Doing business differently: How WE-AR puts people first

When Jyoti Morningstar founded WE-AR while working towards a masters degree in development at Auckland University, she did so with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in mind, which she felt were natural objectives for any human heart.

Having achieved a level of comfort and security for oneself, she says, she felt a human responsibility to set about helping others achieve this.

“Entrepreneurs and businesses can (and should) incorporate poverty alleviation into their visioning and operations because it’s the decent thing to do and everyone prospers when everyone prospers,” Morningstar told Inside Retail New Zealand.

Historically, business rhetoric has been around achieving certain levels of success before establishing non-profit divisions. This allows social responsibility to be separate from, or extraneous to, doing business.

Morningstar’s perspective is that we need to build social profit into our business’s DNA to be part of solving the worst problems of poverty and ecosystem disruption. She believes we can build the solutions into the genome of who we are and how we operate.

WE-AR was built on a common sense approach to living harmoniously and gracefully with your own self and community, underpinned by the values of yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas.

The Yamas recommend to avoid violence, stealing and greed whilst being truthful and managing your own sexual energy in a healthy way. The Niyamas refer to living in a pure way (body, mind and actions), practicing contentment and using self-discipline to become the director of your own life. They also recommend studying the self and others in order to surrender the ego and reconnect into the experience of Oneness,” Morningstar said.

Morningstar embedded these values in her brand, after finding they gave her more personal freedom and power, as well as more capacity to feel and act compassionately.

“I see business, as a mode of expressing our creativity and values in the world, so having purposeful foundations is core to a business actually being of use to people and planet,” she said.

One of those purposeful foundations the brand is centred on is that of abundance with the idea that abundance dissolves scarcity.

“I think most of the suffering in the world comes from people’s deep fear that there’s not enough. Not enough for themselves, not enough for their families and so on,” she said.

“Addiction and compulsion to keep trying to get more seems to be associated with the limbic system and specifically the amygdala. From an evolutionary perspective, this aspect would have been useful to secure the food and sex needed for survival, but with a drastically increased population, we need to increase our sophistication as a species by actively regulating this drive and turning it toward more useful common goals. This starts by telling yourself that there is enough – because there is.”

WE-AR comes from the seed concept that ‘we are one’ and as such everything they do impacts everything else.

“It’s super simple and it resonates because at some level most of us already know this and are actually longing to reconnect,” Morningstar said.

The WE-AR community are curious and ready to explore new ways of engaging with themselves and their wants and needs. Their purpose is to connect people with their own power to choose and be active in shaping a world they want to live in.

As such, the WE-AR community are writers, designers, yogis, foodies, gardeners and thinkers who are aligned in connecting their choices to how they feel, and this affects and is shaping a world they want to live in and raise their kids in. Their purpose is to connect people to their own innate power to live the way they see.

When it came time to select a manufacturing partner, WE-AR chose to do so in Bali.

“We chose Bali for a combination of practical and philosophical reasons,” Morningstar said.

“Our purpose is to inspire authentic connection. Bali is an island and has a strong spiritual life. Balinese mostly want to stay close to their village homes and family temples so it was an interesting environment to explore alternatives to the commonplace development models that cause urban migration as young people seek employment in urban located factories.

“We wanted to develop a model of production that honours the cultural context and doesn’t force individuals to choose between their community and economic advancement.”

In addition to its use of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, WE-AR is also a B Corp, alongside other New Zealand brands and retailers like Duffle & Co, Peoples Coffee, Little Yellow Bird and Ethique. B Corp is also gaining momentum in Australia, with brands like Arnsdorf, Bear, Intrepid Group, Koala, Outland Denim, GlamCorner, Good Day Girl and Flora & Fauna now certified.

For WE-AR, being a B Corp means they have found their business tribe.  They have joined a global movement of change-makers who have purpose as a core driver and who, like WE-AR, are working to build sustainable operating models to effect much-needed change.

Morningstar says that B Corp not only provides safety in numbers, but strength and inspiration as well. 

“There’s a real sense of momentum building towards a better global business culture where profits and purpose happily coexist. Being a part of this helps to fulfil our mission, as a business, and on a personal level for each of our team members too.”

Morninstar suggests that businesses turn to the B Corp website to learn about the pillars and read stories that reinforce the importance of joining and provide motivation and inspiration.

“Get to know the other organisations involved.  Sign up, check out the assessment, maybe do a ‘first pass’ and from there create a plan.”

B Corp is hosting a panel discussion at Inside Retail Academy events in Sydney and Melbourne this month.


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