Written by Stuart Foxman

You can look good, feel good and do good too. Consider a hoodie from Awoke N’ Aware (awokenaware.com), a Toronto-based online clothing retailer. The garment is made from a blend of eight recycled bottles and 100% organic cotton, and 15% of the profits go to rhino conservation.

Awoke N’ Aware was created to support wildlife causes, with environmentally-friendly and ethical products. Neither Cory Yefet nor his co-founder Kelly Saltzman had prior experience in the industry. Yet they possessed something that fuels any entrepreneur: “The determination to make an impact,” says Yefet.

He and Saltzman were on vacation together when the seeds of Awoke N’ Aware were planted. Yefet worked in sales at a tech company, and Saltzman was in marketing in the consumer packaged goods sector, and finishing her MBA at the Schulich School of Business. They both wanted to stretch themselves, and spent time on the trip talking about different business ideas.

Back home in their condo, the conversation continued. They ordered some eco-friendly paper, put it all over a den wall, took markers and brainstormed.

“We were both passionate about animals and fashion,” says Yefet. They thought they might be able to back wildlife conservation by selling clothes. “We started with the mission,” he says.

In their den, they jotted down thoughts about how to build such a company. That was in spring 2018. A year later, they launched Awoke N’ Aware at the Green Living Show.

The company sells simple but stylish black or white shirts (for men and women), featuring line drawings of an elephant, rhino or polar bear. The hoodie is a limited edition. The partners call their lines classic with a twist. Or staple pieces with a purpose.

A cut of every sale goes to support wildlife. That goal was the easy part of starting the business. The harder part was ensuring that every aspect of the process of making their apparel was sustainable and ethical.

For the shirts, Awoke N’ Aware uses only certified organic cotton. They figure using the recycled bottles in the hoodies helps cut CO2 emissions by about 75% (versus using typical polyester). As the company grows, they envision using other fabrics like bamboo, hemp and cork.

Yefet says that he and Saltzman wanted to highlight the causes of conservation, whether it’s animals or the planet, while letting people know that they can do something about it. Some basic consumer choices can make a difference. To underscore that, Awoke N’ Aware adopted an intentionally provocative slogan (it appears on the hoodie): It’s easy to give a f*ck. “A lot of people love it. It makes them smile,” says Yefet.

The two founders still have their day jobs. While they’re motivated in those corporate roles, they say it’s not what excites them. They spend just about every night and weekend on Awoke N’ Aware, from filling orders, to marketing, to product development. “It has been a wild journey,” Yefet says.

Their goal is to donate $50,000 to the conservation causes. The more they can sell, the more money they can give away. That’s what drives them. Yefet would like nothing more than this – “To hop on a plane to Africa with a fat cheque.”

 Photo credit Zlatko CetinicImages Made Real