Jeremy Meltzer is changing the way we consciously shop for fashion
7th Jun 2019
Jeremy Meltzer is an exceptional person. He’s the founder of i=Change: an organisation that partners with retail brands so customers can pledge $1 donations to female-supporting charities. The way it operates is simple: the i=Change platform is integrated into a brand’s online store, and at checkout, customers can opt to decide where the brand’s monetary donation goes, and track how it’s used to improve the lives of vulnerable females. Working with brands like Nimble Activewear, Camilla, and By Charlotte, i=Change is changing the way brands sell, and consumers shop, with a conscience.
In today’s woke consumer climate, it’s a mutually beneficial partnership. Retailers can build a brand that gives back and share this value with consumers, while i=Change is able to fulfil its mission to help women and girls around the world. Meltzer, the man who spearheaded the operation, actually spoke at Codes this year, sharing the organisation’s inception, and how he sees the retail space transforming over the coming years. But for those who missed his keynote, he also kindly answered a few questions for , sharing his journey, his motivations, and taking in the magnitude of what he’s building. For the complete interview, keep reading.
What’s your professional background?
“In my early twenties, I was aspiring to work as a musician. I eventually realised I wanted to gain some control of my destiny, so I started an olive oil business with my father using the olive trees growing on our family farm. I learnt a lot about sales and marketing, but mostly about the power of storytelling, authenticity and having a great product that was beautifully designed.”
You were overseas when the idea for i=Change came about. What made you decide to follow through?
“Cuba was where I began to understand some of the profound challenges women and girls were facing – the impact of male-inflicted violence, and the extent at which it can shape their lives. I was distressed by what I saw, and left Cuba determined to try and make a difference.
I spent the next 15 years travelling, visiting NGOs, charitable organisations, and learning from impact leaders who have dedicated their lives to empowering women, ending gender-based violence, and educating girls so they can live up to their potential. Yet these NGOs lack funding, limiting the impact they could make and the amount of people they were able to help.
I wanted to help, but I didn’t want to build a model that relied on philanthropy. I believed in the power of business, and that customers cared. i=Change, from an idea, has taken six years to build. Now as a disruptive retail platform, over 80 brands are giving back with every sale. We’ve raised over $1.18 million and counting. This is impacting the lives of over 279,000 women and girls.”
How difficult was i=Change to implement?
“As nothing like this existed previously, conceptualising and designing a beautiful UX took time, as did building the technology. With 100 per cent transparency, customers can also track the impact of their purchase in real-time. I don’t come from a tech background, so learning to let go and handing over to those with far greater skills has been a journey!
I’m also constantly humbled by the extraordinary goodwill from our partners, providers and mentors who are deeply generous with their time, resources and wisdom, and have committed to the vision of what we’re building.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“I start the day meditating with a cup of homemade chai – something I learnt from my time in India (nothing like hand-ground ginger!). The day is then filled with meeting brands, digital agencies, and endless emails. I believe it’s so important for our creativity to connect with why we do what we do. It’s too easy to remain busy and distracted. I try to find a few moments each day tor really take it all in.”
How do you curate the projects and charities you work with?
“We’re committed to selecting best-practice NGO partners that focus on health, well being and the development of women; protecting their reproductive rights, preventing infant and maternal mortality, providing safety from violence and trafficking, and access to education.
We visit and vet the projects as much as possible to ensure the funds raised are having the greatest impact possible. Our partners are committed to community-led development, which means solutions are determined for and by the community. As much as possible, the staff are local, decisions are made locally, products and services are sourced locally, and the community is supported to have full agency over the direction of their lives.
Proudly, approximately 50 per cent of the projects we support are Australian-focused. Globally, we help keep girls in school in Zimbabwe by ensuring they’ve access to sanitary pads, provide safe births in Myanmar and Uganda, and help prevent child marriage in India and Bangladesh.”
And what about getting brands on board. How difficult is the process?
“For a brand to join i=Change, the process is simple. We have a conversation to understand each other. There’s a short due-diligence process. If the fit is right, we customise the i=Change platform to their branding and three charity projects they wish to support. Once integrated into the retailer’s online store, the i=Change platform engages every customer after checkout. Most brands give $1 with every sale and the customer chooses where it goes. Donations raised can be tracked on the live-giving page.
We work with some amazing Australian brands such as Nobody Denim, Alias Mae, Camilla and One Day Bridal, as well as international brands like Pandora and Clarins. A number of our brands are much smaller. The platform works for retailers of all sizes.
It’s exciting that brands now approach us almost daily, looking for a way to give back and enhance their customer experience. Fashion retailers have really embraced the concept as they are often female-founded and focused, so giving back to women is a powerful alignment.”
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What’s been a highlight for you since the organisations inception?
“Reaching $1 million in donations was very humbling. It felt so significant because in that moment, all the hard work over six years made sense. We had built something that was changing lives.”
From an activist perspective, where do you think the retail industry is heading?
“I feel retail is reaching a historic tipping point. It’s an industry both in crisis and flush with opportunity, yet it must innovate to stay relevant.
Today as consumers, we’re all spending more on experiences and less on goods. When we do shop, we’re increasingly choosing brands that reflect our values – brands that are building the world we wish to see. 93 per cent of millennials want to shop brands that give back. These are not trends but behaviours that reflect our growing realisation of the implications of our choices.
It’s been fascinating to learn from our retailers how they are creatively incorporating messages about how they are giving back, and how this is driving customer engagement, sales and brand loyalty. This is testament that consumers will indeed vote with their wallets. It’s powerful, and it seems an exciting call to action, that to remain relevant and thrive, retail must ‘feel human’ and reflect our values.”
As an entrepreneur working in social activism, how do you switch off and look after yourself?
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m not very good at downtime. I try to maintain a good routine of sleep, exercise and lots of olive oil! I love the metaphor of living like an arrow: focused, fast, committed to a target. I find when life throws dramas and distractions, this helps me choose where and how much to engage.”
What does i=Change have planned for the future?
“We have big plans, including an in-store solution, and providing powerful testimonials back to brands so they can communicate the impact they’re making. We’re also launching a customer nomination campaign, for customers to email retailer CEO’s, asking them to give back with each sale. A little cheeky, I know, but worth it for a good cause!”
For more Codes 2019 coverage, head to vogue.com.au/vogue-codes.