For the first few years of its existence, Minneapolis menswear brand Askov Finlayson‘s focus was both on its products–namely, its signature North hats–and a fundamental redefining of its chilly corner of the midwest. Instead of just another northern section of flyover country, CEO and cofounder Eric Dayton wanted his home state to be recognized as the northern paradise he holds it to be. Specifically, the North. And judging by Askov Finlayson’s growth, as well as how others in Minnesota have embraced the notion, it’s working. The upcoming Super Bowl in Minneapolis is branded “Bold North,” and the local pro sports teams have tucked it into their own taglines: the NBA’s Timberwolves’ “All Eyes North,” NFL’s Vikings’ “This Is the North,” and MLS’ United FC’s “The North Is Rising.”
But now, as Askon Finlayson is setting its sights on expanding its brand presence beyond Minneapolis, Dayton is making the company’s ongoing support of climate change awareness a part of its bottom line. This week the brand is announcing its “Give 110%” initiative, in which it measures its carbon footprint, calculates its financial cost using the Social Cost of Carbon, and then gives away 110% of that amount to leading-edge organizations working to solve the climate crisis. To start things off, Dayton is committing to donating $1 million over the next five years.
“If we lose our winters, if we lose our cold, we’ll lose a lot of what the north means to me,” says Dayton. “So it’s a way of tying the business to a cause I feel passionate about, but also a natural fit. It also just happens to be one of the biggest, most pressing issues of our lifetime. So that helped too.”
The 37-year-old CEO is the son of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, and his great-great-grandfather George Draper Dayton founded Dayton’s department store, which later became Target Corporation. Long an outdoors fanatic, in his twenties Dayton went on expeditions with Arctic explorer Will Steger. In 2015 the brand began its Keep The North Cold program, which gave money to local organizations, but as Dayton started to think about his growth strategy going forward and the opportunity to expand Askov to a national level, he wanted to take it further. “It wasn’t just good enough to offset a little bit,” says Dayton. “What would it really take to say we’re having a net positive impact on the environment and the world?”
The brand is certainly making the move at the right time. Askov is quickly growing its brand, just last week announcing a new collaboration with Target that starts on January 14, running in 38 stores across Minnesota and online nationally. It’s also launching a kernza beer, brewed in collaboration with the organization Green Lands, Blue Waters, (one of its 2018 Keep the North Cold grantees) and Minneapolis-based brewery Fair State Brewing Cooperative. And just in time for the Super Bowl, it’s teamed with Warby Parker on special edition “Keep the North Cold” sunglasses, available at Warby’s Minneapolis shop.
Dayton has known Warby Parker cofounder and CEO Neil Blumenthal since their business-school days, and they’ve had a shop-in-shop collaboration since 2015. Blumenthal says it’s clear consumers favor brands with a social ethos, but it’s often tough to distinguish between those who claim to do good in the world from those that actually are. “That’s what excites me about Askov, because like us, it’s a values-driven brand,” says Blumenthal. “And when you’re a values-driven brand, you dedicate the resources to get the impact you want. It’s not just something run by a PR team. It’s core to the business.”
Dayton sees this year as an inflection point for the brand and a key time to embed a program like “Give 110%” into the business. “To me, this is what running a business in 2018 looks like,” he says. “You have to be focused on doing well as a company, but you also need to be focused on and committed to doing good. I don’t see those two things as mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they go hand in hand.”