By Sarah Hidey, JVA Consulting

Among the hip Broadway street corridor filled with unique stores, an amazing ice cream shop (Sweet Action) and other fun bars and shops sits Hope Tank—one of the coolest social enterprise boutiques I’ve ever been in! Founded by social worker turned social entrepreneur, Erika Righter, in February 2012, Hope Tank is a retail store where every item in the store benefits the social good. It’s the ultimate “shopping for a cause.”

How is that, you ask? This isn’t just your typical fair-trade store with hundreds of handicrafts from around the world (although those stores are pretty awesome too—I have to be honest and say it has been my dream to run one of those stores like Ten Thousand Villages since grad school!).

What Hope Tank provides is different. When you enter the store you will see a mix of items and products: baby shower gifts, bags, hip t-shirts, children’s toys and games, jewelry, spa products, artwork, belts made from fire hoses—the list of unique, one of a kind items goes on and on.

At first, you may think it is the same as other trendy stores you can find around Denver. BUT you would be wrong. What makes Hope Tank completely unique is that:

1) Profits from EACH item benefits a specific charity, and

2) Most items are either fair trade or produced specifically for a social or sustainable purpose.

The Origins of Hope Tank

Hope Tank was not created overnight. After spending years as a social worker and working with numerous nonprofits, Erika Righter found herself extremely frustrated by the way that nonprofits were fundraising. She wasn’t seeing fun and interesting ways of engaging people.

Discouraged by the fundraising landscape and “boring” fundraising plans, she wrote and submitted an essay on this topic to South by Southwest, an annual music, film and interactive conference, and won a scholarship to attend! At South By Southwest she met numerous other nonprofit and social enterprise leaders as well as others leading the way in true innovation. From Google to Habitat for Humanity, being surrounded by innovators inspired Erika, and she began sharing her vision for Hope Tank—for her idea of helping people “give” in different ways without it being painful.

She wanted to create an enterprise where she could engage the everyday, normal person in conversation about charity and philanthropy. The idea behind Hope Tank was formed. But it wasn’t until the foster agency she worked for closed that she realized it was “now or never.” She signed a lease for a storefront and opened a few weeks later.

When developing the concept for Hope Tank, Erika knew that when most people think of “shopping for a cause” they immediately think of Tom’s Shoes or other “one for one” models. But she wanted Hope Tank to be so much more than “one for one.” When choosing which products or items to sell at Hope Tank, Erika considers the kind of footprint the products/items are leaving, the kind of materials the producers are using, and where things are made.

In other words, for Hope Tank, it’s not ONLY about the donation that is made for each item, but also the social or environmental impact that each product sold has in the world. Many items are made by local artists. Other items are from fair-trade organizations. And others are just products or items that are sustainably made.

The inventory at Hope Tank is always changing, but on any given day you may find men’s t-shirts sold by Barnabas, a company that donates a portion of profits to the Living Room which is providing HIV& AIDS research in Kenya; belts made from reclaimed fire hoses from Gallo en Fuego, a company that donates to fallen firefighter funds; dog collars supporting Lifeline Puppy Rescue; or hats from MaxLove, a Boulder social enterprise helping children thrive against cancer.

The Impact

Erika wants shoppers to not only purchase awesome, unique gifts and products at Hope Tank, but ultimately she wants each person who walks in the store to learn about the incredible organizations that are being supported. Every purchase comes with a card that describes the selected charity.

The nonprofits that Erika chooses to work with are really lucky too—not only does Hope Tank send checks to more than 60 nonprofits, but Erika does direct marketing on their behalf every day. She often shares the story of the benefiting nonprofits with families and children with the hope that they will make a decision to become more involved.

A Bright Future

The future is looking bright. HopeTank couldn’t have a better location! Although Hope Tank is closed on Mondays—during the one hour time period that I was there talking with Erika at least a dozen people came to peer in the door window—trying to get in. Situated on such a busy street has resulted in quite a booming business.

Next time you’re at Sweet Action getting some of their amazing ice cream, pop in next door and check out what Hope Tank has in stock!