingua Franca, another female-founded brand. This effort supports the non-partisan 501(c)(3) She Should Run, which empowers women on either side of the aisle running for political office. The concept for this collaboration struck a chord with us—it’s a direct reflection of our values as a company, and especially relevant in today’s political climate. It is important to us that She Should Run is a non-partisan organization—we’re not picking a side, rather, we want to bring focus to empowering all women and creating involvement. When Monica and I first started MZ Wallace, we were shocked by how often men (both in and outside the fashion industry) thought of our success as a “cute surprise” instead of a carefully planned and valid business. In reflection of our own experiences as female cofounders and business owners, it’s important to us not only to help amplify awareness of inequality in the world, but also to set an example of good leadership for our own staff. Being involved with social and humanitarian causes like She Should Run allows us those meaningful opportunities.

In recent years, “activist brand” and “cause marketing” have become business buzz words, with companies using them to try to simulate authentic personal connections with their customers. Here at MZ Wallace, we have forged those personal connections with our customers since the very first day, back in 2000, when we started the company by opening our flagship store on Crosby Street in Soho. The conversation started then, and it continues today. We don’t view MZW Gives Back as a marketing method, nor are we positioning ourselves as an “activist brand.” We consider ourselves an active brand, with engagement in the world at large being of critical importance. We are reactive in our local and global community, in the same way that we are reactive to our customers’ needs—our engagement mirrors our brand mission of purpose and authenticity. Since we are privately held (and therefore not obligated to shareholder opinion) we are able to donate 100 percent of the net proceeds from every charitable collaboration we do, making the biggest impact that we can.

By being a brand that is active in social and humanitarian causes and contributing 100 percent, literally and figuratively, we get 100 percent in return. We deepen our sense of authenticity and emotional connection with our customers. Our employees have a sense of pride in their work knowing that it’s about more than just “moving product.” We are able to do the little bit that everyone should be doing to help create the world they want to live in.  

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