"There was a huge lake in the middle of the community I was working in and I was like, can we swim in that? Can we boat in it? Can we drink out of it? But the entire ecosystem had been destroyed from necessary uses like washing clothes, bathing -- anything that was waste was put into the lake," says Knutson of the experience that inspired him to start ShareBrands.
He returned to Colorado with the idea of selling bottled water in his home country, in the process raising money to build fresh-water wells in developing counties. But the entrepreneur says he was turned off by the notion of creating waste with disposable water bottles, so he went back to the drawing board. Making a pact to meet once a week to brainstorm until they had a viable business model, Knutson and Hoffman worked for months to come up with something sustainable.
At the time, Knutson was still in school, but Hoffman was working for a company that dealt with everyday consumer goods -- cellphone chargers, flashlights and the like. "One of the suppliers Justin worked with made reusable water bottles -- like Nalgene bottles. So we decided we wanted to roll out a water-bottle line to sporting goods stores that were color-coded specifically for causes," says Knutson. "Red would be for AIDS, pink would be for breast cancer, blue would be for prostate cancer. We were going to have fifteen to thirty different colors for all of these different causes people are struggling with."
Eventually, the idea evolved into what ShareBrands is today -- an online store selling everyday items like water bottles, but also yoga mats, cellphone cases, headphones and other low-cost goods. The color-coded cause connections still apply -- but shoppers can choose which particular item they want in whatever color they choose. Anything purchased through ShareBrands automatically means 25 percent of that money goes to non-profits like Project Angel Heart, which assists those in the Denver community affected by HIV and AIDS, and Friendship Bridge, which offers educational opportunities to indigenous populations in rural areas of Guatemala.
Right now, ShareBrands designs a handful of affordable everyday products and then has them manufactured by Colorado-based companies. Eventually, Knutson says, the brand hopes to expand and partner with larger global companies interested in responsible giving and responsible consumption.
"Say you need a yoga mat," he says, "but there are so many out there. What if one brand that is made with the same quality and standards as the others, but is able to communicate what you care about?" says Knutson.
To check out all that ShareBrands has to offer or for more information on the causes the company supports, visit the Colorado company's website.