The humble cook’s apron is a kind of kitchen safety net. It protects home chefs and professionals alike from spills and splashes. But can aprons offer more protection to society? Seema Sanghavi thinks so.
Sanghavi is the founder of Cooks Who Feed, an apron and cooking wear line that weaves together many complex threads of safety. Like any other apron, those created and sold by Cooks Who Feed protect the cook’s clothes as they work with batter, broth, crumbs and dough. By purchasing an apron the company’s customers are also protecting the vulnerable and food insecure. The company also protects its seamstresses by engaging in fair trade employment.
The master of this complexity is Cooks Who Feed founder Seema Sanghavi. The entrepreneur earned her MBA from the Schulich School of Business and, before creating the startup, worked in the corporate world. The change to entrepreneurship was exactly the challenge she needed.
“When you work for a corporation, you have one job in one department and you are fully-concerned with that one department and its performance,” Seema shared. “When you are an entrepreneur, you are in charge of everything and you have to quickly become an expert in everything about your business.”
There aren’t a lot of models for businesses that seek to support social change, a situation Seema is happy to see changing.
“I graduated from Schulich in 2010 and there wasn’t even an entrepreneurship course,” she remembered. “Now, there is and there is also more of a shift toward social impact and social enterprise. Universities are always a bit slower to react to market and consumer changes than the market itself, but they do change eventually. People do care who made their products and they do buy products that support their values and ethics.”
A foodie by nature, Seema knew aprons would appeal to the growing legions of home chefs. To create them, she works with Work+Shelter, an NGO based in India that hires marginalized women to support their move away from poverty by offering training and providing them with the opportunity for fair trade employment.
To provide meals to the food insecure in Canada Cooks Who Feed also relies on partnerships with existing organizations.
“We only work with charities that rescue excess food to be more sustainable,” Seema said. “Everyone we work with is socially responsible in one way or another. Initially, I thought I would start a company based on the give back model, the buy one give one model. That is a great way to have a direct impact, but through our partnership we’ve be able to help people create a lot of impact with just one apron.”
After a year in business, Seema and Cooks Who Feed were accepted into the Starter Company Plus program and offered through the Mississauga Business Entrepreneur Centre (MBEC).
While Seema has a strong background in business, she found the program taught her much in unexpected ways through the use of reporting tools.
“It got me in the habit of completing weekly reports,” Seema said. “They were quite a simple template, but they were good in asking ‘how did you spend your time this week?’ ‘what was your revenue for the week?’ The habit of completing these templates makes you accountable to yourself. It made me consider where I am spending my time on my business and to ask if it was it worth it! It helps me in planning where I should be spending my time, and where I shouldn’t be.”
For Seema, the practice of completing weekly reports helped her to recognize patterns and plan accordingly.
“When you do see growth, you know because you can look back at where you were a week ago, a month ago, a year ago,” she explained. “I can look at the retail seasonality and understand how it impacts us broken down at a weekly level so I know exactly when it makes sense to start investing in inventory and when it makes sense to invest in marketing.”
Most of the $5000 grant the program invested in Cooks Who Feed is being used to fund inventory for the holiday season.
Some of that inventory is a new product. The company has just launched a line of aprons for kids.
“A lot of our customers were coming back to us and saying, ‘Hey! We have a child or a grandchild who loves to cook and I would love to get them a matching apron.’ So for our top three best-selling aprons, we know have matching kids’ aprons. People love to cook together and eat good food together. This is one more way for families to enjoy it together.”
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