Conscious entrepreneurship.

What does it mean to be a “conscious entrepreneur” and lead a purpose-driven business and brand? This week’s episode of Building While Flying answers that question (and more!) and addresses the need for more companies to start doing the same. 

It's safe to say almost every company, there may be one or two that are a little bit larger, so you can't consider them a startup, but we've always approached the growth and the building with a startup mindset

Kevin ShelhamerCo-Founder of Rescue Plastics

Transcription

Conscious Entrepreneurship and Leveraging Bad for Good with Kevin Shelhamer

Katie Hankinson (00:02): Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson.

Mickey Cloud (00:04): And I’m Mickey Cloud. And welcome to Building While Flying, a new podcast from The Sasha Group, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient, and navigate ever changing skies.

Katie Hankinson (00:22): Well, welcome to this episode of Building While Flying. My guest today is Kevin Shelhamer, marketing and branding exec turned conscious entrepreneur and co-founder of Rescue Plastics, a pretty new startup dedicated to removing plastics from waterways and transforming it into high-performance fabric for active and leisurewear clothing. Did I get that right?

Kevin Shelhamer (00:47): You did. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Katie Hankinson (00:49): Welcome to the show. It’s great to have you. Well, I feel like we’ve got lots to talk about. I’m very excited about having a socially conscious and environmentally conscious entrepreneur on the show, because it’s obviously a top topic both in business and out in the rest of the world. Before we dive into that, do you want to just give us a quick potted history of your story, your journey to today and the role that you currently play running Rescue Plastics?

Kevin Shelhamer (01:18): Yeah. No, absolutely. It’s often amusing. I sometimes say I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. But it’s one of those things, I’ve always enjoyed solving problems and building things. And the majority of my career has been in the marketing and the agency space. I actually started my career at a startup and it was an interesting opportunity. It was where I jumped into business with a friend to build a logistics and supply chain company. There is a little bit to be said about youthful intelligence. You really don’t know what you’re up against, but I do think that sometimes is a good thing.

Kevin Shelhamer (02:01): But we were able to grow the business and subsequently sell it, but it was during that process that I hired a marketing firm to help us build a website. And it was very much in the infancy of the web, if you will. And I liked the team. I loved the way that they approached helping us position the firm. And so following the sale, I was looking for my next move and ended up joining them. And that move really put me in the agency space. And what I realized that I really enjoyed about that is we’re constantly solving problems for different companies and different brands, and different things of that nature. But it allowed me to really understand some of the differences, but similarities that brands face and how they create themselves and establish themselves. And just to date that timeframe, that was back in the.com days. Probably the late nineties rode that wave.

Katie Hankinson (03:04): Pre-bubble.

Kevin Shelhamer (03:04): Yeah. No, oh my gosh. It was an interesting time to say the least, but it really put me on this journey of the next 15 to 20 years, which was a bit of a roller coaster ride, but it was, it was largely a journey that was influenced by the people that I met along the way. And I’ve had the opportunity, I worked in Northwest Arkansas largely focused on retail. I Had the chance to work in New York. And so, slowly my career brought me to Chicago, which is where I am now. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the people you meet along that journey and then the influence they have. And in fact, I met my current business partner at Rescue at a networking event a few years ago. And we realized in part of our conversations that we had similar interests and a passion for doing good. And that was really the impetus for giving birth to Rescue Plastics. That was how we started that conversation.

Katie Hankinson (04:13): That’s a fantastic arc. So began in startup and then went into agency, which is actually quite an interesting way around to do it, because I feel like so many begin in agency land and then come back out into the world of entrepreneurship. And then dove back in, and then found yourself at Rescue Plastics. And also, well, there’s another thing we can probably come back and talk about, which is the serendipity of meeting people at network events in this time when we’re less able to do that in the physical way.

Kevin Shelhamer (04:44): I know. That is true. That is true, but still certainly important for sure.

Katie Hankinson (04:47): Yeah. For sure. So he or today you and your business partner have established Rescue Plastics. There’s an intriguing aspect to that name, kind of slightly unexpected. So talk a bit about exactly the company, the idea behind it, the premise and how it all works.

