Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wise consumer choices can make the world a better place

November 28, 2006. Toronto, Ontario. "Every cow in the European Union is subsidized to the the tune of $2 a day, while between four hundred and five hundred million Africans live on less than a dollar a day." That's according to Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, in his book of lectures, Race Against Time.

So it's a 'bull market' in more ways than one for entrepreneurs Michelle Shaw and Brad Arsenault, founders of a new social enterprise, Shaw Treatment. A body care company that designs and markets natural lotions, soaps, scrubs, cleansers and an expanding line of body care products. And its numbers like those presented by Stephen Lewis that have led the couple to form their for-profit venture.

Since the success of companies like Newman's Own, founded by actor Paul Newman, more and more entrepreneurs are jumping on the social enterprise band-wagon. The concept itself is still a relatively new form of business, although its definition is pretty open ended. Any company can declare that it has a social mission but Michelle and Brad are taking their enterprise to the extreme limits of the definition.

"We're giving 100% of our net profits to charities and grass roots organizations supporting relief efforts in Africa," as is stated on multiple pages of the company's website and on various printed materials.

In terms of their products, Michelle and Brad believe it's about offering consumers a greater choice with attached benefits that include the satisfaction of knowing that the ingredients are natural or fairly traded and that the money goes to an important cause.

"We should all be compelled to donate and write a cheque. We should also challenge the large companies we buy products and services from to step-up and do more for both their communities and the world. They have the power to change things on a larger scale than we do as individuals."

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a leadership role that can enable him to really start setting standards and putting pressure on first world nations to do more for Africa. But so far that hasn't happened to the degree that it should. Our Prime Minister's attention to important issue such as HIV/AIDS as well as the ignoring of promises made by Canada to Africa is shameful and needs to be fixed."

So Michelle and Brad have taken matters into their hands. They believe in having the freedom to choose a product off the store shelf whereby the manufacturer donates continually to a chosen cause. And although you could argue that there are many companies that give a percentage of profits already. Too often, the donations tend to represent a small amount of the sale, are usually for a single product the company produces and are more often than not attached to a short lived promotion. Shaw Treatment plans to stick to its goal of 100%.

As Shaw Treatment is still a fledgling company, it has a long way to go, and the cofounders want people to understand that they're not in business to run a hobby but are in it for the long haul. They've set a their first mission to get 200 bicycles to nurses and children in rural Africa. A bicycles can mean the difference between life and death as it offers nurses the chance to reach more patients affected by HIV/AIDS living in outlying areas and children the opportunity to improve their lives through education.

In order to achieve their first mission, the couple are now exploring the various distribution channels available and plan to get Shaw Treatment in to more stores so consumers can have the ultimate say.

The couple considers themselves in good company as they charge forward with social enterprises like Newman's Own and Me to We Style Inc. cofounded by Oliver Madison and inspired by Marc and Craig Kielburger's Me to We social movement.
Interested parties can contact Brad Arsenault directly at (416)569-6737 and get more information from the company's website at www.shawtreatment.com

Information about Me To We Style Inc. can be found at www.metowestyle.com

Information about Marc and Craig Kielburger can be found at www.metowe.org. Marc and Craig write for the Global Voices column found every Thrusday in the Toronto Star's GTA section. They are the founders of Free the Children.

Information about the Stephen Lewis Foundation can be found at www.stephenlewisfoundation.org

Case in point! - Is your lotion safe?

I read an article in the Toronto Star on Thursday, November 23rd, 2006. The article was by Helen Henderson a Life Writer for the Star, and it was titled, A Label for Sensitive Skin.

This article does a wonderful job of spinning the facts about product labels and ingredients and for those of you that may have read it, you probably noticed the large photograph of a container of Lush Dream Cream prominently displayed showing the ingredients list. The first several ingredients look great but looks can be deceiving.

