Industry Veteran on Why Giving Back is Good for Society and The Bottom Line
By Vipe Desai
They say that good is the new cool and it’s definitely catching on with more brands and people in the action sports industry. One effort that caught our attention is that of industry veteran, Melissa Martinez-Booth where she’s focusing on doing good for retailers and her Laguna Beach community with 4SOCIETEE. She’s proving that you can have a positive impact and support local businesses at the same time. And in these uncertain times, collaboration with your community is welcome news.
Can you give our readers an overview of your background and how it inspired you to create 4SOCIETEE?
The surf industry was definitely not part of the plan when I started studying fashion design in NYC. A West Coast vacation ...turned into a year of maybe...and eventually a life here. With Cali living centered around the beach and surfing, I naturally gravitated towards the action sports industry, designing for OG surf brands like O’Neill and Quiksilver.
I met my husband - a former pro surfer at Quik, during my time as a design director there...and early on, our family became pretty set in a groove of surf-related activity - my son and daughter growing up competing as well. When we learned that surfing was the only sport, not scholarship represented through their high school, we sat out to change this - creating a map tee of our own beach town to use as a fundraiser.
This tee shirt launched the Laguna Beach Surf Team Scholarship, now in its 5th year, has raised $50k in helping to send graduating surfers to college. We often thought of extending this give-back concept into other causes, and when COVID hit, we had the forced pause we needed to get things started, and created 4SOCIETEE.
The Map Tee’s look like they’re resonating with retailers and the community, how does this program work?
Maps are unifying way to tap in and appreciate the grassroots of your community - we work closely with local surf shops in the customization process, hi-lighting iconic references, and spots that maybe locals only understand, but outsiders can still appreciate. We do our best to collaborate with artists from the area to keep the details as authentic as possible, but of course, some spots are intentionally kept secret.
How do you see 4SOCIETEE helping retailers and how can they partner with you?
In these Amazonian times, the experience of going in to get your first board or setting up your first skateboard is a right of passage that cannot be duplicated online. Surf shops are essential to the family feeling of community - and from a parent's perspective, I am grateful for the part they took in the raising of my own children.
Many of these shops didn’t have a strong online presence - which was especially important for many businesses in surviving the COVID closures. The “Support Your Local Surf Shop” program was created as a way to sell tees on their behalf online - with proceeds (which normally would go to charity organizations), converted into increased margins for their shops.
We built mini-sites on our 4SOCIETEE website to help the shops in the telling of their stories - which educated both new and loyal regular customers on the history of these institutions and the personalities that built them. When shops started to open back up again, we transitioned the model to include wholesale and worked with the shops in planning their buys - combining their orders with other surf shops so as to avoid minimums.
Once the map tee concept is proven and sales shown, we extend our product offering into custom colors and bodies, as well as other categories.
How do you choose the nonprofits that are supported by your efforts and any results as to how your efforts are having an impact?
Really the process up to now has been completely organic. Our family has a history with supporting our local food shelter and as we personally have seen the difference they make, kept our focus on them for our original push and they still remain a cornerstone in our efforts.
Feeding families continues to be a challenge with the rising number of unemployment and daycare issues due to COVID and we are working with food distribution organizations on both coasts, as well as international relief organizations like The Italian Red Cross and Waves 4 Water.
The program for W4W practically created itself when our good friend, legendary surf photographer, Tom Servais reached out to us to offer his help, donating an iconic Cloudbreak shot for the tee graphic...and we connected this design with another good friend from Quik days, Jon Rose who is the founder of W4W.
A definite silver lining to being in this business for as long as we have is the great connections we’ve made along the way…it’s been amazing to see all the industry veterans who have reached out in support of what we are doing.
The current trend feels like people are rallying around their communities and 4 Societee is developing an interesting business model, how do you see this idea scaling up?
In this current state of the world, people are feeling uncertain - overwhelmed, and the place where the results of their positive efforts can best be felt...are on the local level.
Brands and retailers that support each other through extending term/payment plans, as well as promote goodwill to their customers through contributing in relief efforts and offering perks for loyalty are the ones that will be remembered in days to come. Our business model is built on moderation and flexibility which is essential to these times - we must move and adjust with the people we service.
We are going the slow and steady route - focusing on building strong relationships with brands and retailers with similar values and doing our best to build a relationship with our online customers. In these uncertain times, has come to a very certain truth - We are all connected and need each other more than we know, scaling up maybe a bit hard to visualize during these times, but I’m hoping it’s through supporting each other, we redefine success.
You’ve been in the industry for quite a while, what’s your advice to retailers and brands as they try and navigate through these uncertain times?
I remember in the surf glory days, it seemed a doomsday signal of change when our sales meetings started to lean less away from our own ideas of innovation, and more towards discussions of what the competition was doing.
Coming from an East Coast/garmento background, this type of talk reminded me of why I left NYC in the first place and settled in a more purpose-driven version of fashion. I loved that people of the surf industry were living the lifestyle first...and creating for it second. I loved that surf brands had such unique characters behind them - each with their own distinct voices - that encouraged loyalty in their wearers and self-expression.