Kevin Shelhamer (05:04): Yeah. It was interesting, plastic pollution globally, frankly is a huge problem. And we really started the conversation around this question of, so what can we do that would leverage what is bad for good. And if we were thinking about that, and my partner has spent a large portion of his career in the apparel industry, and there’s a movement underway right now of how do we actually leverage ocean plastics and recycle those plastics and use them in material. And I think we’re a bit in our infancy there. But it’s certainly something that I would like to think, a rising tide lifts all boats, right? The more people that we could get to do that, the bigger impact we’ll have. But we started with that question and I had a good friend of mine that’s in the advertising, marketing industry. We were out having a beer and we could go to restaurants and enjoy that.

Katie Hankinson (06:08): Back in the day.

Kevin Shelhamer (06:09): Yeah. Right. And we were brainstorming and he was like, “Well, what is it that you’re really trying to do?” And I said, “We’re really wanting to take the plastic, the trash that’s in the ocean and recycle that and use it for products that make you look good, feel good. And by doing that, you’re doing good.” And he’s like, “Well, it sounds like you’re trying to rescue the plastics, right?” And it was just that little spark of a conversation that led us to the name. And we were like, you know what? There’s something intriguing by the name. It’s a, it’s, it’s a little bit provocative, as we think about how people traditionally approach recycling. And in this case, here we are trying to rescue the plastics. And we would love to get to a place where there’s no more plastic to rescue. If we can do that, then I think we will all say we’ve done some good.

Katie Hankinson (07:02): Oh, that’s awesome. I think there’s something interesting as well at that larger order question of how do we leverage what is bad for good? Because it leaves the door open to potentially looking at other things. Where are other places in which you can turn things which are historically not good for you on their head, and potentially find a better outcome or a better solution? Which is kind of cool. It’s like that higher order mission, I guess.

Kevin Shelhamer (07:32): Yeah. I think rescue plastics aside, I do think more and more companies are trying to focus on how do they help people? And if they’re not, they should. And I think that’s where you started this, what the term conscious entrepreneurship that you started off with, right? It’s understanding what it is we’re doing and how do we take that and how do we ensure that we’re helping people, whether that’s helping them live their life better, it’s helping them do something easier. I just think we’re in a place in a time that we need more people and more companies, more brands focused on that.

Katie Hankinson (08:17): So does that mean you almost don’t look at your competitive set as competitors? You look at them almost more as a fellow activists on the journey of creating better business?

Kevin Shelhamer (08:31): That’s a great way. You know what? I don’t look at it as competitors. I think we can learn from each other. I think we’re always learning from each other. And I used the term earlier, the rising tide lifts all boats. The more people, the more brands within our category that start to use recycled plastics, rescued plastics to create these products, it makes it more accessible. And I think it also has some really positive impact across the entire supply chain. So the more demand, the more investments that’s going to go into the upstream work of collecting the plastics, of recycling the plastics, creating the yarn. So yeah, I think we have to support each other, and one company’s not going to do it all. And so I think there’s ways that we can compliment what it is we do and how we do it.

Katie Hankinson (09:27): So I think when we first chatted, you were telling me and you were almost too modest at the beginning of this conversation at mentioning that very first startup, because this is the fifth of five companies that you have established and run. And the first in apparel and the first that is purpose driven, is that right?

Kevin Shelhamer (09:44): Correct. Yeah. It’s safe to say almost every company, there may be one or two that are a little bit larger, so you can’t consider them a startup, but we’ve always approached the growth and the building with a startup mindset. And I think one of the aspects that intrigues me is Building While Flying, just the whole mantra of this podcast. I think when you have a startup mindset and you’re in this high growth mindset, you’re always building the plane while you’re flying it. And so, because even in the agency world, you’re trying to sell on pitch before you actually have the people and the talent, the systems and the processes to deliver the work.

