Long time friends Kory McLaughlin and Mike Wallis left behind traditional “9 to 5” jobs to bring about a change in their local and global communities.
“I wanted to do something in terms of giving back,” said McLaughlin, who formerly owned a landscaping company. “I just felt like we’re pretty lucky with what we have…just knowing that we’re growing up with a roof over our heads, warm water, grocery stores. We have it pretty good.”
With the aim of finding ways to “give back,” McLaughlin and Wallis came up with Tenfed, an ethical apparel line that has both style and a social purpose. The company offers simple everyday clothing, ranging from T-shirts to hats, which are available at community events and retailers. For every item sold, 10 meals are provided to hungry children in Canada and around the world with the help of Tenfed’s partner organization, Kids Against Hunger Canada.
When McLaughlin and Wallis started out, their social enterprise was initially called Passion12, which intended on helping many people through as many charities as possible. The duo quickly realized that switching from charity to charity was an unsustainable business model, which led them to focus on one cause: feeding hungry children. Now, with the sale of one Tenfed item, Kids Against Hunger Canada packages and ships highly nutritious, life-saving meals to starving and malnourished children within Canada and developing countries.
“Every time someone buys an item, whether it be a hat, a toque, a hoodie…We’re essentially donating the appropriate amount to be able to feed 10 kids,” said McLaughlin.
Keeping up with ethical practices
According to McLaughlin, selling apparel requires remaining ethical and transparent. While Tenfed initially wanted to keep the production of its clothing in Canada, after a year and a half of operating in the fashion industry, the company found that it’s challenging to make everything locally and still be profitable.
“You realize that it’s not so easy to just jump in there and get a perfect high-quality item at a really good price made ethically,” said McLauglin. “You really have to search to find the right people to make your stuff. What we’ve been doing is trying to find the best sources for quality and for ethics overseas.” Tenfed is currently working on creating a fair trade program in countries like Mexico and Pakistan, where they can pay less for a T-shirt, but ensure that those making the shirts are treated and paid fairly.
“It’s really important to look into the deeper ethics of why all of this exists in the first place.”
As Tenfed tries to maintain an ethical approach to production internationally, it also encourages its customers at home in Canada to shop ethically and actively seek ways to give back.
“It’s really important to look into the deeper ethics of why all of this exists in the first place, to be able to help people that are hungry, to help people that don’t have a roof over their head, to try to keep a lot of things local so you’re not burning too much fuel,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a massive equation that is really difficult to figure out but just to be conscious of what you buy, why you buy it, who you’re buying from, and how they work. I think it’s just all very important but often overlooked.”
Striving for growth
Over the last 18 months, Tenfed, which has provided nearly 40,000 meals to children, has been striving to scale and grow. But pointing to his experience as an entrepreneur, McLaughlin says taking TenFed to the next level will require dedication, “a really positive mental attitude” and the belief that “you’re going to absolutely crush it as quickly as possible.”
“It just takes so much effort, so much time, so much planning and you think that you’re going to do well but it just takes so much dedication to just go through all of it,” said McLaughlin. “I always keep in mind the bigger picture that the struggle that I’m going through is going to be worth it.”
Over the summer, Tenfed will set up shop at events like 5K Foam Fest, which invites people to take part in an obstacle course based run. The company has plans to launch a new clothing line over the summer,too.
“In the long term, we just want to grow as much as we can, feed as many hungry kids as we can, and the whole time that we’re doing this, to learn and to understand about the absolute best way to go about it ethically,” said McLaughlin.