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If you are brand new in your journey of shopping ethically, or if you’ve been shopping ethically for a while, one of the most common frustrations I hear from people is that there’s not one central place to find all the things they need to buy. They don’t want to have to scour the internet and go to ten different websites to find all of their ethically made products. My guest today is trying to solve that exact problem. Rachel Kois is the founder and CEO of Simple Switch. Three years ago, Rachel was a business consultant for entrepreneurs in the poorest parts of South Africa. She was so impressed by what they created and learned so much from them. Rachel also understood the privilege she held, and when she came back from her trip, she knew she wanted to use her everyday choices to empower those with fewer resources. She found it was actually a very difficult thing to do. The hours it took to research company ethics, labor laws, and environmentally sustainable impact did not fit into her busy life and schedule. She wanted to make a positive impact, but she felt exhausted every step of the way. This gave Rachel the idea to start Simple Switch to help people like her, people like you, and people like me find easier ways to spend our money on products that help us vote for the kind of world we want to live in. The companies that Simple Switch has partnered with have committed to improving livelihoods, protecting the beautiful Earth that we live on, and empowering people to change their future; our future. Rachel firmly believes that even if one person uses Simple Switch, it would be worth the work of creating and sustaining the company. Simple Switch really is a one stop shop for finding ethically made, simple products that you use in your everyday life. I loved my chat with Rachel, and I know you’re going to be inspired by her too!
Rachel is a young entrepreneur living between Denver and Boulder, Colorado. She grew up in Colorado with the mountains as her playground, and the outdoors are a big part of her life. She majored in both Business and Theatre Performance. Her theatre background has helped her take care of herself, express herself, and connect with people while starting Simple Switch.
Rachel loves traveling and just finished visiting her 28th country! Her travels have been both personal trips, mission trips, and now, business trips to meet with Simple Switch partners.
Rachel has had a heart for learning about other cultures from a young age. She learned a lot about both entrepreneurship and the world outside of the US from her parents who owned a real estate company and were friends with pastors in Nigeria.
When Rachel graduated, she thought she wanted to go into counseling but choose business instead as a safeguard. She was surprised with how much she fell in love with business, specifically, business as an opportunity to do good in the world.
She had a chance to intern in South Africa and do business consulting there. When she came home, she wanted to use her everyday choices to help support people like the clients she’d worked with in Africa. She recognized that they were incredible businesspeople but didn’t have the same access to market as we do here in the US. This is where Rachel’s idea for Simple Switch took root.
Simple Switch is an online marketplace for “positive impact purchasing.” They carry over 3,000 products from home goods to jewelry, and even toilet paper! The company started out of the desire to help people make simple changes in their purchasing decisions in order to support ethical businesses.
Rachel saw that Amazon had such convenient ways to purchase with their “One-Click” buy feature, but ethical companies were so much harder to find, requiring hours or research, difficult payment, and long shipping times. Simple Switch was started to create an easier, more convenient place for people to find ethically made products without so much hassle.
The biggest challenge for Simple Switch has been changing customer perception. Often this kind of shopping is still viewed as a niche for things you don’t need every day and will only money on if your motivation is making a positive impact. Rachel realized there are so many day-to-day items out there that are sustainably made.
In our society, we’ve had it drilled into our brains that these story brands for the “feed good” factor. Simple Switch is trying to change the narrative that people can switch to ethically made brands for typical shopping needs.
Owners of big brands don’t have personal relationships with the people who make their products. It really makes us all more interconnected when we can say who made our clothes and know a little bit about that person’s life and story. Consumer stories are just as powerful too. Simple Switch is always hearing about how someone’s entire perspective can change when they realize how their small decisions can have a huge global impact.
Connections between consumers and impact partners create empowerment for artisans because they know that consumers value what they make, and it grows their confidence in both their skills and the quality of their handiwork.
When impact partners create safer, environmentally friendly products that are not contributing harm to people or communities, our society can start to value those products as more highly desired than wasteful, fast fashion or environmentally harmful company practices.