Kevin Shelhamer (10:27): And I really do think it’s about surrounding yourself with the team or the people that have the confidence that says, okay, you know what? We’re going to get this plane off the ground. We know we don’t have the wheels on it yet, but we’re going to get the wheels on before we have to land it.

Katie Hankinson (10:42): Yeah.

Kevin Shelhamer (10:43): And I think there’s something that’s really kind of exciting. And it’s having the confidence that, no, together we’re going to be able to accomplish some great things and do that.

Katie Hankinson (10:55): I love that. So thinking about the fact that this is a real intentional brand that you’re creating here. You describe yourself as a conscious capitalist or that this is a conscious business. What makes it different, the way that you’re approaching the establishment of this company in comparison to previous ones? Are there aspects of the brand or the backend, or things which get more scrutiny? Are there ways in which you’re reinventing aspects?

Kevin Shelhamer (11:28): Katie, that’s a great question. I think because we’re so focused, we’re so conscious, I guess to use that term, on what it is we’re doing and how we’re doing it. I think we always start the conversation with the question, is what we’re doing, doing good? And it oftentimes changes the perspective, even from a business perspective. Is what we’re doing going to help reduce carbon emission? Is what we’re doing going to help remove plastic from the packaging process? So it has emphasized the importance of that question across the business and it changes how we approach problems. It changes how we think about what’s important. It changes how we prioritize what it is we want to do, because candidly, if we can’t answer that question with a yes, then it begs the question, why are we doing it?

Katie Hankinson (12:32): Yeah, it’s interesting. You have a lot of companies, the classic words vision and mission that have always been part of those early foundational pieces of establishing who you are as a business. At Sasha, we like to talk about what are you driven by and what are you driving towards? And I think using the answer to that question, what are you driven by, as in what gets you up in the morning and what are you doing for your customer helps you make decisions in terms of what you’re doing for that consumer.

Katie Hankinson (13:07): And what you’re driven towards is the thing that helps drive those boardroom decisions that keeps you on track, because you’ve got that ultimate goal of doing good and having a good impact, for example. So the other stuff just falls away. Yeah, I think. Is what we are doing, doing good as a fundamental mantra is a pretty good place to start. You’re in a business that is very much part of the retail space. And there has never been a more roller coaster-like time than now. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as you’ve begun to think about carving a space within retail and within the manufacturing piece on the Rescue Plastic side?

Kevin Shelhamer (13:51): I think there’s been an enormous amount of change in how people shop over the last 12 months. I think we were headed in this direction, but certainly the pandemic has accelerated that dramatically. I think the biggest challenge for a brand like Rescue Plastics, or frankly any brand that’s launching right now, because there’s so many brands that are within this DTC or the online channel now, it’s how do we break through? And how do we do that in a way that creates some sense of loyalty with our shoppers? And that’s a challenge we face every day, because in a startup, every dollar is important. And how are we spending those dollars, utilizing those dollars to break through that clutter? And it’s challenging.

Mickey Cloud (14:52): I know you’re pretty early on at the moment, but how are you making those decisions? It’s bootstrap time early on. What are the bets you’re currently placing in terms of getting that attention? Where are you currently putting more focus from a marketing perspective?

Kevin Shelhamer (15:09): I would say we’re in, to use a bit of the marketing jargon, we’re a bit in the upper funnel stage of driving our brand awareness, letting people know that we exist, letting them know what we stand for. And again, there’s a lot of other brands in this space. What we’re really focused on right now, and this is in development. We haven’t launched it yet, but I think it’s coming, is really trying to create a closed loop system where it’s one thing to say that we’re able to recycle the plastics and use those in the apparel. But then what do you do with the item once you’re through wearing that? And so we’re focused right now on building out a closed loop system that truly does allow a consumer to purchase the product made out of rescued plastics or recycled plastics. And then when they want to trade that in or they’re through wearing it, they can then send that back to us. We’ll give them a discount, but we’ll also recycle that item and have that item reused in different ways as deemed appropriate.

Katie Hankinson (16:16): That’s fantastic. Yeah.

