How This Adoption Could Change Countless Lives
Parker Clay Founders Ian and Brittany Bentley's Daughter Led Them to Launch Business in Ethiopia
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Devin: What do you see as your superpower?
Ian: Isn’t it amazing that we all have a superpower? To me, it’s something that’s important—knowing the tremendous value that everybody brings. I think that my superpower is being an advocate and building community. What I would kind of subheader that with is celebrating the value of people.
Ian and Brittany Bentley, co-founders of Parker Clay, could not have predicted what would happen when they decided to adopt a daughter from Ethiopia after having two sons, Parker and Clay.
“Adoption changed our life,” Ian says. “We heard statistics as we were thinking about it of 160 million orphans in the world. I think sometimes, with big data and statistics, they’re faceless, they’re nameless, they don’t connect. But for me, I had two little boys playing in my front yard. When I thought, ‘160 million, what if that was Parker or what if that was Clay?’ It changed the way I looked at that, and that moved us into adopting.”
While adopting, the pair developed a strong attraction to Ethiopia. They returned several times within a year. “We came to a moment where, like, ‘I think we’re going to buy tickets and move there.’ Buying a one-way ticket to move our family to Ethiopia was one of the most insane, crazy things I had ever done.” They settled in the East African country in 2012.
They focused their attention on helping women out of trafficking and prostitution. As they explored options, one message from locals became clear: “We want the dignity of work. We are capable of work, and that’s what we want. So, if you’re going to come and help, please don’t be a burden. Come and create opportunities.”
What has become Parker Clay was seeded by the discovery that Ethiopia was producing high-quality leather and shipping virtually all of it to Europe, where it was made into high-value products.
Ian and Brittany decided to start making products there in Ethiopia. Starting with a few sewing machines and a few people, they began making items, taking them home to California and selling them to friends.
In 2015, tragedy struck. Their daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Ian says she’s now doing much better, but at that time, to ensure she received the best treatment, the family returned to California.
Ian sees a silver lining in the family’s challenge. “One thing I’ve learned is that the obstacles that get put in our way become the way.”
Back in the states, Ian and Brittany’s focus shifted from production to distribution. “Coming back to the U.S. opened up the opportunity for us to meet with more of the market,” Ian says.
The business began to grow in 2017 and 2018. The company reports having reached $4.8 million in sales in 2021. It has an 18,000-square-foot facility employing 200—80 percent women—in Ethiopia. In the U.S., the company has four retail stores and 8,000 square feet of office and warehouse space in Santa Barbara.
Today, the company is using Regulation A to conduct a large investment crowdfunding campaign that will allow it to raise up to $15 million.
“At this stage in our business and most traditionally, this would be a series A type round, right, for a company our size,” Ian says. “The reason we’ve gone this route to do a reg A plus is we view this as a community round. This is the way that we can bring this community that has helped us build Parker Clay to date.”
He adds, “This beautiful African proverb says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ And we say often at Parker Clay, ‘We go together.’”
The capital will facilitate growth in various ways, from strengthening the supply chain to increasing marketing budgets. Ian is excited about the opportunity to grow retail distribution. “Our retail stores have been really exciting.”
One key to retail is the connection Park Clay makes between a single transaction and the impact on lives. He explains:
At Parker Clay, we're able to invite people into that experience in a unique way. We have tags on each product. With every bag we sell, we track the hours of empowerment so we can say, ‘Hey, this bag created 20 hours of empowerment for our team in Ethiopia.’
In the retail setting, what we can do is when someone buys that bag, we take the tag off. We write 20 hours on that tag and have them put it up on the wall. And at the top of that wall it says 400,000 hours of empowerment we've created in this store. So it becomes this really cool community connection point.
In building Parker Clay, Ian has leveraged his superpower, valuing people.
How to Develop Valuing People As a Superpower
“As we grow and scale and look at the numbers, to me, it’s about people,” Ian says. “I want people to know how just incredibly valuable they are.”
He shares an anecdote to demonstrate his approach:
We had a woman, her name was Marta, who was new. We kept having these quality issues in one of our teams. We asked the leader, her name is Roman, “What's going on? Is there an issue?”
She said, “I think Marta has an eye problem. She keeps holding the product up really close to her face.”
With Ian’s direction, the team got Marta to the eye doctor for an exam.
“I had my team send me the prescription for Marta,” Ian says. He then showed it to a friend who is an eye doctor. “I said, ‘How bad is it?’ And he said, ‘She’s blind. She can’t see more than five inches in front of her face.”
Our team ended up getting her glasses, really thick glasses. But she got them. It was amazing just to see the shift in her personality after getting these glasses. I was talking to her, and she said, “It's the first time in my life that I actually can see well. Before, I could kind of see, but not very well. It's the first time in my life I really feel seen.”
Ian offers some tips for strengthening the way you value people.
“First listen. Just be a good listener. I think there’s a reason why God gave us one mouth and two ears, right?”
“Two. Find yourself in positions where you seek out the commonality, not the differences,” Ian says. “I think we’re focused in this age of how different we are when, in reality, we’re actually so similar.”
Third, he says, “I think that the empathy and the humility piece are also important.”
One approach Ian uses is to personalize a situation by asking, what if it were Parker or Clay? “It removes the indifference you could have. Don’t be indifferent. Just put yourself in that person’s shoes.”
By following Ian’s example and counsel, you can strengthen your ability to see the value in people, allowing you to do more good in the world.