When I visited Newcastle recently I met with John Wright, one of the founders of Lyfe Watches. Lyfe is an unusual company as they are tapping into an interesting trend focused on 'caring capitalism'. This is all about companies that want to raise cash by trading, but with the intention of using profits for good causes rather than just handing out dividends to shareholders.
Companies like Lyfe are not charities. They have products and customers and need to market and build their brand, but they have a stated objective that their profits will be invested in good causes.
On the company website I read that Lyfe was inspired by children admiring the watches of the founders on a Brazilian beach. They both gave away their watches to the kids and thought about how a watch company could help children like these. Wright explains: "We regularly discussed starting a project which would enable us to bring together two areas we are passionate about, fashion and charity. The encounter with the two boys in Brazil was the catalyst for this. When we returned to the UK we got to work on the colour/cause concept and what our clear mission was." He added: "After talking with various suppliers around the world, we then discovered how powerful social media can be in terms of launching a product. Lyfe Watches launched in January 2016 and the response from all over the world has been unbelievable."
I asked Wright about their charitable mission and how they decide where to invest the company profits. He explained: "Our mission is to help as many people as possible. We decided to create strap colours, which donate to serious global causes that we know sales of our watches can support. We didn't want to associate our brand to specific charities as we want to remain flexible in where we donate."
So customers choose the cause, but not the specific charities supported. Customers buying a watch with a green strap are indicating that they want the company to support poverty causes and blue for natural disasters. Wright explained how important it is to give customers feedback on what Lyfe is doing and how purchases are helping good causes: "Our plan is to use social media to keep our followers and customers up to date with the positive impact their support has on so many people globally."
But the watch market is challenged right now. Many people just use their phone to keep time and the Lyfe watch is more of a fashion item rather than a smart watch. Is the desire to do good enough of a reason for people to buy one?
"We believe the Lyfe watch is a great product which can stand alone in a very competitive market. We have a unique style, which is appealing to both men and women of all ages. Our watch is so versatile given the ease of changing strap and face depending on your outfit or mood," Wright explained to me.
Lyfe clearly want to compete and offer a great watch, but with that added bonus of knowing you just did something to help other people. But I asked Wright why they took this business focused approach, rather than just raising funds for charitable causes. Does caring capitalism really exist?
He said: "We are a fashion business that wants to do more than a typical business. I would say most people enjoy fashion to some degree, but they also like to give back to those less fortunate and we are no different." He added: "We just want people to enjoy our product. Whether you buy a Lyfe watch because you love the simplistic style and flexibility, or you want to support a cause that you're passionate about and be proud to show it. We believe there's nothing wrong with either."
I'm now the proud owner of a Lyfe watch with a green strap and I can honestly say that after years of not wearing a watch I have started using it regularly. It looks good, functions well, and I can see that the Lyfe team are focused on making this a global fashion brand.
It's a tough market for fashion right now and all British exporters will be suffering in the post-Brexit market chaos, but this is an interesting company that's worth supporting. If you are keen to support a British fashion brand and like the idea that your choice of strap colour indicates where they send the profit then take a look at their website here.