Get Garments, Give Groceries: A UCI Alum’s Philanthropic Business Model
By Megan Cole
UCI alum Fiona Chan (class of ‘07) never wanted to be an entrepreneur. But that changed two years ago when she became a partner at For Better Not Worse (FBNW), a socially conscious clothing line that distributes a bag of groceries to an American child for each item sold. The line, founded by Chan’s boyfriend, can be found in over 200 U.S. stores and will launch at the Fashion Island Neiman Marcus next week. Its quick success changed her mind on the social impact of business and made her “recognize how far a small act of kindness can go for someone in need.”
Chan’s parents immigrated from Hong Kong to Liverpool before she was born, starting their own restaurant and working around the clock to support their family. Chan admired her parents’ tenacity, but says that this introduction to entrepreneurship “wasn’t a good one,” and actually steered her away from wanting to own her own business one day.
“I looked up to my parents, but their entrepreneurship…looked like a lot of hard work and sacrifice; we barely saw them [growing up] and were pretty much raised by our grandmother,” she says. “I knew that whatever I did [as a career], I wanted the freedom and flexibility to have a life with my family.”
Chan maintained this mentality when she came to UCI, where she majored in sociology and aspired to a “financially stable,” 9-to-5 job in marketing, which she landed after graduating in 2007. But her attitude toward entrepreneurship changed a few years later when her boyfriend, Patricc Reed, came to her with a business idea.
In 2015, Reed, a former U.S. Marine who has worked in the fashion industry for over 15 years, met with the founder of TOMS, an apparel company that donates a pair of shoes to a child in need after every pair purchased. A few months after the meeting, Reed was inspired to start his own service-minded apparel company, focusing on improving children’s lives. After consulting with child specialists and school administrators, he decided that for each item of clothing sold, the company would distribute a bag of groceries to an underserved American child — because “consistent access to food is what children need most, since one in five U.S. children goes to bed hungry,” Reed says. The couple converted their spare bedroom into an office, hired a few interns, and For Better Not Worse (FBNW) was born. Shortly afterwards, Chan quit her marketing job and became Reed’s partner at FBNW, because the work made her “feel most alive.”
“I made the choice that this is what I wanted to do as a career even though we couldn’t afford to pay ourselves, it wasn’t the most stable path, and it went against every conservative Asian bone in my body,” she says. “I knew that it was the right decision.”
In the past two years, the company has distributed more than 5,000 bags of groceries at monthly “food drop” events at local Boys & Girls Clubs and the Salvation Army. As FBNW grows, they plan to expand their food drops across the U.S. and increase their frequency from monthly to weekly.
“Our even bigger picture goal is to inspire other young entrepreneurs to find creative ways to give back through business to help solve some of society’s issues,” says Chan. “If every new company moving forward gave back in some way, the world would be a much greater place. There are no limitations on how creative you can be with business — I mean, we feed children by selling clothes!”
To aspiring Anteater entrepreneurs, Chan’s advice is to “drop your insecurities,” and on a more practical level, “identify your consumer base, accumulate startup capital and living capital, and find mentors.” There are also plenty of opportunities on campus to jumpstart a business career, she says, including the SAGE Scholars program — an initiative that provides service internships to high-achieving, low-income students — which she credits for catalyzing her success.
“SAGE helped me build my confidence and gave me volunteering and mentorship opportunities, encouraging me to give back to kids from similar backgrounds as myself,” Chan says. “SAGE taught me not to focus solely on securing a job and career, but to also think about how I can help others succeed. That’s the work I’m doing now, with FBNW — allowing me to be creative, strategic, and fulfilled knowing that the work I’m doing is much bigger than commerce. We are making a difference in the lives of children who need a little help so they can focus on important things like school and being a kid, rather than worrying where their next meal will come from.”