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From the moment she came up with the idea for her Los Angeles-based clothing and accessories company OmniPeace, founder Mary Fanaro says everything just fell into place. "I believe that when you're doing what you're supposed to be doing in your life, good things happen to help you along," she says.
A former events producer in the entertainment industry, Fanaro witnessed firsthand the power of celebrity. Just before starting OmniPeace, she produced the 10-year anniversary of the Hard Rock Hotel. "There was so much celebrity support in that room," she says. "When those people say things, other people listen." So she decided to harness the influence of that strong celebrity network on behalf of a good cause.
The concept behind her company is simple: She creates products ranging from T-shirts to tote bags to scarves branded with the OmniPeace logo, a hand making the peace sign. The issues she's helping to solve, however, are complex: Twenty-five percent of OmniPeace's profits are donated to Millennium Promise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending poverty in Africa. "I had researched Oxfam, the Red Cross and other organizations, but they were so big that I thought my contributions wouldn't be enough to make the changes I want to make in the time I want to make them," says Fanaro, 43. So she approached the founder of Millennium Promise and offered her services.
She's since helped broker 15 licensing deals, and through her partners' distribution channels, her products are now sold in Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Macy's, Mervyns and other stores nationwide in addition to chic boutiques. The key to her sales, though, has been celebrity support. "Courtney Cox [Arquette] launched the brand for me; Naomi Campbell flew in from Europe to do the launch; Casey Affleck wore one of the shirts on Larry King Live; and Jennifer Aniston was at our anniversary party," Fanaro explains, and her list keeps growing.
OmniPeace projects retail sales of its products to reach $5 million this year, earning the company more than $500,000 in licensing revenue; to date, the company has donated $150,000. Currently, the donations go to Millennium Promise's general budget, which invests in food production, health, education, access to clean water and infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa. As her company grows, Fanaro hopes to target her donations: "I'm going to go to Ethiopia to see exactly what the people need. And soon construction for a school in Senegal will begin with funding from OmniPeace."JJ Ramberg is the host of MSNBC's small-business program Your Business and co-founder of GoodSearch.com.