At Azusa Pacific University, class projects in the business department encourage students to team up with existing companies to promote networking and field experience. But Mitch Ahlenius and Benjamin Juhlin never did things like everyone else. Rather than teaming up with a “real” company, they thought they would create one themselves.
The idea for what would eventually be called The Union Co. started out as dream Ahlenius and Juhlin could entertain while working on their project, but it soon developed into a venture they wanted to seriously pursue outside of class. Originally wanting to provide a wide range of services to nonprofits, the duo realized they could serve more people by narrowing their focus. The goal became to create an Amazon marketplace for products that support causes.
The co-founders wanted to maintain a business that is mutually beneficial: the customers get a quality product, and those providing the products get the return they deserve. Their website says, “We want to engage people in the dignity of a business relationship, one where both sides win, because that is a more sustainable way to support a cause.”
Epic Timepieces, the first company willing to become part of the venture, was signed on nearly a year ago and supports clean water initiatives; the purchase of one watch provides “clean water to someone in a developing country for an entire year through the distribution of water filters.”
The website, launched March 4 of this year, allows its users to search by product category (from home goods to electronics) or by cause (such as job creation by employing Kenyan mothers). They even offer products from five vendors that support education. OAK Lifestyle sells backpacks with a pouch intended for an ordinary act of kindness (or “OAK”; thus the acronym), encouraging the owners to carry around a granola bar or cash to give to someone in need. With each purchase, OAK provides a child with a backpack and school supplies. RePick sells guitar picks that are made from recycled gift cards, donating 100% of the proceeds to keeping music in Los Angeles school districts.
Their other products range from wooden iPhone cases by Vers, which plants 100 trees for every one used in production, to handmade soaps by Hand in Hand, which not only donates a bar of soap for each one purchased, but also saves 50 square feet of rain forest and ensures a donation to “help fund micro-credit loans to alleviate poverty in the U.S. and the developing world” per bar sold.
If there is a good way to approach shopping, this is it. Just by purchasing everyday products, lives can be changed forever, putting us one step closer to a better educated, healthier, and happier world.