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Q&A with Brandless Co-Founder & Co-Chair Tina Sharkey

At Brandless, you’re taking on everybody: retailers, manufacturers, the advertising world and anyone who builds brands. Would you say that’s true?

I actually feel like it’s the inverse. What I’ve taken on is the observation that in the US last year, 90 of the top 100 CPG brands were in decline. People are losing trust in industry and in brands – brands are trust marks, but we’ve lost trust.

The numbers speak for themselves: most Millennials are saying, ‘wait a second. I don’t want to buy the stuff that my parents bought.’ And most of this country says they want to do business with brands that reflect their values. There’s got to be a better way to build a company, to create manufacturing, to have a direct relationship.

There’s got to be a better way to build a brand – one that is rooted in truth, trust, transparency; in community-driven values. One whose complete focus is scaling kindness more than transacting on any individual product or service.

You’ve said that Brandless is ‘unapologetically a brand’. How?

We don’t have a team of people who are making up names. What I love about the discipline of the Brandless brand and the rigor around it is that things are what they are. Lentil soup is lentil soup. Almond butter is almond butter. We’ve turned Brandless into an attribute, because it stands for something. We’re redefining what it means to be a brand – one that is in partnership with the community it serves.

How do you ensure that sense of community and purpose is infused into your brand and culture?

It starts with our team. As a team, we set intentions for our company – to make it better, to be all-in on the values. I write every single employee and I ask them to set an intention, and I tell them what mine is. We ask, ‘Why did you set the intention?’ And, more importantly, ‘How can we support you in living that intention this year?’ Then everyone in the company signs it, and we place it on the wall.

We tell our community that we’re setting intentions and ask if they want to do that with us. I believe you can’t achieve an intention unless you set one. The most important thing is to remember that everyone has community around them, and people ultimately are good. That’s why every time you check out at Brandless, we donate a meal in your honor – because tangible acts of kindness are something everyone wants.

What sets Brandless apart from other retailers who already offer their own-label brands?

The better-for-you stores right now are mostly boutiques, but most people from a price point perspective are not invited to that party. We’ve blown the front off that building, and we’ve made it a festival. I am planning on changing the idea that better has to cost more. Everyone deserves better, and better shouldn’t cost more! Most importantly, everyone deserves to be seen and validated for who they are. This false narrative that you have to be or represent something you’re not – that’s not true. It’s just not fair. I’m so done with that.

You’re a well-known entrepreneur with VC backing; people are going to say, ‘she’ll be in it for five years, then she’ll sell it’. What’s your answer?

The ethos that we’re building at Brandless is not our movement. It’s a movement owned by the people. We just hope to play a small part in it. So, I don’t see that going anywhere. In fact, I think it will scale. We don’t have any intentions to sell, but that fear is one that I appreciate coming from the outside. But if you understood the DNA of this brand, it would be impossible to break that bond and our connection to the people we serve.

Want more? Read our interview with Natasha Franck, CEO of Eon.

 

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