Kevin Shelhamer (16:19): That’s the next step.

Katie Hankinson (16:19): I think that’s so interesting, because what it does is it immediately sets a really classic, a big differentiator between you and some of the other brands, at least some of the early plastic apparel brands. But where there’s been a bit of criticism, I think in media around it’s all well and good that you, not rescued it, that you sequester plastic away from the ocean.

Kevin Shelhamer (16:43): Right. Now we’re rescuing them, okay.

Katie Hankinson (16:45): You’re rescuing them. No one else is rescuing them.

Kevin Shelhamer (16:46): Yeah, exactly.

Katie Hankinson (16:48): But happens when the people can’t recycle the plastic shoe after? So the virtuous loop, the closed loop system is a great way to sidestep that. And I assume it actually then becomes a brandable asset in and of itself, a kind of proprietary production model as it were.

Kevin Shelhamer (17:08): You know, it does. And while we’re selfishly building it for Rescue Plastics, I also think that it creates an opportunity for other brands to utilize that same process to the degree that we’re able to implement this, create this process and then be able to share it. So there’s no reason that we can’t open up that closed loop cycle to other apparel manufacturers, right?

Katie Hankinson (17:35): I was going to say, it really feels like clearly the focus now is the direct to consumer piece, the consumer part of the business. But the backend, the robustness of the backend opens the door to a whole B2B side of building out how you operate and what that looks like in terms of partnerships.

Kevin Shelhamer (17:54): Yeah. It’s certainly the closed loop, the recycling side of things, no question. I think it also starts to open us up to assess other verticals. And so as we look at the rescue plastics and we look at the application of what we can create, we don’t have to stay within the boundaries of, of apparel. We could expand the household goods or other channels.

Katie Hankinson (18:22): The other thing that popped into my head as he was saying that, because I think you’re completely right. Once you have a system that works, there’s nothing to say that you can’t apply that outside of apparel and into other verticals. The other thing that that brings to mind is at the moment, at least I don’t feel like, I could be wrong because I’m not as completely up to speed as you are, but there’s not necessarily a singular set of criteria or rules that say this is a hundred percent sustainable, 10 out of 10. This is eight out of ten. Well, firstly, how do you hold yourselves accountable to the gold standard of sustainability? And secondly, might that be something which you could take an almost thought leadership role in helping to build out?

Kevin Shelhamer (19:11): Yeah. It’s a challenge in the industry, because that kind of set of parameters has not been established. And I think for us, it goes back to the question that we ask ourselves every day, is what we’re doing, are we doing it for good? Does that mean we can do it better? Of course, right. So I think there is an opportunity within the industry to establish some, I would almost say expectations. It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to do it. And how do we hold not just ourselves accountable, but others in the industry accountable? Because otherwise there’s a bit of an integrity issue and there are questions around, is what we’re doing the right? For lack of better terms.

Katie Hankinson (20:06): You’ve got a background in brand and marketing. How has it been? When you think about those skills, what was fun and what was challenging about applying that to your own baby? It totally struck me when you were talking about how fun it is on the agency side to solve problem after problem and getting all the reps in. That’s part of what I love about our consulting work, the how was it turning the lens inward and applying that to Rescue Plastics? And what have been the most fun parts of the branding process and the most challenging? I just asked 15 questions, but feel free to-

Kevin Shelhamer (20:44): Yeah. No, no. They’re all right. I’ll feel free to answer the ones that I prefer. No, I think what’s interesting, and it really was a bit of an eye-opener for me, from the agency side and the marketing, there’s so much effort, focus, funding allocated to just the whole naming and branding of an idea of a company. I think I would take a different tact today after going through Rescue Plastics. To me, it’s less about what you call yourself and what your brand looks like, and it’s nice to have a backstory, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s more about what you do with that brand and with that name that really creates the value of it.

Kevin Shelhamer (21:26): And so at the end of the day, if people don’t remember how Rescue Plastics originated, but what they remember is that this is a brand that’s doing good for our environment and doing good for me as an individual, then I think we will have been successful. So to me, it was a little bit of an interesting intention point. It’s like, okay, how much time do we spend on what it is we call ourselves versus spending more time on what it is we do?

