TECHNOLOGY

CSA Exclusive: Online startup Olivela uses luxury fashion to empower girls

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A hot new luxury retailer is using its partnerships with high-end designers to educate and change the lives of girls worldwide.

Founded online in June 2017, San Francisco-based Olivela takes the notion of retail philanthropy to a new level. Selling apparel, jewelry, accessories and beauty from such luxury brands as Valentino, Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo, and Dolce & Gabbana to name a few, the retailer donates 20% of each purchase to charity partners dedicated to supporting education for girls.

What’s more, Olivela lets shoppers directly connect with the end result by doing the math for each piece of merchandise on the site. A $395 metallic pleated skirt from Marc Jacobs, for example, pays for 10 days of school for Syrian refugees (provided through partner Care), while a $3,890 Max Mara cost provides for 113 days of school.

“We launched with a dozen luxury brands, and now feature 225 of the world’s best brands,” said Stacy Boyd, founder and CEO. “Our partnership with the brands is what makes all of this possible.”

Olivela is not Boyd’s first foray into retail. A parent and former school principal, she parlayed her career in education to launch a number of successful ventures. These include the Academy of Pacific Rim, a charter public school in Boston, as well as Project Achieve, an educational information management system startup. She also launched Schoola, an online retailer that sells gently-worn clothing to support schools in need.

The idea for Olivela evolved during a trip Boyd took to Africa in 2016, to celebrate Malala Day — the birthday of Malala Yousafzai, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people, as well as her work supporting children’s rights to an education. During the trip, Boyd met girls in makeshift primary schools located in refugee camps in Dadaab and Mahama, and was inspired.

“At one point, I took out my camera to take a photo of some of the girls and looked at my [designer] bag,” she explained. “That was when I knew that we could unleash the equity in luxury shopping to yield benefits and opportunities for so many children around the globe.”

“During the trip, it became increasingly clear that while talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not,” she added. “I knew that I could draw on the experience and expertise from having launched Schoola, which aims to benefit public schools here in the United States.”

It was from that realization that Boyd began developing a retailing experience with “giving back” built into every transaction. Once the evolving company’s social mission was in place, Boyd needed an equally meaningful name —one that highlighted the company’s philanthropic ideals. For Boyd, the perfect moniker was a mash-up of the words “olive” and “vela.”

“The olive tree represents growth and wisdom, and vela is the Latin word for ‘sails of a ship,’” she explained. “Overall, Olivela helps set children forth on the right path in life.”

To date, Boyd added, Olivela has provided over 41,000 days of school to at-risk girls through all four charities.

To ensure it maintains loyalty among its shoppers, the company also price matches merchandise. Eligible items must be identical, from the same designer, and in-stock on a designated U.S.-based competitor’s website, according to Olivela’s website.

Participating brands ship all merchandise to Olivela’s warehouse in Columbus, Ohio, a practice that ensures that product is authentic. Some pieces are also exclusive or limited edition items that may only be available for short timeframes and thus, not restocked when they sell out. Olivela currently ships merchandise to customers across all 48 continental states.

STORES: Eager to reach an even broader audience, the company opened its first pop-up boutique in June. The 900-sq.-ft. store, in Nantucket, Mass., features a curated assortment of 950 items from top designer brands, as well as hosted trunk shows and beauty events. The location, which also accepts returns of online purchases, also makes its standard donation from each sale to its children-based charities.

“Nantucket’s vibrant business community combined with the stylish and socially conscious residents and visitors, was the perfect setting to launch the retail side of our business and further make a real impact in the lives of girls around the world,” Boyd said.

The pop-up, which will remain open through October, also sparked a partnership with the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Through its sales, Olivela made donations that provided over 19,000 hours of life saving dialysis, she added.

The store’s success has spurred the company to open 15 new boutiques through 2019. The first will open on Dec. 5, in Aspen, Colorado.

Olivela also plans to broaden its assortments, as well as charity partnerships.

“We are excited about extending Olivela into more categories and evolving the cause partnerships, both in depth and specificity,” she added. “We will continue to bring on new brands, as well, fulfilling our promise to make Olivela the ultimate philanthropic retail destination.”

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