DOWNTOWN UPTOWN: “We Won’t Compromise On Our Principles.”

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The Genevese boutique DOWNTOWN UPTOWN enables people to sustainably shop socially responsible clothes. Owner Christophe Obradovic and CSR consultant Giji Gya talk about the work and vision behind it:

Describe DOWNTOWN UPTOWN in 50 words or less.

DOWNTOWN UPTOWN is a unique shop in Geneva, Switzerland for vintage, luxury & designer brands, promoting slow fashion & recycling. Also a new collection of menswear where manufacturers meet criteria for corporate social responsibility (CSR) socially responsible procedures, environmental responsibility, fair trade & accountability in supply-chains.

Why did you decide to pursue your own dreams rather than someone else’s?

Most businesses concentrate on profits, a typical dream of others. Yes, a business needs to make a profit to survive, and typically also cedes to customer demand – that is, low prices. However we are unwilling to compromise on our principles if who we worked with changed their outlook! Thus we pursued that dream by creating our own boutique.

Our concept provides an inviting environment as well as (on demand) an explanation of why fast-fashion and cheap prices are detrimental to human rights and the environment. Certainly a challenge as, sure, even though most people agree on the idea of social responsibility, when it comes to the wallet, they think of themselves only. We gently invite customers to think more of their responsibility, through making responsible purchases, that affect everyone. Even though it means we sometimes struggle to make ends meet financially, as some customers still go in search of cheap items elsewhere and we have to compete with large stores that do not practice the same CSR principles, we feel that making small changes in behaviour of customers have a direct and long lasting impact. That is our dream.

Describe your typical working day from coming to the office to leaving it.

Ha! Absolutely no typical day 馃槈 There is no office, there is the boutique. Being a small business with no staff, means we are “jack-of-all-trades”. Somedays we work with suppliers in other cities, somedays with clients outside Geneva. Everyday we interact with customers that come to buy in the boutique. Then there is the administration, accounts, website, social media, logistics, publicity, inventory, changing the shop merchandising and displays. Exploring new suppliers and keeping up with the latest in slow fashion and CSR. We do everything!

Running a small start-up business is 24/7, you live it, think it, dream it!

7 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

We are 2/1/2 years old only! What we aim to do, is that ANY customer that enters our shop, if they buy, they will leave with a socially responsible purchase. That is direct impact on changing behaviours, promoting slow fashion and stopping exploitation! The challenge for us in today’s world is too much choice and too little information. We make it easier for customers, by only having recycled or ethical items in our shop, so customers can concentrate on choosing what they like, knowing that they are being responsible. We also have detailed information on our items (materials, where they are made, the conditions of the workers, by whom and how the conditions are monitored, how they impact the environment). 7 years from now, more people will have made a direct impact, simply by shopping in our boutique.

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

“Success” is a subjective measure. We don’t necessarily measure success by profit.

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to “work” a day in your life, that is success on a personal level.

If just one person that enters the boutique, when leaving, has a better understanding of responsible consumerism and shares that, that is success on a principle level and in our community.

If the boutique does well with many people buying, thus having a direct impact on social responsibility and encouraging slow fashion, that is success on a global level.

How do we not lose track? One must always remember the big picture….

Already pivoted? Did customers use the services like you imagined it in the beginning?

99% of people love our boutique and the extra services we provide. Many acknowledge that there is a lack of attention to social responsibility. Regarding customer’s behaviour, it is a continual adjustment. How we perceive things is not how everyone else does. Some customers do not want to touch “second-hand”. Being also in a high-traffic area for tourism as well as international expats, as well as selling online, we deal with every culture, every demographic and every personality! We adapt a little every day.

Bootstrapped or financed: What fuels your startup now and what will in the future?

We began ourselves with no outside financing.

We now have small funding from private investors and are exploring other opportunities of partnerships and investment to make our message bigger and take it wider! In particular, we like to network with our community in our area with like-minded businesses and partner with others for joint collaborations to promote our principles.

What were the biggest challenges you faced building your startup?

Ouf! We think all startups have the challenge of the unknown, as they are typically exploring new areas.

For us, a challenge was the current global financial structure. The economic crisis and people’s increased stress in the world today directly impacts our sales. The crisis means people don’t spend as much as they used to in retail. Stress means that they are indecisive, or will spend on holidays/entertainment to forget their troubles. Thus, we have to find ways to empathise with customers and make their experience with us an enjoyable one.

But as they say, if you survive in an economic crisis, you will succeed!

With ferocious competition and a booming trend to build new companies: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

Originality and service.

Geneva suffers from a lack of both and we’ve had many comments that we provide both, and do it well. Our background as well ensures a uniqueness in conceptualising and we are willing, and do, revise and adapt our vision constantly. As previously mentioned, the only thing we won’t compromise on is our principles! In fact, we feel that that is our strength.

What do you look for in team members?

They must be dynamic, passionate and engaged in our concept. Obviously, knowledge of our sector is important, as is agreeing with our principles.

Why would a talent join your team?

To make a difference. As simple as that.

What was your most memorable moment so far?

There have been many!!! Satisfying a customer and seeing a huge smile on their face and having them become a regular is our goal and gives great satisfaction! Each of those moments is memorable, as you make a new friend.

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

Make sure you are healthy, have a strong family/friend support network around you and be prepared to disappear into your startup bubble! Creating a business is like having a baby and some friends may not understand that. Network, network, network is also key. Be in your bubble, but make sure your bubble still interacts with others.

 

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