An interview with You and Who Founder Dan Gigante on his quest to spread the company’s mission to all corners of the country in only three months.
In a video announcement last week, You and Who–a buy-one-give-one company based in Buffalo–launched a new campaign in conjunction with JetBlue’s BluePass promotion. Originating from Boston or Long Beach, BluePass holders can travel limitlessly anywhere the airline flies to from August 22 through November 22.
You and Who Founder Dan Gigante realized this would be the most effective–and quickest–way to catapult You and Who across the country, and decided to challenge both himself and the company by launching “You and Who on JetBlue: 30 Cities in 90 Days.” You did the math right – that’s about one city every three days. Even less if you factor in travel time. Buffalo Rising caught up with Dan before he set out on his trek to show America You and Who is the next TOMS Shoes.
KK: Let’s start off by talking about what You and Who’s mission is.
DG: You and Who is a buy-one-give-one company, where for every shirt or hat we sell, we donate a matching item to an organization helping people in need. Another main component is working with artists to design the shirts we sell. We do this in order to give them exposure for their work, and we pay them $1 per shirt with their design sold. It’s also how we determine where the donated shirt is sent. For example, if someone buys a shirt designed by a San Francisco artist, then You and Who donates the same shirt to one of the San Francisco-based organizations we work with.
You mentioned last year when You and Who launched that you found inspiration from TOMS Shoes. In June, TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie announced the company is going to be known as “the one-for-one company,” expanding their products beyond shoes based on people responding so well to what they do. How do you see You and Who fitting into this emerging market of one-for-one companies?
What’s great is there are several buy-one-give-one companies out there, and I think we all have been inspired by what TOMS has done. I’ve decided to focus on helping people in the United States, specifically, whereas TOMS and a few others help people in underdeveloped countries. Any one-for-one company is a great cause, whether they focus on domestic or international communities, but You and Who has decided to focus on the millions of people in this country that don’t have their basic needs met, be it with clothing, food or shelter.
So TOMS is expanding, and there are more one-for-one companies springing up. Do you think you’ll move beyond just t-shirts and hats and expand to include more apparel?
Definitely. I’ve looked into things like socks and winter gear such as gloves and outerwear. But actually, something that I’m excited about announcing is You and Who is going to be partnering with food banks and soup kitchens in the cities we work in to donate one meal for every purchase of a logo shirt, or those shirts not designed by artists.
This summer, we partnered with our shirt printer, SoCorp Printing, and Buffalo Place to design and produce the 25th Anniversary Thursday at the Square shirts. For every shirt we sold at the Square, we donated one meal to the Buffalo City Mission. This was a slight variation on the matching donation aspect, which we decided to incorporate permanently based on the positive response we received. I’ll be taking this new concept on the road with me at the end of this month in search for new food banks to work with in You and Who’s new cities. We’ll now be addressing two essential human needs: food and clothing.
Speaking of getting on the road, tell us what inspired you to buy the BluePass.
Last year, I traveled on JetBlue’s All You Can Jet pass for 30 days to launch the start of You and Who. During that trip, I established a presence in five cities, and while that was effective, the company was brand new and I was flying by the seat of my pants–literally. Now, a year later, with nine cities, 24 organizations, 16 shirts designed by different graphic artists, and three retail outlets under my belt, I’m better prepared to approach organizations, artists and retail stores in the cities I’ll be building the company’s presence in.
And I have to mention my friend Clark Dever who traveled on the first All You Can Jet two years ago, as well as last year, which served as an inspiration for me. It made me realize this type of promotion could help launch my business in a way I would never have the means to do otherwise.
Of the 30 cities you’re traveling to in 90 days, how many are new cities?
You and Who is headquartered in Buffalo and has a presence in eight additional U.S. cities: Austin, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC.
With “You and Who on JetBlue,” I’m traveling to 23 new cities, and revisiting seven of the eight we currently do business in. One of the things I’m most excited for is going back to these seven cities and physically dropping off donated shirts to the organizations we’re working with. Being actually able to donate them myself is something I would never be able to do without this promotion – thanks JetBlue!
What do you plan to accomplish in these 90 days?
I plan to meet and establish relationships with three new organizations in each new city I visit. Relationships with these organizations are key, as they are the ones delivering the shirts to those who need them.
Additionally, I will meet with artists in each city to get new shirt designs. Last year, when I launched You and Who, I chose the theme “New Beginnings,” which was apropos. We’ve launched a second design theme, “Moving Forward,” also apropos, which we’re currently accepting design submissions for.
Lastly, I hope to find cool retail shops that would be interested in selling the shirts to give You and Who a physical presence in each of the cities beyond our online store. For example, in Buffalo, You and Who shirts are carried at the Garage Mahal in Orchard Park, Moonstruck Design in Fredonia, and are coming soon to Spoiled Rotten on Elmwood.
How do you find these organizations, artists and retail stores you are planning to visit?
Google. [I laugh]. No seriously. I look up organizations in each city and get on the horn. And with artists, I research portfolio sites and reach out to the ones whose work speaks to me. That said, I love hearing from people who make recommendations for organizations, retail outlets or artists they think would be a great fit for You and Who. This is especially true for the retail stores, as these are best picked by those who know the stores, have shopped there and know the type of customer they attract.
Can people follow along on your journey for the next 90 days?
Yeah, sure buy a pass and come along! But seriously, yes, everyone can follow this journey on Facebook and Twitter. I also plan to do video upda
tes from the road and will blog regularly. This whole experience is going to be a lot of fun, and something I’m really looking forward to. I want people to enjoy it with me.
You’ve made a point to say You and Who is a Buffalo-based company, even though the company has an equal presence in other cities around the country, with major growth on the horizon. What keeps you focused on Buffalo?
Simple – I was born and raised here. This will always be my home base. I purposefully chose a Buffalo-based vendor to print my shirts to keep that money locally. My hope for You and Who is that, as it grows nationally, the results of that growth will be seen and felt here in Buffalo in the form of a profitable business creating jobs, making investments, and spurring the local economy.
Speaking of Buffalo being home, there are Buffalo expats around the country. Have you tapped into this network? What do you say to those reading this?
Not yet, but I hope to. Buffalonians share a common bond regardless of where they live now. I would love to meet expats in the cities I’ll be visiting, and encourage anyone living in one of those cities to reach out to me. This type of mission speaks to many people, and it’s always great to come across those who feel as passionately as I do about helping others.
At the end of the day, what keeps you motivated?
Every time I donate shirts, the gratitude these organizations show me is overwhelming. This is what drives me to want to sell as many shirts as I possibly can. This mission affects so many lives in such a meaningful way – there can never be enough donations made to people who need food or clothing.
Ultimately, my goal has always been to produce really cool shirts that people want to buy and then take gratification out of knowing their purchase impacted a life. You can buy t-shirts anywhere, but this is what sets You and Who apart from everyone else.
If you thought this interview was exhausting, just think about Dan’s next 90 days. Here’s an alphabetical list of the 30 cities that Dan is travelling to, August 22 – November 22, 2011:
Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Burlington, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, Newark, New York City, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, Raleigh, Richmond, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Juan PR, Seattle, Tampa and Washington DC.
Photo: You and Who Founder Dan Gigante donates shirts to Shelter Network, an organization in San Francisco dedicated to
providing housing and support services for homeless families and
You and Who