There is a dazzling, enduring love in each of us. It is a spark both chemical and spiritual, the distillation of focus into a single, attentive point, the warm amber flow of thought into meaningful action. Like energy, love cannot be created or destroyed, merely redistributed between forms, from one to the next and sometimes back again. Love is not easy and in certain applications, may be the hardest thing we do. In the brilliant television show Fleabag, a character says, “I was taught if we’re born with love then life is about choosing the right place to put it,” and I believe this to be true: to search for the depth of your meaning is to search for the depth of your love.
Business and love are typically viewed as asymmetrical entities—one is the cold calculation of numbers and value, the other an interpretation and application of what value actually is. At its worst, business is a world immolated by ego and the insatiable lust for money and power. There are instances, however, where business is the mechanism that allows a specific exploration of love, where the assimilation of money and humanity binds into a fierce connective tissue for positive change, flowing outward.
My friend Elle Griffin has written brilliantly and optimistically at The Elysian about capitalism as a force for good. She has won my rotten, black heart over in certain ways and our offline discussions have encouraged me to think of businesses as a web of interconnected people, employees threaded together by work and energetic potential and their boundless, individual capacities to love. The way that love is focused and utilized tells the story of humanity in a business, the accumulation of monetary and emotional resources condensed, refined, and redistributed into alternate forms. Technically, a business cannot love but individuals that comprise a business always can.
By now, you are familiar with Kizik. Started in 2017 by serial entrepreneur Michael Pratt, the Silicon Slopes-based company has exploded in the past year behind its unique offering of hands-free footwear, recently opening a new retail store in the Fashion Place Mall in Murray and trending towards $150 million in annual sales in 2023. Backed by a minority stake investment from Nike, Kizik is only beginning its push into retail, identifying subsequent markets and preparing to leap into the great unknown.
With astronomical growth comes the opportunity to explore pathways previously closed. A successful business revolves around the creation of a product, which in turn creates a community comprised of millions (and sometimes billions) of different individuals. Some businesses choose to remain there, content to thrive in the monetary handshakes between creator and consumer, and explore no further. Others choose to push beyond, past the nexus point of the product itself and into human realms void of profit margins or ROI. A true exploration of a single community inevitably leads to the overlapping circles of other communities, and others, and others still, the immensity of the exercise made worthwhile by the result: the empathetic understanding of all things, large and small, that connect us as people.
If you believe in the circular nature of things, you will enjoy the story of how Ari Mason came to be the Head of Kizik Cares. She began her professional life as a journalist for NBC News and throughout that experience, found her passion for storytelling overwhelmed by the work she was actually doing.
“The doom and gloom of the kind of stories I was covering did not make me excited to get up and go to work in the morning,” said Mason.
Opportunity arose in the form of Clear The Shelters, NBC’s annual, nationwide pet adoption and shelter donation campaign. Mason used the pet drive to shift into marketing, discovering a deeper passion for a different type of storytelling. After working with various marketing agencies/startups over the ensuing years, Mason was laid off at the start of 2023 and began searching for her next gig. This led to the doorstep of Kizik, where her interview process revealed a mutual bond between herself and the individuals inside the business: “There was a lot of humanity there. There was a lot of interest in getting to know me personally and professionally. There was shared passion.”
Over the course of my long discussion with Mason, she continually cited passion as a driving force for her professional and personal behaviors. At the end of her final interview, Mason was shown an autism awareness video created by Kizik, one way of many they hoped to highlight and tell the story of a small portion of the Kizik community. She was blown away and knew she had her next job.
“This is the kind of place, a place that cares, a place that is invested in not just creating a product, selling a product, making money off that product, but a place that cares about the people they serve,” said Mason. “That is where I want to be. And that was the connective tissue that I identified between the organization and me in that moment.”
Mason’s first task: the launch of Kizik Cares, a new community impact initiative built on increasing awareness through storytelling, community events and engagements, and acts of service. Kizik had already been supporting the community in various ways and Kizik Cares is the structuring and refinement of that mindset. Kizik has always cared—now there is focus and direction for what that really means.
“We want to take this brand to the next level by connecting with customers and bringing in that emotional component, where we’re really demonstrating that Kizik is special,” said Mason. “That we have this special impact that is really unique to who we are and what we do. I love to say Kizik is game-changing for everyone and life-changing for some. And that deserves to be elevated. That’s the foundation behind Kizik Cares: let’s look at all the different communities that benefit from Kizik in various ways, allow them to be supported by us in a way that’s formalized and structured, and give them a platform to share those stories.”
Since coming aboard, the storytelling of Kizik Cares represents a stark contrast to Mason’s past journalism of doom and gloom. After celebrating Autism Awareness Month and showcasing the stories of those lives impacted by Kizik, Kizik partnered with the Carry On Foundation, the non-profit arm of Thread that helps children build mental health skills through skateboarding. After that was a partnership with the I Am Mom Summit, an event for celebrating and inspiring moms everywhere. More partnerships are on the horizon, with Mason crediting the willingness of Kizik’s employees to offer ideas, get involved, and demonstrate the depth of their love.
“When I presented the final plan for Kizik Cares to everyone in the organization, I said, ‘Tell me your ideas. This isn’t mine. I’m the one helping organize and facilitate and bring this to life, but I want this to be something we all are invested in and believe in,’” Mason said. “And I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of responses.”
Based upon those responses, Kizik is currently working on a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Rosebud, a Native American reservation in South Dakota, to provide Kiziks to 3-5 graders as part of a back-to-school drive. Kizik is also partnering with Running Is A Right, an organization that provides running blades for pediatric amputees, to provide Kiziks for those children involved. And much like Kizik’s growth on the business side, Mason sees Kizik Cares on a similar trajectory.
“This is just the beginning,” said Mason. “This is a natural part of who Kizik is as a brand. Wanting to give back and do good is embedded in our culture. Bringing humanity into business is something we are really aligned with.”
Ultimately, a business is composed of individuals, each capable of introspection, charity, and choice. These choices are infinite and all present the opportunity for stasis or change, miniature decisions that coalesce into the character of a person. They pave our interactions with friends and strangers, dictate how we react to our surroundings, and structure our professional journeys. Choice is (and always will be) the backbone of our actions, the jobs we decide to take, and how we perform them.
Choosing the right place to put love is not a burden but an immense gift—this is true in business and life. It is the opportunity to continually and relentlessly define what matters. I write as both passion and profession because (for me) it is an exploration of love, the thoughtful refinement of cognition and feeling, the unwavering beam of attention and focus, a greater understanding of all the granular ties that bind. There is profound depth in storytelling that I seek in all areas of my life: the gossamer threads of empathy that connect you to me.
Kizik Cares because Kizik chooses to care. As revenue trends upward and the number of Kizik wearers along with it, the individuals inside the company are making a structured, coherent choice to mix humanity with business, to showcase their love for all the interlocking communities who do (or don’t) utilize their product. Kizik Cares is the manifestation of this choice. It is a celebration of love and community, an acknowledgment of capitalism as a force for good, an exploration of a flowering wilderness that starts with Kiziks but stretches beyond the realm of footwear into all that is human.