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Thursday, October 01, 2020

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Richmond alumni start charitable clothing retailer

Eight months ago, two University of Richmond graduates left corporate jobs that they found to be unfufilling to start their own business, Be Good Clothing, in San Francisco.

Mark Spera and Dean Ramadan, both Richmond College '10, were roommates during their junior and senior years at Richmond and were looking for the next step after realizing they were unhappy in their post-graduate jobs, Ramadan said.

Spera studied business administration with a concentration in finance and moved to San Francisco after graduation for a job at the corporate office of Gap Inc., he said. His position was with inventory management and included deciding how much inventory to buy per year and per season, he said.

Ramadan was also a business administration major, with a concentration in marketing, and went to work in an entry-level job at the Advisory Board Co. in Washington, D.C., Ramadan said.

"I was never totally thrilled with the idea of finance," Spera said, "because I thought it was ... a zero-win operation. You're just trying to make money, and there are no social implications of what you're doing."

While at Richmond, Spera saw business as the thing to do, and it became an easy route to take, he said. He thought he would eventually warm up to the idea of finance, but now wishes he had explored other interests, such as sociology or philosophy, Spera said. He appreciates his finance background, though, because it got him to the job he has now, he said.

Ramadan said that his background in business had been helpful when he and Spera started the business, but he grew up knowing that he wanted to do something that would give back to humanity and the environment in some way.

"I felt that my life didn't have any meaning behind it," Ramadan said of his corporate position. "I was just doing what other people told me to do without thinking about it."

Spera had considered non-profit work, but decided against it when it came to the issue of money and having to take a pay cut, he said.

Spera said he had been inspired to create Be Good Clothing after reading a book by Patagonia's founder, Yvon Chouinard, titled "Let My People Go Surfing." The book focuses on Patagonia's corporate and social responsibility policies and reminded Spera of his favorite college courses, which had been about business ethics, he said.

Spera brought his charitable clothing idea to Ramadan, who thought it was incredible, and the two decided to get started, Spera said. They worked on the idea from February until May 2012 and then quit their jobs in June, he said. Be Good Clothing opened in August, and after a large response from customers, the online store was launched in December 2012, Spera said.

Spera was already living in San Francisco when he and Ramadan decided it was a good location for the store, the local people cared about where their clothing was coming from and how its production treated the environment, Ramadan said. It was an open-minded city, and local customers said they had been waiting for a store like Be Good Clothing to open, he said.

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Part of the store's mission is to open customers' eyes to alternate ways to spend money, Spera said. Of the roughly 40 brands that the store carries, 37 have their own giveback programs, he said.

Brands include Toms Shoes, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair bought, and Patagonia, which gives 1 percent of total revenue to eco-causes, Spera said. Be Good Clothing also carries three brands of higher-end women's clothing that are eco-friendly and are made with fair trade practices, he said.

For each item purchased from these three brands, Be Good Clothing donates to a local charity, Project Open Hand, that provides meals to people with serious illnesses and to senior citizens, Spera said.

In the almost seven months that the store has been open, Be Good Clothing has given about $1,500 to charities, not including special fundraisers that have been held for the AIDS Walk and the Movember Foundation, among others, Spera said.

The store also has a trunk where customers can bring gently used clothes, which are then taken to Goodwill, Ramadan said. Customers who bring in clothes for donation are given a 10 percent off discount in the store, he said. In some cases, a customer has taken off the sweater he or she was wearing to donate it, he said.

Contact staff writer Rebecca Wilson at rebecca.wilson@richmond.edu

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