The term conscious capitalism–the idea of corporations transcending mere profit-making goals for the larger purpose of positive environmental and social impact–is thrown around widely and carelessly these days. Creative innovators such as Clayton Christopher intuitively understand that this ethos must exceed customer expectations.
“It’s about giving back,” Christopher said, explaining that Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, which he cofounded last spring with Chad Auler of Savvy Vodka, takes that consciousness seriously in a range of ways.
Recycling bins sit under each person’s desk at the east Austin office. They source locally as much as possible: glass for the Deep Eddy bottles comes from Monterey, Mexico instead of china; the cane is from Sugarland; the honey is from Austin’s Good Flow Honey; the labels are made in Round Rock. They’re aiming for a platinum LEED certification of their distillery, to be built this year. Beyond that, the company gives to causes such as The Friends of Deep Eddy and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The company takes it name from Deep Eddy Pool, the beloved spring-fed swimming pool in Austin.
Christopher, who attended St. Edward’s University and cultivated a love of literature and philosophy there, credited his father with inspiring his philanthropic efforts. “My dad was a big philanthropist and he never told anybody, necessarily,” he said. “I believe in that on a personal level. We spend so much of our life working–when the company you’re working for is doing good, employees feel like there’s a bigger purpose than just showing up to the office. It helps with mission and morale and passion.”
Deep Eddy Sweet Tea Vodka, which has seven full-time employees and a few interns, launched in April of last year and can be found at liquor stores around the city and in other parts of Texas; it’s also on tap at bars like The Dogwood. The spirit itself, part of the growing flavored-vodka market, stands out among sweet tea vodka’s because of its natural ingredients (no high-fructose corn syrup here). As the CEO and cofounder, Christopher is in many ways the face of the brand, and he also spends a good amount of time making sure the capital is in place to fuel growth.
Amidst his work schedule and nonprofit commitments, Christopher turns to yoga and twice-a-week meditation to stay centered. He said that for him, meditation is “like sitting and having tea with your emotions.” otherwise, he’s building a new house on Lake Austin and enjoys wake surfing, cycling or running around town, and traveling.
“I love working with young companies when all the creativity happens,” he said. “I would love to have six to seven companies that I’m involved with on a startup level. Each one with a philanthropic component to it, a strong environmental stance, and a strong culture.”
The impetus to give back on a personal level, to Big Brothers/Big sisters of central Texas, manifested it- self in a scene that Christopher witnessed while riding the subway on a visit to new York city in 2003. Familiar with the organization, he thought the time commitment would be a hindrance (he was working 80-hour weeks at sweet leaf Tea, another company he cofounded, at the time). “I saw this whole scene go down between this poor kid and this very well-dressed businesswoman,” Christopher said. “I saw how significantly the kid was impacted when an adult showed love and showed interest. I was touched, literally with tears streaming down my cheeks, when I got off the train.”
Not long after, Christopher was matched with 10-year-old Andrew; he also serves on the group’s board. As it turns out, the organization asks that each ‘big’ see their ‘little’ a minimum of three times per month. This has taken many forms for Christopher and Andrew–from dinners or kayaking on Town Lake to holiday excursions or running errands around town. Christopher’s gratification is clear.
He marvels at the positive changes in Andrew’s life over the past five years, from little ones such as no more double negatives in sentences (which Christopher had counseled him on many times) to bigger ones such as the major improvement in his grades and overall self-esteem–and the fact that he came out to Christopher as gay.
“He’s excited about going to school in San Antonio because it has a cosmetology school,” said Christopher. “I’m trying to help him embrace it. My job is just to say, I love you no matter what.”