Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Jeannie Barsam of Gifting Brands Is Helping To Change Our World

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Starting a nonprofit or a business is not easy, especially if you came from a corporate position with a large team working for you. I was not used to getting into all areas of the business because I had a large team to do the work. It takes more time and effort to start something new.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeannie Barsam.

Gifting Brands Founder & CEO Jeannie Barsam left the corporate world in 2021 after leading Fortune 500 retailers including Gap Inc, Michaels, Talbot’s, and Signet Jewelers. Jeannie was inspired to create a business that was more than just fast fashion. Gifting Brands was born out of a passion for helping women, children, and families in need with an innovative solution to an ongoing problem in the fashion world — what to do with excess inventory.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was Senior Vice President of Inventory Management at Zales Jewelers in 2014, and we were in the middle of a successful merger with Signet Corporation. At that time, we had about $1.0 million dollars of prior seasons’ jewelry, and I wanted to find a way to donate it to charity. I started researching ways we could donate, but I could not find any nonprofits that could handle a large amount of jewelry.

I decided to launch my own jewelry line called Christy Jean Jewelry where I designed and made fashion jewelry that gave back 25% of sales to charity; however, I knew I wanted to do something even bigger to serve women, children, and families.

In 2018, after reading reports of larger luxury companies destroying their excess inventory, I came up with an idea to help solve the inventory issue that the entire fashion industry struggles with. I set out to create an ecommerce marketplace where brands can donate their excess inventory without destroying it, and it’s also philanthropic!

Brands contribute their unused, excess inventory to Gifting Brands, we retail it on our website, and customers get to pick a charity to support. Shoppers love knowing that their purchase makes an impact. As we help brands manage their inventory, we also benefit the environment as we’re also reducing waste in landfills.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

One of the hardest parts of launching Gifting Brands was getting luxury brands to donate their excess or end of season inventory instead of damaging it or putting it in landfills which hurts our environment. Gifting Brands is such a new concept that getting some of the older, more established brands to understand that we are a better alternative has been harder than I expected. Especially because I have been in the industry for over 25 years.

I’ve called, emailed, and gone in person to NY to meet with some of the largest luxury brands, but the answer I get is “We love what you are doing, but we do not want to be the first luxury brand to participate.” I’ve been in the retail business my whole career and have seen first hand how more established brands prefer to follow the crowd vs. being the leader. I am thrilled to say that this year Jim Shreve, the

CEO of Baccarat, saw the value in Gifting Brands and said yes because he believes in our vision and wants to partner with us in making the world a better place.

Jim and Ward Simmons, the head of marketing, donated beautiful crystal jewelry that you can only get at and at a great price!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am happy to say we have not encountered many mistakes on our journey, but I am definitely learning every day. Not just how to run this company, but how I can be a better philanthropist.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

When you purchase from Gifting Brands, 100% of your purchase proceeds go to a charity of your choice. We partner with some amazing charities, doing great things. Our partners include TOGETHER WE THRIVE, charity: water, A Family Place, and A Better Chance. We are on a mission to serve others.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We really strive to help women, children, and families, who are often the core of the charities we’ve partnered with. Even helping just one child makes this journey all worth it.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Our goal is to bring a new alternative to manage excess inventory and turn it into good. We want to bring light to the retail industry and give them a new alternative to damaging and destroying their end of season inventory. Our solution can save thousands of tons of perfectly good clothing and inventory from going into landfills. We want to be a catalyst for change to improve our environment and raise millions of dollars for charities who are making a difference. We call this movement “Inventory Philanthropy.”

2. Our goal is to give consumers a marketplace that makes a difference in the world. Gifting Brands gives consumers a new way to become a philanthropist by shopping for good. It gives shoppers a way to purchase amazing products from contemporary and luxury brands, but they also get to give back to causes they care about at the same time.

3. We want business leaders and owners to come up with creative ways to give back to their community. Consumers want to shop with brands that care and give back.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A leader listens to their team, their customer, and their community to find ways to solve a problem that can make a difference for the company and society even when it seems like an uphill battle. A leader does not give up. They figure out how to turn no into yes!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Starting a nonprofit or a business is not easy, especially if you came from a corporate position with a large team working for you. I was not used to getting into all areas of the business because I had a large team to do the work. It takes more time and effort to start something new.
  2. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. Get a mentor or a few mentors. I learned early on that hiring the right board members and board advisors was key. I found an amazing group of industry leaders to mentor and help me and who have the same passion to make a difference in the world.
  3. Getting your foot in the door of big brands is harder than I thought, especially given my many years in the industry. I had many executives in the retail industry say to me “Wow I wish I thought of this idea.” Then when they would talk to their CEO’s or CFO’s, they would say “let’s wait” because they did not want to take a chance or be the first to partner with us. I am so grateful to the companies who did say yes like Baccarat, Tori Richard, Charles and Colvard, and R. Riveter!
  4. Many companies have to convince their board that giving back is the right thing to do. I hope our “Inventory Philanthropy” movement takes off and more companies step up to give back.
  5. Do not give up on your dream. It is easy to give up after the first few no’s. It just takes a few of the right yes’s to get momentum going.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I hope our movement to give back by solving the problem of excess inventory grows into even more industries like hotels, airlines, and service businesses. So many nonprofits could use the products and expertise that businesses can provide. We hope our “Inventory Philanthropy” movement takes off and more businesses donate to nonprofits and give back whether it is their excess inventory, technology, or services. Nonprofits need help so they can spend less time fundraising and more time on their mission to help those in need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My biggest motivation is my faith and knowing that we are called to serve others and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving thy neighbor does not stop with friends next door. Loving our neighbor also means taking care of the sick, the homeless, the poor, and those that cannot help themselves.

My mentor and friend Theo Killion, who was the CEO of Zales Corp and is now the chairman of the board for the nonprofit A Better Chance, once said “When you help one child get ahead, you help a whole generation.” He is the perfect example of this. Theo had no way of getting into a good university and A Better Chance changed his life and the lives of his family. Theo has helped so many people because of his education and the opportunity that so many people donated to help him get a good education. Theo has more than paid back his debt by helping others and paving the way towards a better future for so many who need a helping hand up.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many amazing people who are stepping up and making a difference in the world.

Sara Blakely is inspiring. She started Spanx, and it was an uphill battle for her to get stores to believe in her products. She did not give up and now she has a multi billion dollar organization, and she gives back to the community and to her employees. She started an organization to help women called The Red Backpack Fund that elevates female entrepreneurs.

She truly cares about helping women get ahead and get the exposure and funding they need. Although I cannot join The Red Backpack Fund because we are a nonprofit, I am inspired by the difference Sara is making in the lives of so many women.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Jeannie Barsam of Gifting Brands Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.