So the article goes on to point out some awkwardly long chemical names like, caprylic triglycerides, cetearyl glucoside, and sucrose polybehenate. HUH? But unfortunately, the article doesn't bother educating us about what they are. It only complains that they're big words. Let's start with the first, caprylic triglycerides - coconut oil. That was easy so let's hit the next one, cetearyl glucoside - vegetable-derived Cetearyl Alcohol and Glucose, Cetearyl Glucoside is an emulsifier and smooths the consistency of a product's ingredients. Phewww! Finally, sucrose polybehenate - this one is a bit tougher to find info on, but it's sucrose esters, produced from naturally derived vegetable oil and sucrose. This product is fairly new to the market and there isn't a lot of information about it yet.

Now aside from the big words, the article goes on to point out the concerns of using natural oils like lavender oil, ylang ylang, and beeswax. Although, there is evidence to support that these products can lead to skin sensitivities and may even aggravate skin conditions, they certainly have nothing on the parabens. Of course the article says nothing about the methylparaben and propylparaben clearly legible on the label of the Lush Cream. The parabens have been linked to breast cancer. And with so many women facing this vicious disease and while our society rallies together under the Pink Campaign, many of us continue to ignore the sources. Although, we can't blame just paraben for the many cancer cases - it is but one of the many contributors in our environment.

Well ultimately, the choice is yours (the consumer), all I can do is provide a bit of education and information and encourage you to ask questions and search for the answers. It's your health we're talking about, so be wise.

For information about the parabens, visit our store or read on and check the Blog I posted on November 20th, 2006.

Is your lotion safe?

Brad Arsenault, Cofounder Shaw Treatment

Toronto, Ontario. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit the National Women's Show, which was held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from October 27-29, 2006. As a guy attending the show, I found it to be quite enlightening. Attending a show such as this one, provides some wonderful insights into the female psyche and behavior. To site an example, the behavior of lining up for free things. Although, this is not a unique female behavior, the desire to line-up for some sample make-up, or Biore pore cleansing strips still baffles me.

Now that my wife and I are members of the beauty care industry and designing and marketing our own line of body care products through Shaw Treatment, we have become very aware of what many consumers may not be aware of - that is, exactly what's in the lotions, and body butters and other beauty care products women and men buy and use on a daily basis.

What first threw us, and certainly not just at the Women's Show, but at other shows as well, are the sheer number of product labels, producers and sales people that misinform consumers about the products they're selling. The phrases, "All Natural", "100% Natural", or "Organic" have become common marketing lines to grab our attention. But how true are those phrases? Are they simply marketing tricks designed to prey on consumers that may not otherwise know the difference? Besides, there are so many ingredients available to industry producers, how can consumers truly be informed about the products they buy and what's in them.

In an effort to understand the business and industry that we've become a part of, we've spent countless hours researching our ingredients and other competitors ingredients, visiting trade shows, talking with our supplier and reviewing the facts about the many ingredients that go into the lotions and other products that we all use everyday.

Let's start with SLS. It's so common to see products on store shelves and at local trade shows that love to add the phrase, "SLS Free" to their labels and advertising. But what is SLS? Its scientific name is Sodium Laurel Sulphate or Sodium Laureth Sulphate. It's found in a variety of different products in the beauty care industry. It's a surfactant. As a non-scientist, my reaction went like this, " a sur-what-ant"?

Here's the Wikipedia definition. "Surfactants are wetting agents that lower the surface tension of a liquid, allowing easier spreading, and lower the interfacial tension between two liquids." The term surfactant is the combination of the term (in case you care) - Surface Active Agent. In simple terms (mostly for me), what surfactants really do is allow oil and water to mix and stay together. They also allow the product you're using to spread over your skin evenly.

