Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Max Justus of Grounded People Apparel Is Helping To Change Our World
Don’t get discouraged by a problem, there’s always a solution. One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is thinking outside the box to find a solution no matter what the issue is.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Max Justus.
Max Justus is currently the Chief Executive Office of Grounded People Apparel Inc. which is a fair-trade, sustainable and earth conscious fashion company, with an initial focus on vegan shoes. His entrepreneurship is founded on a dedication to social responsibility, a deep respect for the environment, and the determination to bring positive change to wasteful consumerism and the damages they cause to the planet. Grounded People is his grass roots approach to building a community around responsible shopping and advocating for a better future for everyone.
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?
From a young age I have always been aware of the importance of community and have been interested in doing my part in bringing greater good to society as a whole. When I was 15 years old I had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia to donate my time and labour to help build a new school for an orphanage. I believe no matter where we are born we all deserve access to the same human rights. During my travels, I witnessed time and again the inequity of the living conditions of people in many developing countries. This triggered my life-long passion to want to be of some help.
One of my first entrepreneurial experiences was creating a custom design clothing company. In my search for the right supplier, I visited various factories where I saw first-hand extremely poor working conditions. This ranged from the exploitation of children for labour to vast amounts of garbage and pollution creation with no one taking accountability for it. From that point on I knew this was a problem that I needed to help solve. This led me to my mission to establish a company that could create high quality, ethically sourced sustainable clothing.
Every year the global fashion industry produces over 92 million tonnes of waste. That’s equivalent to the weight of over 613K blue whales, and there is only a reported 25K blue whales left on the planet today. The fashion industry also emits 1.7 billion tons of co2 in the atmosphere yearly. If we can inspire people to work together, hopefully we can help to reduce these detriments and contribute to the solution. With grounded people products, we hope to engage people in being participants to helping to save the earth.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Since becoming CEO at grounded people, I’ve had lots of interesting experiences. The most memorable would have to be when researching non-profits for our LACES (Learn to Achieve and Create Everlasting Sustainability) program, which is our effort to create a community around charity organizations and our consumers. Obviously grounded people would love to work with and support as many of these worthy causes as possible — whether it’s for the betterment of the environment, animals or humanity, ground people will always look to lend a helping hand to those in need. We believe it’s what keeps us all grounded. During my research, I discovered more and more about the inhumane treatment of people through unfair working conditions, often overworked and underpaid, too many people work up to 18 hours a day to support their families. So, learning about all the amazing work being done by several great charity organizations was really inspiring.
For example, in Africa we partnered with Trees for the Future that has a 4-year training program, called the Forest Garden Approach that made it possible for farmers to plant thousands of trees that protect and bring nutrients back to the soil. Not only does this help farmers grow a variety of fruits and vegetables but increases their income, gives them access to healthier food for their families, all while improving the environment.
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?
Not at all funny, but a glaring mistake I made when I first started in the fashion space was not fully understanding how the fashion industry damages the environment. In the beginning, I was, along with many other people, unknowingly contributing to the problem. To this day, most people still don’t know that large corporations use “greenwashing” to trick consumers into thinking they are being part of a solution when really all the corporations care about is making money, even at the expense of other people’s suffering.
I’m still really unsure of the full scope the fashion industry’s negative impact on the planet. But the list of what I am aware of is already too long: whether it’s the inhumane treatment of people working in factories, the pollution of the environment from dyes and chemicals or animals being used for leather, wool, fur or in glues for production. It’s not too late though, there are great ways we can all contribute to making a change. Lots of companies are getting on board with a better way of doing things, being more conscious and transparent with the decisions they make and the impacts the products they produce have.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
grounded people is making a significant social impact on many levels. We produce shoes using ethically sourced sustainable materials. We understand that everything starts there. And to help educate consumers, we place a great deal of importance to transparency. We have partnered with Retraced a block chain technology company that allows us to share all our sourcing and manufacturing information with our customers.
We work with the world’s only 100% vegan shoe factory located in Brazil to ensure that we are providing jobs to workers who are being paid fair wages in safe working environments. As mentioned, we also partner with charity organizations around the world through our LACES program in which each charity is designated a special color of lace. So when a shopper purchases a pair of grounded people shoes they have to option to buy additional colored laces that correspond to the charities they wish to support. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of those additional laces then goes to those specific charities.
As consumers we all should be aware of and seek sustainable options that support a new way of purchasing that can lead to being part of a vital solution to many of these critical social issues.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Many people are being impacted by our providing sustainable products as well as by our ongoing efforts in advocating for sustainability and social responsibility among consumers. Throughout every stage of our business, we have tried to incorporate as much care and thought as possible to ensure a positive butterfly effect across individuals and the wider coverage made by the non-profits we work with through LACES. One example I can think of is Nadia, one of the highly skilled artisans at the 100% vegan factory in Brazil. We are so happy that because we are contributing to this larger ecosystem of fair trade and sustainability, she (among many) can put her kids through college and improve the quality of life for her and her family. How great is that?!
Could you tell us a story about a particular individual who has helped you become the person you are today?
If there were two people I would credit, one would be my older brother. He instilled hard work ethic and determination in me at a young age, making me want to be my best at anything that I took on. Another person who’s been a major influence in my life is my mom. She raised me as a vegetarian for years and taught me that all animals are beautiful living beings and not products for us to use as we see fit.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The problem we are trying to solve is the blatant and profit-driven disregard of large corporations for sustainable environmental practices and the exploitative way they produce in some of the poorest countries in the world. I would ask that individuals and communities educate themselves on these alarming issues and instead turn to ways of supporting sustainability. I would ask society as a whole to join the movement of ethical fashion and for us all to start thinking about where the products we buy come from and who they affect. I would ask that politicians enforce what’s right for the very future of humanity and the planet.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership comes in many forms, whether it’s in life or business. On a fundamental level, I think a leader is someone with the vision and determination to achieve the goals they have set forth for themselves and successfully guiding others in taking them to higher levels of accomplishments. Some people are born leaders while others can hone their skills. But anyone can be a leader if they put their mind to it.
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. Work hard but learn to take breaks, it’s easy to keep working on something you love but a good quick break goes a long way in helping you be ready to take on the next challenge that inevitably comes along.
2. Don’t get hangry, stay fueled up with healthy foods. Don’t get snappy, eat snap peas!
3. Meditate often, peace of mind and clarity are incredibly important when getting the creative juices going. Make it a routine and your body and mind will thank you.
4. Don’t get discouraged by a problem, there’s always a solution. One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is thinking outside the box to find a solution no matter what the issue is.
5. Remember to have fun! Not only does it lighten the load but it keeps you motivated to keep 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. 🙂
If I could inspire anything it would be for people to become more conscious of the decisions they make around purchasing products. With just a little effort, each person can realize that their buying power has an effect on our environment. We can all make such a difference just by making informed choices on the ways we purchase as a society. We can bring on a new way of purchasing, a conscious way of selecting the brands and products we support with our voting dollars.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” — Wayne Gretzky. Growing up in Canada, hockey has always been a huge part of my life. Hockey taught me the value of team work, determination to achieve my goals, discipline and inclusion of all people. This quote means a lot to me because I find it to be so true. It is up to us to take the shot, to act, to make change.
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?
If I could have breakfast with a person in the US it would be Leonardo DiCaprio, I would love to chat with him about the amazing success he’s had with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Plus, I hear he makes an amazing cup of coffee.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Facebook — @thegroundedpeople
Twitter — @GroundedPeople
Instagram — @grounded.people
Ticktok — @thegroundedpeople
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Max Justus of Grounded People Apparel Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.