In the spirit of 100% full transparency please know that League Collegiate Outfitters (LCO) is now a client of ArCompany. That is not why I’ve fallen for them hook, line and sinker. Further transparency: Drew Wolf, the founder, is a long time friend of mine and a fellow graduate of Milton Hershey School.
I always knew Drew to be a good and decent guy, and I knew he co-owned an apparel company focused on the college market. But it wasn’t until his selection as MHS Alumnus of the Year that I learned, fully, how special his company is. After hearing about League’s efforts in El Salvador where they manufacture their apparel we started dialoging regularly about social good companies like Warby Parker, and the need to tell League’s important story more broadly.
This month I had the pleasure of spending 2 days and many hours with co-owner Larry Klebanoff, whose heart is as big as he is, and many other LCO employees learning about what makes the company tick. Here’s my short summation: it is all style and heart.
The Clothes, and Profit, Matter the Most
Over the next 6 months you’ll hear a lot about the amazing product put out by League; classic collegiate apparel with the softest hand in the market. The actual products are so on point with their audience that they are a merchandiser’s dream.
But this post isn’t meant to fawn all over their products, but to help make a very specific point: socially responsible businesses are not NGO’s or non-profits, they are FOR PROFIT companies that have a conscience. I’ve witnessed a lot of push back in this series over why social good companies like League aren’t 100% focused on profits by a part of the population that have become jaded on social good.
Personally, I believe that companies like League are our only hope for the future, because I am beyond jaded with our political system. So, when I meet a company that employs 400 people, makes incredible products, takes care of its employees in a way that should be the gold standard for the apparel industry, and makes a profit, well… it makes me want to shout from the roof tops that ” IT CAN BE DONE!”
League’s Co-Owner Hates the Social Good Label
If you could listen to owner Larry Klebanoff speak about how League takes care of its employees you would be truly moved; you would also understand that to him, the opportunities to make concrete and long lasting change are never ending. But he hates the term social good. He detests the term ‘social responsibility.’ To him, both of them represent a kind of artificial effort to appear to be upstanding. He hates them so much he wouldn’t allow the term on the company website, and instead settled for League Cares – a succinct and clear description of what LCO does.
League Collegiate Outfitters has been around for 20+ years, and for a good chunk of their history they were bootstrapping and growing, always taking care of their own. Their many long term employees tell countless stories of contributions to Alzheimer’s walks, church causes, MLK Day fundraisers, and many, many private donations by both Drew and Larry. League has always been a good company.
El Salvador and Opportunity
As stated, League carried on for a good chunk of its first 2 decades making great product and being generous. Still, they were part of the broad apparel industry outsourcing its manufacturing across the globe. Then, in 2009 a disastrous challenge became the chance to change things profoundly at League.
LCO’s manufacturer in Guatemala imploded. Larry was aware that there had been problems, to the extent that he had traveled to the facility repeatedly, working with the plant manager to implement systemic changes to make production better. But he couldn’t control the way the company was run, and suddenly, in 2009, it ceased production, leaving LCO with no manufacturer.
Larry moved swiftly, recruiting the old plant’s manager and setting up production at a new company, League Central America in El Salvador, one of the world’s most impoverished and violent nations. The ability to FINALLY do things the right way from a manufacturing perspective was the obvious bonus, but what Larry and his team found in El Salvador changed everything. Delapadated schools, inferior housing, a lack of child care, loan sharking, gang violence…all just part of what LCA’s new employees were faced with on a daily basis. The company set to work.
The Long List of Initiatives
In order to keep this post under 5000 words, I’m forced to outline what LCA does, not only for its employees, but for the community of workers in American Industrial Park in El Salvador:
- Daycare: Before LCA, most garment workers were mothers who were forced to leave their young children home alone or with strangers or people they didn’t trust. League set up an almost free daycare to alleviate the stress its workers faced about the welfare of their children.
- Pediatric Care: Because the workforce in El Salvador is so impoverished, healthcare is a luxury. Not for the children of LCA employees; it’s provided on site.
- Nutrition: League set up a deeply subsidized breakfast and lunch cafeteria to make sure that its employees can afford to eat well.
- Co-op: When LCA realized that a good percentage of its workforce was indebt to loan sharks and unable to borrow money at a fair rate, it paid off employee debt and founded a co-op, allowing its employees to borrow fairly.
- Education: League provides adult education at no charge to the entire American Industrial Park population, allowing people to get their GED and further adult education.
- Gang Rehabilitation: A good percentage of El Salvadorian men are in gangs, primarily out of the need to belong to something amid the hopelessness, and as protection in one of the world’s most violent societies. League partnered with Central American University to provide job opportunities to gang members who have requested and received training on how to leave gang life; 15% of their workforce are rehabilitated gang members.
- Fair Labor Policy: Of course it should not have to be on this list, but because of the methods of operation of so many in the apparel industry League Collegiate Outfitters has a Workplace Code of Conduct to ensure against child and forced labor, among other things. They also pay a substantially higher wage than the average garment worker in El Salvador receives.
That is the short list of how League Collegiate Outfitters is doing business differently; there are too many individual stories to tell in one post. But watch this and League’s space for many, many more stories of individual lives changed by a company that wants to make a difference.