A porter named Benson helped Matthew Clough summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, carrying a heavy rucksack and thus enabling Clough to reach the top. On the climb down, Clough learned that Benson didn’t earn enough to put a child through school. Eager to help, Clough set out to design back home. He bought a sewing machine and constructed a backpack, “The Benson.” He founded stone + cloth, which provides a week of school for a child with each sale. Its tagline: “Carry an education.”
Clough shared with Caring more about the company and what’s ahead.
A trip to Tanzania changed your future. Can you explain?
I’ve always been big into the outdoors, and when the opportunity to go to Tanzania and climb Kilimanjaro popped up, I jumped on it. After four long days of climbing, I was able to accomplish my goal of reaching the summit. The few days we took to walk back down the mountain, I started thinking about the incredible memory behind me, and how my porters, who were helping me along the way, played a vital role in my success on the mountain. If it weren’t for them, there would be no way I would have made it to the top. They were the most kind and charismatic guys you’d ever meet, and when I learned the wages were low, and work was inconsistent, I wanted to see if I could help them after the incredible experience they shaped for me.
What is it like to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro?
It was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life. We were hiking for four days straight, staying in little A-frame huts at night along the way. As we reached a higher altitude, the air was so thin I could hardly breathe. On the last morning before the summit, the combination of getting a few hours of sleep the night before, and the high altitude, I was delusional, slap happy, and excited to be nearing the top of the mountain. On the final night, you’re climbing through darkness. I remember praying for the sun to come up because I knew it would help warm up my freezing body. When the sun did start to rise, we were well above the clouds, and I paused to watch the sun start breaking through the clouds.
Why did you decide to focus on education with stone + cloth?
The focus on education happened from asking questions. We learned education is something they value, but struggle with. We learned a girl that makes it through high school is seven times more likely to secure paid employment over one that leaves school early, and keeping them in school also reduces their chance to get pregnant at a young age.
How can a product affect someone’s life?
The power of commerce and business is massive. I’m starting to think business is the best way to solve the world’s toughest problems.
As an entrepreneur, why do you aim to be socially conscious?
I think being socially conscious came first, not vice versa. When I started this project, I didn’t really think of myself as an entrepreneur, I was just someone that wanted to help a small group of people that impacted my life in a positive way. I believe a lot of people want to be a force for good, and want to live a purpose driven life, and I’m definitely one of those people. I feel like becoming what people call a “social entrepreneur” materialized as I focused on trying doing good in the world.
What makes you feel alive, energized?
Creating things, and being around people. I’m always inspired by people I meet and the stories they tell. I think we can all learn something from anyone, no matter how young, old, similar or different.
Where and how do you find inspiration?
Through people and adventure. I recently decided to drive across the country from San Diego to Florida with a buddy. I literally made the decision at midnight and we were on the road by 3 a.m. It ended up being one of the most refreshing and inspiring weeks from the past year of my life. Going to new places gives me such peace, and I haven’t been doing that as much as I should lately!
How do you find adventure in a regular day?
It’s tough for me to sit still too long. The fun thing is I get to work on multiple projects all the time, so although skipping around might not always traditionally be the most productive, it’s what works for me.
What are you reading?
“The Power of Habit,” which has been so fun to read—I’ve learned a lot about why we do what we do and it’s helped me be more aware of the good and bad habits that shape my reality. It’s very constructive.
What’s ahead for you and for stone + cloth?
We want to work with and find people that believe that education has the power to create a brighter future, and we want to connect with people that believe business is one of the most powerful tools we can use to add value to the world we live in. Beyond that, we just want to have fun and create great products for everyone.