Katie Hankinson (21:55): It’s so interesting you say that. I think having come from the bigger agency land and working with the Fortune 100, Fortune 500 type companies where you often get the luxury of spending months talking about one piece of the branding or marketing puzzle, shifting to working with small businesses, scale ups, who they need to be a market. I need to Build While Flying. The execution becomes so close and part and parcel of the conversation about the foundation, the heart of the brand, the strategy, the head of the brand. Like the hands, the execution is hot on the heels.

Katie Hankinson (22:30): And I think one of the things I loved the most in terms of those brand ingredients is getting to principles, the brand principles that sit alongside the identity and our strategy for going to market. Because I think you’re right, that those are the hardworking tools that then help you act in the world in a way that’s true to brand, not just have a beautiful logo, which we love to do as well. [crosstalk 00:22:54]

Kevin Shelhamer (22:55): It’s very important. But I do think in this particular role, I’m also largely responsible for the operations. And that’s been an education for me because we have to make sure that we’re one, meeting the expectations that our customers have of our products, but we’re also delivering on the promises that we made. And I think for us over the last 12 months, it would have been an education to have started this outside of a pandemic, but you run into hurdles and roadblocks that you didn’t even previously imagine existed.

Kevin Shelhamer (23:41): And I think in many ways we oftentimes think that this pandemic has been largely limited to our immediate surroundings, but where we source our products, where we manufacture our products, they are equally as impacted if not more so in many ways. And so I think the empathy that it’s probably allowed me to have to people and companies in manufacturing and processes has been important. We have to take that into consideration as we create products, and we create the brands that we build.

Katie Hankinson (24:19): I think that’s so important. That feels like, yeah, real deeper held principle, the empathy for the full system. It reflects back to the idea of a closed loop system. You’re not only thinking of it from a practical, operational perspective. It is a closed loop of care. You’re looking at every piece that connects to your brand.

Kevin Shelhamer (24:39): I like that, closed loop of care. There’s something there, so we can share that.

Katie Hankinson (24:47): Love it. Well, I have a couple last things. So one is really just a kind of what’s now and what’s next for Rescue Plastics? What’s going to be your big focus in these next couple of months?

Kevin Shelhamer (25:01): Yeah. I think we touched on it a little bit and there’s still a lot of work to be done here, but really putting in place that closed loop system. I do think that is, for us in particular, it’s an opportunity, but it’s also a necessity. And is this something that it’s important to us as Rescue Plastics, but I think it’s also something that we can offer the broader industry. So there’s a lot of effort there. And I think as a fashion brand, we have to continue coming out with, with products and items that people want. And so we’re starting to look at that and how do we launch, come to go to market with a fall/winter line at this point? That’s always fun and exciting to explore.

Katie Hankinson (25:56): Yes. And also what is going to be the, this is just me guessing at this point, but the backlash against the world’s most comfiest pants that we’ve all been wearing through these months of sitting in front of our screens to the coming out party apparel that hopefully will signify us coming into the end of locking ourselves away.

Kevin Shelhamer (26:15): Yeah. Katie, we’ve essentially been able to function. And I would hope that we’re able to carry that comfort forward. And so I do think it’s going to be different, thankfully. But what does comfort look like? What does the workforce environment look like? I think those are all fun questions to ask ourselves and try to find out ideas and products and items that are going to are going to address that.

Katie Hankinson (26:46): Definitely fun. Final question, a Building While Flying specific one for you. So, Kevin, what is your Building While Flying pilots’ checklist that helps you in the early stages of having to navigate change?

