I had the opportunity to go on a student exchange program and attend the University of Hawaii for my final semester before graduation in 2011. A few friends came to visit during the last week of the student exchange program. We went hiking, scuba diving, skydiving, surfing, kayaking, and camping. These outdoor activities inspired us to come up with a business concept that would give every individual the opportunity to protect the beautiful world we were playing in.
The concept was simple and tangible; for every lifestyle apparel item purchased, ten trees would be planted. That is how tentree was born. This concept was unique as our customer would be the one creating the positive impact in partnership with us. In 2011, the concept of an environmentally progressive brand was one of the first of its kind.
We knew nothing about the apparel industry, but we had experience tree planting as my fellow co-founders had founded a carbon offset business in 2008. The plan for tentree was to focus on the trees first and foremost and clothing second. The clothing was our vehicle to give the end consumer the ability to plant trees. We always found there to be a lot of negativity when it came to environmental causes and we wanted our messaging to focus on the positive impact that is achievable when we all come together and make small changes.
After creating the concept, we launched a website and had a few successful days of sales. We were pleasantly surprised, but shortly after, we struggled to drive traffic to our website on a regular basis. This is when we knew an omni-channel sales approach was absolutely necessary to create awareness and acquire new customers. We opened wholesale accounts rapidly and partnered with local businesses and university clubs to make custom branded tentree products for their organizations which exposed more and more people to our brand. We found this strategy very effective.
Our big break came when we were featured on the TV show Dragon’s Den in October of 2012. Being featured on the show exposed tentree to millions of Canadian customers. It also forced us to get our financial statements done as part of the due diligence process. The demand from Dragon’s Den created an environment full of attractive opportunities that taught us the importance of prioritizing. We immediately outsourced our warehousing, shipping, production and we prioritized the items that contributed to our competitive advantage like tree planting, sustainability, marketing and sales. Prioritizing these specific areas of the business allowed us to solidify ourselves as the environmentally progressive leader in our space.
We designed our products using 100% sustainable materials, eliminated plastic from our supply chain and helped others in our industry do the same, we were recognized as a top 10% B-Corp globally and we became carbon neutral across scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Most importantly we continued our relentless focus on the “why” behind tentree which is planting trees. Our sales team was referred to as a planting team, our targets were set in trees planted and jobs created, we changed our website shopping cart to a tree planting bag, our retailers were referred to as planting partners instead of wholesale accounts, we engaged our customers by giving them each a unique tree code with every product that they could register on tentree.com to discover where their trees are planted and the impact each purchase has on the environment. We also created a tree planting auditing software system built on block chain technology called Veritree that ensures all of the trees are getting planted solely as a result of tentree’s contributions. All of these items added together are how we used sustainability to create a competitive advantage for tentree.
Moving forward, our focus is to make tree planting as accessible as possible to the consumer. We have started doing this by offering customers tree planting products that are not associated with a physical item they receive. For instance, you can pay to offset an international flight or a fast fashion retailer for the day through tentree climate+. We have also started partnering with other companies by offering them the ability to plant trees with their products. For instance, there is a credit card now provided by Mogo financial services that plants a tree for every transaction. You will see more of this in the future as we continue to focus on planting and protecting more trees.
To date, the tentree community has planted over 60 million trees, with 31 million of them being planted since January 1, 2019 alone. These trees are having an incredible impact around the world by capturing carbon, creating jobs, restoring animal habitats, and even providing food. With our community’s help, we know together we can plant over 1 billion trees by 2030. Together, we can all make saving the planet simple by empowering humanity to make an impact through planting trees.