But are the rumours about SLS being a cancer causing agent true? For the answer we turned to a few sources. Our research included information from, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), our supplier, the Health & Beauty Association and a final source on-line that has been quoted by several sites, the PathGuy.com (a site devoted to Pathology by Ed Friedlander, MD). In a 'nut-shell', according to both the FDA and Dr. Friedlander, a nasty article was printed about SLS a few years ago. Thanks to the Internet the article was circulated to people all over the world. Unfortunately, the article was hoax and was based on a study that involved SLS. Although the study was real, the report itself perpetuated a continuing stream of misinformation that led to the hoax. There currently is no evidence to support that SLS is anything more than a harsh surfactant.

SLS may dry out our skin and may even cause some skin sensitivity, but that's about it. So those people who have skin sensitivities might consider staying clear of SLS.

The next set of ingredients include the various members of the Paraben family. They include; methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. Less common parabens include isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben, and benzylparaben. According to one of our suppliers as well product specifcation sheets and the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's), the parabens are in fact carcinogenic or cancer causing agents. Parabens are commonly used as preservatives. They are in fact excellent preservatives, but unfortunately, the side effects won't preserve your skin. Consumers are probably right to avoid contact with products containing parabens. So why does the industry choose to use them so often? The answer is simple, they're cheap! That's the economics behind the use of parabens. Unlike other preservatives considered to be safe, or safer such as natural coconut oil or Vitamin E or C, in comparison the various parabens are quite cheap. In a business world where margins are everything and a few cents per unit can make or break a deal, parabens come in handy.

So where does this leave us? As we as consumers become more educated about the products we all buy, producers and marketers (including us) are going to be forced to acknowledge that ingredients are more than a 'skin deep' issue. When we at Shaw Treatment, set out to develop our line of products it became our goal to create as natural a line as possible where ingredients such as SLS and the various parabens were not used. So far so good. But there is a fine line producers and companies walk when it comes to claiming their products are "All Natural," or "100% Organic."

Although, there are some excellent all natural products available on the market, that contain very few or no preservatives at all, they tend to be rather expensive, since the natural and organic ingredients they use are often quite expensive. Consumers should also note that some of these natural or organic products may require refrigeration in order to keep them fresh. If it's organic you're hunting for, be sure to check whether the producer or company is marketing a specific ingredient that happens to be organic, or if all the ingredients are organic. Canada's Organic Products Regulations and various provincial regulations have all set some very strict guidelines and licensing for what can be called 'Organic.' If it's organic you want you should look for the ORGANIC Canada symbol when searching for products.

Whether visiting beauty care booths at trade shows or perusing the handsomely packaged products at a local body care shop, consider turning the product over to have a look at what's in it. After all, whatever is in your lotion, will eventually end up in your body! Our skin absorbs whatever we put on it - just like a sponge. So beware of labels and sales people that claim the product you just tried is 'All Natural' or 'Organic.' Flip that bottle and read it. If you don't know how to pronounce it - ask. Just as workers have a right to know what chemicals they work with through WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) education, we as consumers have a right to know what it is we're putting on our skin.

For more information on the above ingredients or on the general ingredients found in your lotions, visit www.shawtreatment.com

Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association - http://www.ctfa.org

US Food and Drug Administration - http://fda.gov

Canada Food Inspection Agency - http://www.inspection.gc.ca

Dr. Friedlander - http://www.pathguy.com

Tough Questions & Straight Answers

We've decided to publish these tough questions and straight answers for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as more social enterprises emerge, there will be those that seek to pull the proverbial wool over consumers eyes and create a bad name for those many small companies out there that are striving to actually do something good. As we seek to be accepted among the community of people seeking better products, greater choice and the desire to buy from businesses that strive to create a better world and not just advertise it - we realize that being transparent without compromising our business goals and products comes with a great responsibility and we walk a fine line.

We've scoured the net looking for businesses like ours and have only turned up a handful. We've been asked tough questions by our peers and those in the charitable and business community - so here they are - the answers you've been looking for. They've been referred to around the Internet as the 'Top 10 Rude FAQ.'

So here's our Top 10 Rude FAQ;

1. If you give away all your money, how can your company and you afford to survive and still buy groceries?

Answer... click here to find out