Kevin Shelhamer (27:04): Yeah. There’s so many questions I think you go through. But for me, I try to simplify things to the degree that we can take complexity out of the equation, I think is beneficial for all of us. I really do try to, and I guess when you say Building While Flying, but every big… Not even big. I guess really every opportunity we have, I think it comes down to three key questions that we have to ask ourselves. It’s are we doing good? We talked a lot about that. Will it drive long-term value? Because I think the if it’s a short-term win then you have to assess, is this something we really want to do? And does the reward outweigh the risk? And I think if we really do assess those three questions honestly, that it helps us really focus and prioritize because there’s so many things we can do. And how do we prioritize and focus on the things that are going to actually help us build something that we’re proud of?

Katie Hankinson (28:13): A great trio. So the right level of risk for the right reasons, leading to great rewards, hopefully. That’s wonderful.

Kevin Shelhamer (28:21): That’s great. That’s good.

Katie Hankinson (28:22): Well, thank you so much, Kevin. It’s been fantastic talking to you today. I really look forward to seeing how the next part of the journey for Rescue Plastics gets long. We’ll be keeping an eye out. Thank you.

Kevin Shelhamer (28:35): Well, Katie, thank you very much. I appreciate you having me. Thanks.

Mickey Cloud (28:41): Katie, what an awesome conversation with Kevin from Rescue Plastics. What a cool, cool company.

Katie Hankinson (28:46): I know. He’s onto a great thing, and obviously at the beginning of what’s an exciting journey for that business.

Mickey Cloud (28:53): Yeah. I thought you guys had an awesome conversation. One thing that you guys dug into a little bit, because he came from the marketing, branding agency world, but he’s also run a couple of companies. And he talked about the origin story of the name of Rescue Plastics and how it just came out of a conversation he was having with a friend. And it was like, “Oh, it’s like you’re rescuing plastics.” And it was like, “Oh my God, that’s such a cool phrase.” But sometimes I think a company can come up with its name, be branded in that kind of aha moment. But other times it takes weeks and lots of people thinking about it.

Mickey Cloud (29:28): But I guess I’d just love to hear your perspective on naming branding and how and how you approach it with clients.

Katie Hankinson (29:33): Yeah. No, it was funny. I love the story behind Rescue Plastics, because it was funny the way there was a tension in there, and they’d turned the idea of who was being rescued on its head. But I also liked that he made that really good point that as he came through this process with his business partner, they realized that all of that heady thinking and the strategy piece is nothing until you begin to execute it, and that kind of emphasis between one and the other. And that’s really what we say to clients as well. Yes, all of these pieces are very important parts of brand foundations and brand strategy, but you need to understand how you’re going to execute them out in the world.

Katie Hankinson (30:14): And similarly, a name may take months and months to work on and be something that a founder is really, really focused on getting perfect. Or it might be something that comes up like 1:37 PM with Gary, like overnight. Either way, those names of vessels that are waiting to be filled. And it is the work of doing the branding that helps to fill that and build associations with consumers, and really go forward from there. So I thought he had very pragmatic view on how the name or the part of the broader brand strategy.

Mickey Cloud (30:45): And one of the ways he brings it to life, and one of the ways he fills that empty vessel with value is in the question you asked him about being a conscious capitalist, and how’s that different than maybe some of the previous companies he ran? And he said for him, it comes down to we discuss everything with this one filter. This one question of, “Is what we’re doing, doing good?” And I just thought that was like, wow, that’s such a simple but powerful way that they’re clearly living out their values. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on finding that type of filter for your business.

Katie Hankinson (31:22): I think it’s so simple. It’s so deceptively simple in some ways, because underneath it all is a great deal of complexity about ensuring that you do that. But in terms of just a core value that you can hold to, it provides such a strong anchor to a founding team, or even as the company scales to hold yourself to that as you go through making decision about operations, making decision about where the brand wants to go. It’s like having the all-pervasive purpose statement. It really is tied to that. And I think as they figure out what that means, that’s going to be the next stage. And I loved how they’d started to talk about their own internal checks and balances, defining what doing good is for them and what the benchmarks are for them to continue to improve against. A really strong and simple way to keep the course.