15:24 – Launching an Ethically Led Business in 2020
Would you believe that Simple Switch officially launched in 2020? Rachel had the idea for Simple Switch five years ago, and spent a year abroad doing World Race , which allowed her to visit 11 countries in 11 months and absorb cultural context behind some of the companies Simple Switch is working with now. Traveling with younger people also gave Rachel a way to plug into a focus group of consumers.
When she returned home during the Fall of 2017, Rachel thought she needed to find a technical cofounder, thinking she couldn’t do it herself. Although the learning curve has been steep, Rachel has found her way through the technical side of the business.
2017 was a year of realizing that this is a company Rachel can run. She spent time bringing on partners and testing their infrastructure and making sure it was secure before launching to the public in 2018.
Now that they’ve had a year under their belt, Simple Switch has had some big growth with partnerships that have helped spread the word about the company and get more ads to a wider audience.
All partners hold their inventory and orders come to Simple Switch. They then send the orders to their partners, and orders are shipped from there. Warehouses can have issues with ethical treatments of workers and environmentally wasteful practices, so the drop-ship model also helps Simple Switch with their ethical mission.
Rachel’s biggest goal right now is to get Simple Switch’s name out there. She doesn’t want anyone else to feel the way she did as a conscious consumer when she was looking for ethical brands for hours. She wants people to be able to find these brands in one place, quickly.
Four trillion dollars will be spent on online shopping in 2020. Rachel’s motivation for getting word out about Simple Switch is to get just one tenth of a percent of that ($4 billion) spent on ethical business. That would go toward Simple Switch projects like reforesting and carbon sequestration in rural Africa or helping women coming out of sexual trafficking.
Ethical business terms are more mainstream now than they were even just five years ago. Now that we’re hearing the terms, people are still a little confused about what it means. Rachel thinks we have a great opportunity right now to take advantage of people’s awareness as they discover their desire to make better ethical and environmental decisions, and that it’s actually achievable.
Learn a few fun facts about Rachel like what her guilty pleasures are, what she’s reading right now, the longest flight she’s ever been on in all her travels and who’d she’d want to be sitting next to on that flight, and of course, what it means to her to run a business with purpose.
6:59: “I really believe that every dollar you spend is a vote for the future you want. I think actual voting is very important, and second to that, I think that the way we spend our money is extremely important in creating that future.”
10:34 – “That’s why we’re called Simple Switch. We really don’t want to encourage you to buy more things, that’s not the goal. It’s things that you’re already going to be buying, we want you to switch that to these impactful companies.”
12:41 – “For me it’s really exciting that it also makes people really interconnected, so it’s not just about the economic empowerment, but if someone just knows who made their clothes or home goods, it’s a fun way to feel connected to someone either around the world or here in the United States.”
15:52 – “I was able to just try to be a good listener and hear what kind of impact needed to be made there. It shifted my perspective on what Simple Switch needed to be.”
24:20 – “Four trillion dollars is going to be spent on online shopping in 2020, just in the US. If we put one tenth of a percent of that toward ethical shopping, it would be $4 billion dollars. And I think about my incredible partners and the work they’re doing. That would go toward projects like reforestation and carbon sequestration in rural Africa where it really is affecting people’s livelihoods that the soil has been so depleted. Things like women who are coming out of sexual trafficking, and we have women both in Nepal and Bolivia who are working on products for Simple Switch. Really big systemic changes that four billion dollars put towards those projects, that’s very real change. My motivation behind getting our word out is that kind of thing where if we’re able to make this shift, it’s a game changer.”
Rachel Kois is the Founder and CEO of Simple Switch (simpleswitch.org) an online marketplace for ethical and impactful shopping. She believes fiercely that our everyday shopping can change the world, so she started Simple Switch to make sure there is a solid option for conscious consumers that matches the convenience of modern online shopping. She’s made friends in 28 countries and grew up with the beautiful Colorado mountains as her playground, so taking care of our planet and the people on it are very important to her.