With the purchase of every OAK backpack, the company donates backpacks and school supplies to homeless youth through CapCityKids in Austin and orphans in Rwanda through Africa New Life. Africa New Life also offers a vocational training program to teach Kigali women tailoring to help them support their families. Many of these women are widowed and many are HIV positive. Guaranteeing they will have additional work, OAK’s giveaway backpacks are sewn by these seamstresses. Each OAK backpack also comes with its own small pouch designed for an Ordinary Act of Kindness—like giving a few dollars to a homeless person, or to pay for a stranger's cup of coffee.
The founders of OAK are Lindsey, Brent, Jessica, and Kevin. Some of them married to each other, some of them related, and some of them just happy to have found each other as friends along the way. The four all chimed in for this interview to talk about why their backpacks are "designed good."
KATY GATHRIGHT: We’re excited to feature you on Designed Good starting today. To begin, I’d love to hear why you chose backpacks as your product.
OAK: Lindsey was actually the one that suggested backpacks. Once we did different iterations of the company we knew we wanted to do something that gave back. Lindsey was an avid backpack carrier, and she said, “What if we did a backpack with school supplies…” and that idea seemed to work really well. Every kid in school needs a backpack. Kids can use them, adults can use them, and they cut across all different age groups.
GATHRIGHT: Yeah—they are definitely universal. How do you go about designing a backpack?
OAK: A lot of it is research—looking at what we like, what we don’t like about the backpacks out there. We definitely wanted to incorporate something that was a way for people to use the backpack for giving and kindness in their everyday lives, and that’s where the pouch came in, but we wanted it to have general functionality as well.
GATHRIGHT: Do you have any favorite stories that have come in about how people have used the pouch for Ordinary Acts of Kindness?
OAK: We get stories here and there, but the pouch ends up being sort of symbolic with a bigger idea about goodness. People definitely end up using it for their phone or a snack or something they can hand off. But most of the stories we get are stories about kindness in general that people thought of just because they are in the mode of thinking about it.
GATHRIGHT: In that vein, “OAK” is a great word—strength and nature and all of that—and a great acronym for Ordinary Acts of Kindness. How would you define an ordinary act of kindness?
OAK: I think its something that anybody can do. It’s something that comes naturally—that’s just ordinary. It doesn’t matter what your social status or your economic status is—anybody can do something kind for someone else, whether it's opening a door or taking back a shopping cart for someone at the grocery store. Those kinds of things that don’t cost anything are a lot of what we’re thinking of.
GATHRIGHT: Along with that, I feel like you’re building a community of kindness, even just with the people you see on an everyday basis. Would you say that you’re also influenced by your own community and local neighborhood?
OAK: Absolutely. I mean Austin is a hotbed for community; there are so many people doing good things.
[Brent] I work for the fire department so I see how it makes a huge difference when people stop for help when someone gets hurt, or when a car breaks down on the side of the road and we stop to help but someone else has already stopped to check on them.
And I also see what happens when people aren’t kind. Things sort of fall apart when nobody steps up and helps out, and it’s nice to see people being kind in this community.
GATHRIGHT: Thinking about this theme of backpacks and giving back—how did you choose education in particular, and why was that important?
OAK: It was always something we were committed to that we felt strongly about.
[Lindsey] I think about how my parents were able to pay for my college and if I hadn’t had my education, my life would be completely different. And I feel like so many kids can fall through the cracks because they don’t have what they need.
So that’s my own personal take on education: If you are equipped at a young age, your whole life can be different.
OAK backpacks are available for a limited time on Designed Good: the online store that curates the best in design and social good by telling the stories about how innovative brands are making a difference.