Lauren Bush Lauren Feeds the Future
by Blake Mycoskie
Lauren Bush Lauren and I met back in 2007 at a dinner our mutual friend and sustainability activist, Summer Rayne Oakes, hosted on Long Island. It happened to be a mix of different designers, architects, and people doing things with an environmental or social purpose. Lauren and I instantly struck a chord, with TOMS and FEED Projects and FEED Foundation breathing the same message. And so began the conversations about manufacturing, warehousing, design, collaboration, life, and so much more. It was exciting to compare notes and see what TOMS could be doing differently based on her experiences with FEED.
We’ve been fortunate to remain friends over the years, sharing our biggest challenges and celebrating our biggest successes—even collaborating on a TOMS x FEED shoe, which helped provide new shoes and meals to children around the world. It was a perfect collaboration because of the simplicity of our brands and what we do: You buy a pair of TOMS or FEED products, and someone is helped, either through a pair of shoes, medical treatment for sight restoration, or meals for a whole year.
It’s great to have a close friend in this space, showing the world that business and philanthropy don’t have to be separate and can work hand in hand. I feel so honored to call Lauren a friend and a philanthropic entrepreneur whom I can really learn from every day.
BLAKE MYCOSKIE: What’s it like to live in New York and have FEED based in New York?
LAUREN BUSH LAUREN: It’s awesome. I love being in New York, and I love our little office in New York. I get to walk to work every day, which is a luxury, but I really find New York so stimulating. There’s so much energy, so much happening. It’s really inspirational for what I’m doing.
BM: You were Godiva’s first National Lady Godiva Honoree; do you have plans to do another collaboration with the chocolatier?
LBL: We did FEED 10 Bags last year for the holidays, and we’ll be working with them again for Mother’s Day.
BM: What are you working on right now?
LBL: We are in our fifth year, and it’s been an exciting year for us. We’ve done a lot of cool initiatives outside of just products. We just did a Run 10 FEED 10 with Women’s Health magazine—10K races in 11 cities around the country including New York to raise money for hunger. One of our newer initiatives is not only to focus on hunger abroad, but to really focus on hunger in America as well.
BM: So many people don’t see poverty first hand in America, but it definitely exists, and it’s deep. What areas are you focusing on and what’s the approach?
LBL: Hunger in America is so different from hunger abroad, and it is quite shocking. Like you said, it’s not something that we’re confronted with, but 49 million Americans are food insecure, which means at some point during the week, month, or year, they rely on food assistance. One in five children are living in food-insecure households, so it’s a massive issue in our own country. In America there is a bit more of a safety net that obviously doesn’t exist in so many countries, but there’s such a need.
BM: What new products have you launched, and what can we look forward to seeing in the future?
LBL: We did a partnership with your company [TOMS] that went really well and that was so cool because it gives shoes and meals. We also did a partnership with DKNY; we did a cool “city survivor” collection. [We recently added] a diaper bag, which is something a lot of FEED customers had been asking for. We’re also coming out with things made in collaboration with artisan groups in Haiti and in Kenya. Whenever we can, we like to work with these groups and then have the money go back to support hunger programs within that country.
BM: What was the pivotal moment when you realized that not only is the FEED project an idea, but also that it could be sustainable?
LBL: When I thought of the idea I was living in Australia, studying abroad. I had been to the grocery store and was carrying a reusable bag. (I’d just gone on a trip to Cambodia with the United Nations World Food Programme.) I was walking back from the beach, and it just occurred to me like, Gosh, why not create a reusable bag that’s cool-looking, that people want to carry around, that they can buy for their friends and family, that also feeds a child in school for a year? I intended to give World Food Programme my idea and have them sell the bag, but after Amazon placed its first order, WFP said, for legal reasons, they couldn’t sell the bag. We started a separate company, FEED Projects, simply to fulfill that first order. Every other step of the way has been an awesome surprise and a great evolution for us.
BM: How do you stay motivated when FEED is now an established brand? Hunger is such a huge problem. You’re not going to solve it; no one’s going to solve it in our lifetime, so how do you stay motivated both creatively, and also when you’re dealing with something that is as big as hunger?
LBL: Traveling gets exhausting, but it is so important for me to take at least one or two trips a year to go see the programs in action that we’re supporting. That’s obviously one huge way to stay motivated. Honduras was the last trip; I’m planning to go back to Africa next year. I’m very engaged in the day-today, so it’s still that exciting process of problem solving and working with partners and figuring out how best to craft a program that’s going to be good for the FEED brand and mission. And I still love designing and working with artisan groups. No two days are the same, so it keeps me on my toes.
BM: You got married in 2011 to David Lauren. You’re both working in somewhat of the same businesses—how much of your dinner conversation is about what’s going on with work?
LBL: You know, that’s a funny question. Very little. When we’re together, especially after work, we just want to relax and take a break, but David is definitely the first person I go to for advice. Although I love what I do, I don’t come home and want to relive work per se.
BM: Does David go with you on some of these trips?
LBL: He has. He didn’t go with me on the last one, but it is fun for him to experience that with me; I know your wife, Heather, goes with you, just to share that because it is such a life-changing experience.
BM: What part of living in New York do you find challenging?
LBL: It is a kind of manic energy that can be a little overwhelming at times and there are some days when it can just beat you up. I think it takes getting used to. But, for the most part, if you can walk to work, walk to where you live, and pace your life, then it’s definitely manageable.
BM: What do you do to unwind?
LBL: The gym, work-out classes, yoga. There are so many fun restaurants in New York and fun concerts or plays. Just going to dinner with friends is a big release. And also there are so many beautiful areas right outside of the city, which are really easy to get to, so David and I also do escape the city when we can. FEED products are available at ABC Carpet & Home, 888 Broadway, and Zitomer, 969 Madison Ave.
photography by melanie dunea (lauren bush lauren top left); Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME (david lauren); Henry Hargreaves (feed bags)
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.