Q&A: Founder and CEO of Olivela Stacey Boyd

On her LinkedIn profile, Stacey Boyd lists parent, former teacher and school principal among her job titles; she can now add social entrepreneur. Many know Boyd as the founder of Schoola, a crowd-sourced site that sells gently worn clothing with 40 percent of proceeds donated to put art, music and physical education back into schools across the United States.

Her most recent project is Olivela, an example of “philanthropic retail,” a pioneering business model that sits at the intersection of luxury retail and philanthropy. Olivela is designed to improve the lives of at-risk children through the online purchase of luxury designer goods.

In addition to Schoola and Olivela, Boyd has played a role in other successful ventures including Academy of the Pacific Rim, a charter public school in Hyde Park, Mass., and Project ACHIEVE, an evidence-based continuous school improvement and success program that has been implemented in schools and districts across the country since 1990. Boyd serves on the National Council for Teacher Quality, advises PBS on educational programming and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s 100 Global Leaders of Tomorrow.

Can you help us understand the concept behind Olivela and “philanthropic retail”?

Olivela is a brand-new way for shoppers to combine two passions — style and philanthropy. We invite the shopper to translate her purchasing power into making a significant difference. Every purchase truly makes a statement.

Our version of retail is incredibly powerful because a shopper at Olivela can see exactly how each luxury purchase makes a difference. That information is presented with transparency throughout the customer’s journey. Say you’re looking at a Valentino bag on our site. Next to it you will see the price, but also the explicit benefit — the number of school days we will donate on your behalf when you check out with that item. Our shopper feels great knowing that by selecting a fashion or beauty item for herself, she has also just secured education for at-risk girls through one of our cause partners CARE, Malala Fund and Too Young To Wed.

How did you arrive at the idea of Olivela?

The idea for Olivela came to me over a year ago, when I flew to Kenya and Rwanda to celebrate what is known there as Malala Day. (Malala Day coincides with the birthday of 2014 Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, now 20 and studying at Oxford.) Traveling with Malala, I met girls in makeshift primary schools in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, and in Mahama, another camp that provides safe haven to more than 50,000 Burundians, 4,000 of them unaccompanied minors.

As a parent of two daughters, there is nothing starker than realizing that it’s a lottery when your child is born, that they’re just really lucky to be born in a place that has so much to offer. I knew then that we could unleash the equity in luxury shopping to yield benefit and opportunity for so many children around the globe. And I knew that I could draw on experience and expertise from having launched Schoola, which aims to benefit public schools here in the United States.

What are the logistics of running the sites? For example, with Schoola you take possession of the items for sale. Is that true of Olivela?

At Schoola, we take possession of items donated either by individuals or vendors. At Olivela, brands sell to us on consignment because they believe in our mission. We donate 20 percent of proceeds to send girls to school in places they otherwise would not have the opportunity.

Have there been any surprises associated with your philanthropy?

It’s not necessarily a surprise, but I am always reminded — when meeting with the various girls our partners are working with and for — how similar young women are around the world. We all have individual dreams for ourselves and we all want the freedom to pursue them. And on the client side, I am continually thrilled by how emphatically and quickly brands have embraced our concept and have signed on to participate. In less than one year, we have grown our portfolio of a dozen launch brands to over 200 brands confirmed. That is a 19-times increase in inventory and brands in just nine months.

That’s quite a testament to your concept. What are among your next steps?

Next steps for our company involve expanding Olivela into more categories and evolving the cause partnerships, both in depth and specificity. We are also launching our first pop-up shop experience: Olivela hits Nantucket this summer.

What more can you share about your first store?

We opened in June and will stay open through October. The store is the first of many boutiques we plan to open through 2019. The Nantucket store (850 square feet) will have a selection of summer handbags, shoes, clothing, jewelry, beauty and fragrances from top brands (Prada, Givenchy, Giuseppe Zanotti, Stella McCartney and Aquazzura, among others). The design of the store is elegant and we think it will appeal to Nantucket’s stylish and socially conscious residents and visitors.

But what’s also interesting is that we offer customers a differentiated experience. Yes, we’ll feature weekly designer trunk shows, personal appearances and private events, but we’ll also have #TheOlivelaEffect Experience Suite. We’re taking philanthropic retailing to the next level, and our guests will be surprised by the interactive technology in the store. We have interactive displays that provide an opportunity for customers to learn about their favorite designer products and to understand the benefit their purchase is having. We also wanted to provide a way our supporters can capture and share their experience.

Can you describe a typical day in your work life?

For me, the magic is really in how I start and end my day. I take 30 minutes each morning to block out, in 15-minute chunks, the entirety of my day and what I hope to get done. I have a weekly list of things I create on Sunday (or early Monday) from which I pull my to-dos, so I don’t have to think through all I need to do each day of the week. I can refer to the week’s list of priorities, which makes daily planning fast and simple and doesn’t require thinking big. That’s for Sunday.

Then I end my day with reflection. I write down my three big wins for the day, what I am most grateful for, the moment I was the best version of myself, the moment I was the worst version of myself and any lessons learned. Being deliberate about how I am going to spend my time and then reflecting (that day) on what went well and what I could have done better are a powerful combination for me. Reading, running and spending time with my family are also huge and provide me with the motivation and balance necessary.

Janet Groeber has covered all aspects of the retail industry for more than 20 years. Her reporting has appeared in AdWeek and DDI Magazine, among others.