Enrou.co wants to make purchasing purposeful.
The e-commerce site, created by 24-year-old friends and UCLA graduates Ann Wang and Jessica Willison, has no less lofty a goal than to help eradicate global poverty.
Against a blue sky, Enrou’s home page reads simply: “1,200,000,000 people live in extreme poverty.” “Shop to End Poverty” is the site’s tagline and its answer to the massive social and political problem.
If it weren’t for the earnestness of Wang and Willison and the prominence of their benefactors, it would be easy to dismiss Enrou – which stands for “en route toward making change” – as just another e-commerce site with a charitable component.
The site in October won the inaugural Forbes Pressure Cooker Competition and the attendant $400,000 grand prize. Pressure Cooker, which was held during Forbes’ Under 30 Summit, was judged by Steve Case, cofounder of AOL and chief executive officer of Revolution LLC; Troy Carter, ceo of Atom Factory, and Mike Perlis, ceo of Forbes Media. The three continue to advise Wang and Willison.
“They’ve been very active mentors and investors,” Wang said. “We’re raising a tiny bridge round and then announcing a big series at the next Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia in October.”
Enrou has partnered with 31 socially responsible brands such as Rose & Fitzgerald, The Giving Keys and The SOW collection, to bring products handcrafted by about 1,700 artisans in developing communities to consumers.
“We started connecting with organizations in areas where we needed access to the market,” said Wang, explaining that Enrou believes in a dual-impact model. Every Enrou partner must directly invest in the people who make the products, as well as invest in the communities where the products are made through initiatives such as health education, financial coaching or women’s empowerment programs.
“The organizations go through intense screening,” Wang said.
Enrou works with brands on a consignment basis, buys products at wholesale or has products drop-shipped from suppliers directly to customers. “We work on different percentages based on our partners’ needs and the area. We’ll take into account the hours of work and the programs,” said Wang.
Enrou is aimed at Millennials. “Our generation is searching for more meaning and experience,” Wang said. “That’s changing consumption. It’s changing everything around brands. It makes our generation more conscious about how they shop.”
“Enrou is an online story-driven shopping experience,” Willison said. A customer looking at Rose & Fitgerald’s hand-painted ceramic bowl set, ($62), will read about Vincent, a self-taught artisan from northern Uganda whose small business in Kampala helps keep his family from living on the street. After partnering with Rose & Fitzgerald, Vincent was able to hire new employees, expand his workshop, and buy more machinery for his cooperative, Horns Limited.
Phet, an artisan at Article 22, makes bangles ($50) from remnants of bombs used during the Vietnam War. Phet said the bracelets, engraved with the word Peacebomb, provide income and opportunities to the people in Laotian villages affected by cluster-munitions explosions and the legacy of the war.
There’s also Basanti, a senior artisan at Anchal Project in Ajmer, India, whose hand-crafted quilts ($198) are made with six layers of vintage saris. Basanti is saving for her daughter’s college tuition and the quilts help support victims of India’s sex trade.
“We are diving into this realm of storytelling,” Willison said. “We want to do a mobile app where consumers get updates on the makers. We want to do podcasts of makers and videos. We hope to get them into the Telluride Film Festival.”
Fall will mark a turning point for Enrou with “a big national campaign featuring celebrities and influencers,” Wang said. “We’re talking with a couple of [talent] agencies and trying to pin down specific people. We’d love to have them design with a maker on the ground.”
“We’re strong in jewelry and home lines,” Willison said. “We’re looking to expand those categories. There are some great opportunities in the supply chain. We’d love to expand further in apparel. Our supply side of that industry is growing, but the training is labor intensive. It will become more available in the future.”