"My mistake was thinking I would have something to teach the world. It was quite the opposite; everywhere I went I was the one who was learning something new or inspirational about life and the resilience of the human spirit."
In 2004, Raan Parton and his brother Shea founded Apolis with the simple idea that business can create social change. Their travels abroad immersed them in personal stories of struggle and survival and inspired them to create a business model that bridges commerce and economic development. Along with their commitment to global advocacy, they understand the importance of sourcing and manufacturing locally. Whether it means partnering with manufacturers in Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh, or around the corner in their hometown of Los Angeles, the Partons have used their model of Advocacy Through Industry to empower people to determine their own future.
Getting to travel at an early age and being exposed to a world much bigger than the US. Specifically a trip to India and Nepal for the first time. I was working in the surf industry and was exposed to textiles and craftsmanship that I was not used to seeing. I was also amazed at how the creations tuned in with the heritage of the culture. The products were indigenous and created livelihoods for the people making them. So, we thought: What if we started working with these people but designed products that that were relevant on their own? The story would be part of the product, but the product would be treasured on its own merit and design. We didn't want to sell a guilt trip. That's how Apolis found its mission, which we now call Advocacy Through Industry. Ten years later, we're working in 15 countries and our biggest project is in Bangladesh and employs over 100 women.
I think the transformation culturally is more about learning that there is no hierarchy. People are people everywhere. My mistake was thinking I would have something to teach the world. It was quite the opposite; everywhere I went I was the one who was learning something new or inspirational about life and the resilience of the human spirit. So, I would say to be open. Often the people with the least are the most happy. Never stop being curious, or you risk settling into a life of indifference, which is the worst condition of all.
Photo: New Glassware collection in collaboration with a studio in Oaxaca, Mexico.
My father has been a huge inspiration and mentor. His realm is more in doing good work as a builder. He would always tell my brothers and I, "It's never as good as you thought it would be, and it's never that bad either." That perspective really resonates with me today. There's so much pressure to accelerate your work and "scale" but usually it's totally unrealistic. Nothing good is built fast. I think trying to maintain long-term resilience takes a patience and resolve that's not for everyone, but I prefer it because the rewards are holistic and the victories and defeats are shared.
Photo: Our concept shop, Alchemy Works, where we cary all the brands that we love.
Honestly my work is that for me. I'm a cake eater: I wanted to combine my passion for global development work, design and social enterprise. It's a platform to do things and go places I would have only dreamed of. In the countries where we work, I've always wanted to be a participant versus a spectator. To have that kind of experience is really rewarding. I'd love to continue to look at opportunities to work in different places. We worked on a cross-border collaboration between a Palestinian manufacturer and an Israeli designer, where business was a bridge. It created a unique dialogue in a part of the world that's often misunderstood. We want to celebrate people's similarities.
Photo: Our shop, gallery and community space in the Arts District of LA.
I think I want to do what I'm doing on a bigger scale. We want to see significant impact in the countries and communities where we're working. We have no interest in selling our company, and we really want to be doing this for the next 40 years. I would love to create a publication within our company that would be a platform to tell amazing stories of leadership, global citizenship and humanity.
Photo: Our SS16 collection media preview at the CFDA offices.
All images used with permission of Raan Parton.