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How I Am Building a Responsible Business: Noah's Brendon Babenzien

'Making responsible decisions is easy if you take greed out of the equation,' said Noah Founder Brendon Babenzien.
By
  • Zoe Suen

As part of our latest Special Edition, BoF has produced a series of video articles with entrepreneurs and business owners on how to build a responsible business. Hear from The Rebel, The Upcycler, The Anti-Consumptionist, The Manufacturer and The Social Good Brand and explore the Special Edition here.

LONDON, United Kingdom — Covid-19 has thrown the fashion industry into disarray.

“Everything is a disaster,” Brendon Babenzien, founder of menswear brand Noah, told BoF. Thanks to Noah’s price point and WFH-friendly range, the brand has been luckier than most. And as of last year, around half of the brand’s business was already happening online.

However, Noah is selling a lot less of its higher-priced items and had to shut down its physical store on New York’s Mulberry Street. “Anyone you know who kind of tries to say this is not a disaster for them is lying.”

Even so, the brand’s commitments remain intact. “Our values haven't been tested... they’ve been enforced,” he said. “We feel stronger about the things we believe in now.” For Noah, this means making quality products ethically and aligning with value-driven movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock Preservation. Here’s how Babenzien and his team are weathering the current crisis.

Know when to compromise. Though Babenzien has fought against digital marketing since the brand was launched, he's had to compromise as the business shifts its focus. "We've definitely switched gears a little bit because we're basically an online business now," he said. "So we're going to use some of the tools necessary to stay in business."

The bottom line isn't the be-all and end-all. To the former Supreme design director, removing greed from the equation makes purpose-driven decision-making more straightforward. "You make responsible decisions, you probably make less money, but does that really matter?"

Purpose can and should be personal. To Babenzien, hiring people with shared values and beliefs is core to staying motivated as a small, purpose-driven team of around 40. "It's just a gratifying way to exist, because you can wrap [up your beliefs] in your work... you get weird phrases like, 'it's not personal, it's business.' That's just never really felt correct to me."

Purpose-driven marketing only works if you do. "It's only a problem if it's not genuine and people kind of come and like find out you're full of shit." Rather than staying silent or addressing the crisis through a corporate lens, Noah raised $65,000 for charity Direct Relief and encouraged its Instagram followers to support small, independent businesses in a letter penned by Babenzien. The post garnered over 22,000 likes and almost 400 overwhelmingly positive comments. "Businesses that really do care about their community... those are the businesses that need to get through this [and] need to really set the standard going forward."

Give consumers credit. "Consumers do have the power, they've just forgotten," said Babenzien. "Trust the consumer because there are a lot of consumers who are trying to move forward and be progressive in their thinking and how they spend money."

BoF Professional Special Edition: Can Fashion Clean Up Its Act?

As the world grapples with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, exposing deep-rooted social inequality as a climate emergency looms, the fashion industry must learn to respect both people and the planet. It's time for fashion to build a more responsible business model. Explore the full special edition here.

1. Can Fashion Clean Up Its Act?
2. Will Fashion Ever Be Good for the World? Its Future May Depend on It
3. How to Avoid the Greenwashing Trap
4. Luxury Brands Have a 'Respect Deficit' with Indian Artisans
5. Investing in the Sustainability Sisterhood
6. Why Luxury Came to the Rescue
7. The BoF Podcast | Jochen Zeitz on the Power of Fashion to Drive Sustainable Change
and more.

The BoF Professional Summit: How To Build a Responsible Fashion Business

On June 17 2020, we will gather leading global experts, entrepreneurs and activists in sustainability, ethical supply chains and workers' rights for a half-day programme of interactive conversations, panel discussions and workshops on building a responsible business, led by BoF's expert editors and correspondents. Space is limited. Register now to reserve your spot.

If you are not a member, you can take advantage of our 30-day trial to experience all of the benefits of a BoF Professional membership. Click here to join.

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