12/10/2013 03:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Building a Heart- (and Hand-) Warming Business From the Ground Up


By Jocelyn Alsdorf, GiveGloves

There is no doubt that we care about what happens to other people, no matter how far away they may be. Just look at the response when a crisis occurs, like the typhoon in the Philippines or the earthquake in Haiti.

I wanted to find a way to help others in need, and I opened a Shopify store to do it.

There are many organizations that work to address global health issues. They are specialized, knowledgeable and effective. They have developed contacts and relationships around the world and know global health issues inside and out.

So what could I - and my husband who felt the same way - do to help?

We chose gloves. Reading about providers washing out latex gloves to use them again on the next person had struck a chord. Saving lives is already difficult. How could anyone realistically take care of patients without the basic necessities?

Even the smallest and simplest issues, if not addressed, can prevent the most expensive and technologically-advanced medical interventions from working.

Not having simple exam gloves and sterile gloves means that procedures are not done, surgeries cannot be scheduled, and both the patient and the health care provider are at risk for blood-borne disease and infections.

But we needed a way to raise money, and needed to choose a product to sell on our Shopify store. We chose cold weather knit gloves. Gloves for gloves. I happened to be married to a guy whose joy in life is creating and manufacturing products, so that was an easy task to delegate.

Getting the gloves made was more complex than we thought. We spent a lot of time on this aspect because having a good product is the key to your brand's success. Having a worthy cause isn't enough. It is still merchandise and it needs to meet the needs of the consumer. If it's not useful and something people want to buy, then you are basically just asking for donations, and we are not a charity.

Initially, we were set on having a United States manufacturer. The glove would be black and incorporate a red ring finger. Black symbolizes protection; red symbolizes energy and taking action. It was important to make the gloves stand out so that people would ask what it meant and we could talk about shortages of basic medical supplies.

We found out that having two different colors on the gloves complicated production and the cost to manufacture. Because we were unwilling to change the design, we ended up having to go with a company in China for the first order. We have two styles; fingerless and touchscreen. We are still actively looking for a new manufacturer here in the United States for future production runs.

We then worked out a relationship with some carefully chosen medical non-profit organizations. We knew that our job wasn't to get on a cargo ship and accompany our medical supplies to their destination. These organizations were already doing that, and many of them were doing it very well.

Next up was building our website. We had some experience with WordPress but didn't feel we had the skills or time to self-host our own store. We spent a lot of time researching ecommerce packages, and in the end it was an easy choice.

Shopify had everything we were looking for: custom themes, multiple check-out options, easy customization, secure servers and a ton of backend business tools. Other entrepreneurs that we admired were using it for their online stores and they were very happy. Having Shopify made setting up the store the most straightforward and simple part of our whole project.

In November, after months of setting up our donation network, building the site and manufacturing the product, we finally launched. Now we face the immense job of introducing people to an issue they have probably never heard about and showing people that our gloves can do far more than just keep your hands warm!

Our advice to other entrepreneurs is to stop talking yourself out of implementing your idea. You don't need to have it all figured out when you start - in fact, you can't! You don't know what you don't know. But that's okay. You just learn as you go.

The barriers to entry are coming down. A platform like Shopify is the perfect way to catapult you. It is structured and simple enough to give you the confidence to do it yourself and make it look like whatever you want. You can make a beautifully branded site that previously wouldn't have been possible without spending a lot more money and time.

Do you have an idea to change your community? Go for it! If everyone took their own idea to help others and actually did it, what would the world look like? What could it look like?


GiveGloves is a husband and wife team: John Young and Jocelyn Alsdorf. Founded in 2013, GiveGloves sells cold-weather knit gloves with a purpose. They use all profits to provide surgical and medical exam gloves to developing countries where severe shortages of basic medical supplies exist. Every pair of GiveGloves purchases provides either 20 pairs of surgical gloves or 50 pairs of medical exam gloves to our global health partners for distribution.

Jocelyn is a pediatric nurse practitioner who works with childhood cancer survivors at a pediatric hospital in central California. John is a flooring contractor and product developer.

This year, Shopify's Build A Business Competition is bigger than ever. Shopify is giving away more than $500,000 in cash, prizes and mentorship in its fourth annual competition. Contestants create a store and try to sell the most in their category for a chance to win $50,000 and a VIP trip to NYC to meet their mentor.