Mickey Cloud (32:14): Yeah. And what’s cool about it as well is that it’s allowed them to think beyond just sure, all their products have recycled plastics in it, but then I think that question probably has led them to think about what happens when someone’s done with this sports bra, these leggings, this shirt, and how can we recycle that? And so he came up with this like closed loop process that they’re still building out, but it’s something that clearly they’re already thinking about. I think you called it at one point, “Closed loop of care,” and he lit up at that. I’d be curious to hear how did that part of the business interest you?

Katie Hankinson (32:56): I mean, I feel like we’re going to see more and more of this. We’re working with a client at the moment in another vertical but in the sustainable conversation, who’s actually in food farming and manufacturing fruit, making fruit, growing fruit. And the ability to have a completely closed loop system means that you actually truly can control every aspect of it. And you can completely stand on the courage of your convictions when you say that you have vetted every part of it, versus we’ve looked at the challenges of the supply chain. We’ve all seen it unfold over the course of this year of global supply chain dynamics and how that can really impact businesses, and also completely take your ability to claim something off the table if you don’t quite know what’s happening, where your clothes are being made in China or whatever. Or how people are being treated in factories in another country that you don’t know about. All that kind of aspect.

Katie Hankinson (33:57): So I think there are interesting parallels with that. And I do think that’s going to be a huge theme that we continue to see developing with businesses, vertically integrating businesses for Sure.

Mickey Cloud (34:08): Also, yeah, it creates a process, a platform for them to be able to use as they go beyond apparel and then maybe another thing. So it creates, you guys talked about the B2B opportunity that it creates. I just thought they’re already thinking about that step, which I think was such a cool part of it. And it also fed into the fact that he was like, “I’m open to sharing this once we figure it out, because it’s going to…” He talked about, “The rising tides lifting all boats.” I think specifically in his category, the competition legitimizes what they’re doing. And so he’s very open to sharing it.

Katie Hankinson (34:40): I think basically what it starts to tell the story of is that this is a brand that is more about the process and honing the process than it is necessarily about the product. Like the product is always going to be well thought through and amazingly branded and beautifully designed season to season. But with the processes behind it, there’s a powerful brand story that you can’t tell on the product alone. So I think that’s interesting too, and definitely something that he can help to lift the rest of other verticals at the same time.

Mickey Cloud (35:13): So maybe that’s our question, is what other companies, what other brands are out there doing awesome things in the sustainable space? So we can be kind of shedding more light on all those [crosstalk 00:35:26].

Katie Hankinson (35:25): Yeah. In a world where it’s not so much about competing. It’s about that rising tide raising all ships. Who out there can tell us about other companies doing exciting, great things in the world of sustainability? We want to hear those stories and share them out further.

Mickey Cloud (35:43): Thanks for joining us gang for Building While Flying with The Sasha Group today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Mickey Cloud (35:55): If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune into the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us. Plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on Building While Flying across brands, businesses, marketing, and more.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by the Sasha Group. We’re the small-to-medium-sized business arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding, media, and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together. 

Kevin Shelhamer’s business is driven by one big question: “Is what we’re doing, doing good?”

Kevin Shelhamer is a marketing and branding executive turned conscious entrepreneur, and Co-Founder of Rescue Plastics, a new startup dedicated to removing plastics from waterways and transforming it into high-performance fabric for active and leisure wear clothing. After working in startups and agencies, Rescue Plastics was born with the idea of leveraging something bad for good. 

In this week’s episode, Katie and Kevin unpack “conscious entrepreneurship” from all angles. Kevin shares the Rescue Plastics origin story and the questions that drive his team and business every day. He and Katie discuss the differences between branding a more traditional, non-purpose-driven business and a purpose-driven business. At the end of the day, Kevin says, it’s about doing good and making people’s lives better, and challenging other companies to do the same. 

Other in-flight topics:

  • What is “conscious entrepreneurship”?
  • How Rescue Plastics was born 
  • Leading a purpose-driven company and brand
  • How can brands and companies help people live better lives? 
  • Accountability and integrity in sustainable businesses
  • Branding for a “traditional” business vs. branding for a purpose-driven company

New York, NY
Chattanooga, TN
Los Angeles, CA