Can a Business Have a Social Mission and Still Be Profitable? Kei & Molly Prove It’s Possible

Olivia Blog, Business, Connecting People and Places, Entrepreneurship, Racial Equity

Can a Business Have a Social Mission and Still Be Profitable? Kei & Molly Prove It’s Possible

Kei Tsuzuki and Molly Luethi are local entrepreneurs who make beautiful textiles—but more than that, they’ve experienced enormous growth in two years without losing sight of their social mission.

In 2016, when City Alive first interviewed them, the business had nine employees and a small printing room. Now they’re in a new location with double the production space, a retail storefront and 12 employees. In the two short years since 2016, retail revenue has increased by 610% and they’re selling textiles in 350 stores nationwide.

“We’re always pushing forward, but keeping our integrity and family focus,” Molly says. “We have relationships with each employee. We never want to get so big that we lose that.”

As a social justice enterprise, Kei and Molly employ refugees and immigrants living in Albuquerque. Visitors can hear up to seven different languages spoken as the staff works busily in the colorful workshop space. Kei and Molly make it a priority to pay above minimum wage, provide health and education benefits to employees and offer three weeks paid vacation. “Some have experience in textiles, but most don’t, so we train everyone,” says Kei. In addition, Kei and Molly regularly bring in a massage therapist, send employees to acupuncture and work with a volunteer to provide social support to help families register for school and navigate the healthcare system.

As they expand their client base nationally, Kei and Molly take equally good care of their local partnerships. “Albuquerque is our home, we’re not going anywhere,” says Molly. “People here are proud to see a successful company that is women-owned, they can take personal pride in being a part of our success, too.” The Los Poblanos Farm Shop and the Downtown Growers’ Market were some of Kei and Molly’s first clients and advocates. Their grassroots community has been invaluable for vetting new products and designs.

“Testing here in town allowed us to work out the kinks before going to sales reps across the country,” Kei says. “Our national sales are now the engine that brings in the volume that keeps us busy. But we’re not interested in selling to every second store on the street. We’re very selective about who we add to our client list. We want to protect the market area of our current clients.”

Kei and Molly are proving that commitment to a social mission doesn’t have to negatively affect the bottom line. Kei says, “We often get asked, ‘How do you do it, as a for-profit business?’ But for a business to be healthy and happy and grow with love, you’ve got to take care of each other.” It’s not complicated, she argues, “We just believe in kindness.”

Connect the dots:

Learn how City Alive is working to support women and minority entrepreneurs here. Track progress and job growth here.

 

Recent Articles

  • Read More
    What does it mean to be an ‘ecosystem’ anyway?
    Last month, the Albuquerque Community Foundation held an event to take stock of the health of our economic ecosystem. The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Expo (E3) showcased the existing infrastructure and asked the business community to examine our strongest and weakest branches.
  • Read More
    UNM’s Partnership with the Air Force Research Lab Is...
    There may be universities with bigger budgets and flashier reputations, but UNM has a secret weapon. Three of the most prestigious research institutes in the nation are in their backyard: Los Alamos National Labs (LANL), Sandia National Laboratories, and the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL). With AFRL in particular, UNM has built a unique collaborative partnership.
  • Read More
    Closing the Gaps in the New Year
    As we close out 2018 and our 5th year, we take a brief look back on where we came from and what has been completed so far, and we hone our focus on the next steps: closing the gaps in our communities.