Some social-minded retail businesses have a buy one-give one model. Others donate a certain percentage of sales or profits.
Askov Finlayson is working on coming up with its own do-good model as Eric Dayton looks to take the men's shop he started in the North Loop six years ago into a Minneapolis-based outdoor clothing company with a national, and perhaps international, reach.
The retailer, known for promoting Minnesota as the "North" on hats and other goods, is stepping up its charitable giving, pledging more than $1 million over the next five years to organizations fighting climate change.
At the same time, it's hired an executive to figure out the company's own carbon footprint, put a dollar figure on it and be sure that its contribution to climate-change groups covers at least 110 percent of that cost. The idea is to make sure the company is doing more good than harm to the environment.
"I want this to be core to our DNA, core to who we are as a company," said Dayton. "We see an opportunity to grow the company and if we want to grow, we want to do it in a way that we really feel proud of and really stand behind."
Dayton, the son of Gov. Mark Dayton, has retailing in his blood. His great-great grandfather founded the Dayton's department store company, now Target Corp.
In the last few years, he's been transitioning his business from primarily selling goods from other vendors to making more of his own products such as men's sweaters, pants and swim trunks. He sees this coming year as a pivotal moment for the brand as he brings on more staff to help in product design, e-commerce, and marketing. He has also teamed up with Target on a limited-time partnership that launches Sunday on a line of North-branded goods to be sold around the Twin Cities in time for the Super Bowl.
As he has plotted out his next steps, Dayton flew to New York last year to pick the brains of friends who founded two innovative and successful businesses — Warby Parker, the eyeglass maker that has a mini-shop inside of Askov, and Harry's, the men's shaving company.
"It was inspiring to come back from those meetings and to say we've got to think big here and set really ambitious goals for ourselves in terms of our growth and impact," Dayton said.
Climate change has always been an issue near and dear to Dayton's heart since he set off on an expedition as a teenager with arctic explorer Will Steger in the Alaska wilderness. So when his shop began making North products, he began giving 10 percent of the proceeds to his "Keep the North Cold" campaign, which has sent nearly $60,000 to date to the nonprofit Climate Generation.
"But at the end of the day, could we say that as a company that we were really keeping the north cold and moving the needle in a net positive way?" said Dayton. "We couldn't. I didn't really feel like we could stand behind that as a promise."
A few months ago, he hired Adam Fetcher, a Minnesotan who had recently moved back here after working as director of global communications for Patagonia, for the newly created position of vice president of environmental impact and policy.
Fetcher is devising a formula to quantify the company's carbon footprint, all the way back to when raw materials are gathered, and then to translate that to a monetary amount.
"It's a very challenging set of equations. There's a lot of variables," he said.
He and Dayton will evaluate whether there are more sustainable practices they can put in place for the products the business has made right now in Minnesota, California, Toronto and Scotland.
Askov already recently switched to using organic cotton for T-shirts and is now doing the same for its sweatshirts.
Fetcher is giving himself a year to come up with the math and promises to share the methodology and calculations with customers.
"Eventually we'd like to get to the point where you can look at a hang tag and see the climate cost of a given garment and therefore what the 110 percent equation will be," he said. "But it's going to take some time to get to that point."
The company's plan to give $1 million over the next five years to organizations fighting climate change is likely way more than the business' climate costs and the 110 percent commitment, Fetcher added.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support an activity, in Askov Finlayson's case the manufacturing or transporting of clothing to its North Loop shop. It is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide, the main gas that is viewed as contributing to a warming of the earth's atmosphere.
One of the first recipients of the company's giving will be the Land Institute in Kansas, which works on perennial grains such as Kernza that helps restore health to the soil and prevent carbon from being released into the air. As part of its efforts, Askov will release a beer made from Minnesota-raised Kernza later this month called "Keep the North Cold" in conjunction with Fair State Brewing Cooperative in northeast Minneapolis.
Askov accounts for less than half of the $10 million in revenue Dayton brings in from his trio of businesses, which also includes his Bachelor Farmer restaurant and Marvel Bar in the North Loop.
"But it's the fastest growing part and the part that we think has the biggest potential," Dayton said.
E-commerce will be a big focus this year as he looks to grow the brand. Askov just launched a redesigned website. But down the road, he envisions opening stores in other markets.
"We're going to remain very much a company rooted in this city," he said. "But we see this idea of the North resonating in other parts of the country and around the world."
Since the company's identity is centered around outdoor clothing, Dayton said he hopes to expand the product lineup to include outerwear.
And while it already sells some unisex items, it will likely not remain a men's shop.
"We get asked everyday in the store when we're going to start doing women's," said Dayton. "So we see that as an opportunity, too."