INTERVIEW: Justin C. Cohen (Part 2)
By Justin C. Cohen
Me: Tell me about the bikes themselves. The slogan is “Bikes, Bags Abolition.” I could talk about the abolition part forever, so talk about the other two things.
Randolph: I wanted to make a bike that’s durable. We did the steel frame. The leather appointments are based on making the bikes more upscale. We don’t appreciate just how upscale bikes can be. There are cities where people don’t even own cars, but they will display their bikes as a show of status. Our bikes should be a form of transportation and a work of art too. The bags also are functional works of art. I want them to be able to be attached to the frame, but also functional enough to carry laptops and small devices. The leather of the bag matches the leather on the seat and pedals, which gives it a rich appeal.
There’s crowded space where stuff is cheap. I can’t do anything with the proceeds of a cheap product. I can’t employ people. I can’t donate the money. I can’t generate wealth. The other thing that motivates me is that a lot of companies say they’re doing social justice work, but they’re not. Shinola turned out to be a scam. They’re owned by Fossil, and the bags and bicycles aren’t really made in Detroit. They’re assembled there, but they don’t employ the people who need the most help. Same thing with Tom’s shoes. The quality of the shoe that they give to the people that they’re donating is not the same as the quality of the shoe that you buy. If you’re going to be a social enterprise, do the dang work. That’s the advantage of having a nonprofit background. I ‘m used to doing the dang work. It’s not a game for me, it’s not a marketing plan.
In our next phase of work, you’ll see ten to twelve people employed at 1854. That will be thanks to the people who have purchased bikes and bags on preorder. Part of the movement to buy Black, so to speak, is to make sure that we sell items that Black owners design, manufacture and produce. We also need to employ Black. I believe that Black entrepreneurs need to be more like Robin Hoods. Will this scare off people of other races who might think it’s racist to talk about this in the context of a company? Probably. But for all of the people who see the bigger issue, this could be something bigger.
Me: What you’re trying to do is tricky, as you’re at the launch stage of something for which you have a much larger vision. I think people will see your nonprofit and assume good intentions, but how do you propose to hold yourself accountable for the broader social mission of your enterprise?
Randolph: Every year, I want to have an annual report that lists the number of ex-offenders we’ve hired, juvenile records that we’ve paid to have expunged, and an actual accounting of the dollars we’ve contributed from the receipts. I want to have that in an annual report that people can read. I have a big dream, and it may not come to pass. I have a dream of introducing a new product every ear, and at the release of that new product, we report on the funds that we’ve dedicated to our social mission. Whether it’s employment statistics, or the background of the people we’ve hired and helped. I want it to be like the Apple keynote, but with a focus on the number of people we’ve helped. The only way that society changes is if we’re helping people while doing the actual work.
One of my pet peeves is treating social justice like the soccer ball in a four-year-old soccer league. We identify an issue, and everyone crowds around it. That’s not how the world changes. Everyone has to play a different role. I’m not a sociologist, I’m not an attorney. I’m not even one of those people who is into politics. But I am an entrepreneur, I think my role is to take my gift for creating ventures to move the social justice needle. If your role is education, push education. If your role is journalism, be a journalist.
Read the full interview HERE