My backpack and my business model

I'm retiring my L.L. Bean backpack today after 27 years.

Yeah, you read that right.  My grandpa gave me this eggplant-purple L.L. Bean backpack when I started kindergarten in 1989.  I now have friends and colleagues who are younger than this backpack.  I'm retiring it after 27 years because the zipper to the main pocket finally gave out, about three years after I sewed part of the zipper to the front pocket shut to extend its life a little longer.  They don't even make it in this color anymore, that's how long I've had it.

I've relied on this backpack for a lot.  It held my weight in textbooks from kindergarten through high school, Girl Scout cookies, Lisa Frank stickers, the usual millennial backpack stuff.  But it held together through all that, so I've kept using it.

Me and my backpack at the National Equality March, 2009.

Me and my backpack at the National Equality March, 2009.

This backpack has carried my resume.  It's gone with me on canvasses, lobby days, marches, job interviews.  I took it with me the first time I went phone banking, for my Virginia state senator in 1998.  It went with me to New Hampshire in January 2004, when I braved the coldest weather I've ever experienced in my life for Howard Dean.  It's been purple this whole time, including the five years I worked at SEIU.  It's held literature to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", to elect and re-elect President Obama, to support striking fast food workers, to keep abortion legal.  It was starting to show its experience by the day in 2015 when it carried home the first run of Practice Makes Progress business cards.

This backpack has carried my coming of age.  It held my Aladdin and Newsies soundtrack cassettes when I was little, and it's carried my lunch to work on the many, many days recently when I've listened to Hamilton on my commute.  It went with me to Jesus camp in 8th grade (I'm from the Bible Belt, y'all, everyone was doing it), and it came with me on Birthright Israel in college, and it carried matzo to the IfNotNow Liberation Seder we held in the streets of DC this spring.  It's brought food to friends recovering from moves and gender affirming surgery, miscarriage and job loss.  It's carried my clothes for beach trips, drag shows, and my college best friend’s funeral -- who died suddenly and left me fraying like my aging backpack.

I'm going to give at least one L.L. Bean backpack to a local charity that gives poor kids school supplies every year for the rest of my life.  Poor people deserve nice things, and this is a nice thing that's built to last.

L.L. Bean isn't paying me to say any of this.  But as long as I'm talking about what their product has meant to me, I want to talk as well about what their business model means to me.

I've worked for nonprofits and unions my whole career before starting Practice Makes Progress, which is a legally for-profit entity that’s driven by mission.  My job as Founder & CEO is to sell and provide services that are genuinely useful to our clients, for fair prices that our audience can afford, that compensate me and my staff fairly for our time and expertise with stable middle-class salaries and benefits.

Me and my backpack with SEIU colleagues, 2013.

Me and my backpack with SEIU colleagues, 2013.

The American economy is organized to prioritize profit, not people, and as a result it causes millions of people a great deal of harm.  Yes, a CEO can have an anti-capitalist analysis.  Hi!

But capitalism does not have to be a soulless sprint to maximize profit.  It is possible to sell products and services that provide real, lasting value to customers, at affordable prices that support good jobs.  I look at this backpack, still vibrant purple despite its zippers that have finally given out, and I know that a business can show value on its balance sheet and with its ethics at the same time.

Our economic system can work for everyone.  We can choose to make our economy work for everyone by buying fewer things, by investing more money in things that will last and that will really meet our needs, and by ensuring that all the economic activity of inventing and creating and marketing and selling and transporting and storing and eventually recycling those things means middle-class jobs for all of us doing all of that work.

Practice Makes Progress sees the future in my old L.L. Bean backpack. As a CEO, that's my dream: to provide my clients with valuable, affordable services that you carry with you for 27 years.