The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandra Enos is the founder of Giving Beyond the Box, which sells curated gift boxes that carry social missions and supports local Rhode Island businesses and nonprofits.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of gift boxes with social responsibility attached to them?
Enos: I retired as a sociology professor from Bryant University in August 2019. I use to run pop-up markets with students there during the holidays and would invite local and national social entrepreneurs. And we would do incredibly well. On our last year, we had 18 vendors and sold $8,000 worth of goods in less than four hours.
My takeaway was that people want to buy a gift with a purpose. Three months after I retired, I launched Giving Beyond the Box in November 2019.
Q: What goes into each box?
Enos: Each box features products that carry some type of social mission, whether it has to do with supporting refugee resettlement, empowering women, passion for the environment, or providing clean water.
So if you’re really passionate about an issue, someone can gift you a box where everything inside of it reflects your values. And a portion of the profit can go to a charity.
I want to support organizations that are trying to accomplish their own mission. So there’s really purpose and meaning all along.
Q: You launched right before COVID-19 changed our lives. How did it change your business?
Enos: We muscled through Mother’s Day. But after that, I thought, given the kind of year it’s been so far, it’s not just any gift-giving occasion. But people really wanted to support local businesses and products.
I launched the “Tiny Box of Hope,” which has products from various social entrepreneurs. In the box, you could find soap from Soulita Soaps (5 percent of their profit goes to the Bloom Where You’re Planted Scholarship here in Rhode Island), cotton masks from Known Supply (a company reimagining apparel production to support the people behind the clothing), socks from Conscious Step (whose founders say that every step in their production process supports farms and factories with fair wages, safe facilities, and sustainable materials), among others.
Q: You have one box listed on your site called “Hope Strikes Back.” What is that?
Enos: A lot of people want to support communities of color and businesses of color, but maybe aren’t sure how to. So I set out to build that bridge between those people and Rhode Island businesses that are owned by people of color.
We launched the “Hope Strikes Back” box in October 2020 and it’s only filled with products from businesses owned by people of color. Some of the companies we partnered with include the Black Leaf Tea and Culture Shop (an e-commerce store located inside Hope & Main that has also created a space for local Black professionals to connect and network), Nissi Naturals (a shop based in Pawtucket that makes natural hair and skin products for women, men and children), the Medicine Woman’s Cabinet (a boutique that provides custom solutions using herbal remedies and holistic wellness in Providence), among others.
It’s our best-selling box and we’re now on our third edition.
Q: What’s your goal for the next year?
Enos: I’d like to get into retail shops, possibly bring someone else on to help me, take on additional partners (businesses and nonprofits can email email@example.com), and definitely just get our name out there more into the community. I want people to think of Giving Beyond the Box as the ideal place to get a gift with a purpose.
In a way, I’m thinking of this as a way to reform the economy; by making it more just, by making it more local, and making it more sustainable. I’m trying to make the argument that you don’t have to buy that Amazon gift card.