The Exeter Bulletin — Fall 2012
Will Bennett '03
Clothing with a Cause
When a few friends set out to save the world, the result was SOMB—a trendy fashion company named after the phrase "shirt off my back."
For co-founder William H. G. "Will" Bennett '03, SOMB is more than just a clever acronym; it's an expression of purpose espoused in the company's products: "When I pitched the idea of SOMB to four of my best friends, we all realized we were tired of our routines and wanted to do something more meaningful . . . to feel like we were making a difference in the world."
Intrigued by the idea of socially responsible brands and passionate about helping underprivileged children, Bennett co-authored the business plan for SOMB—which was submitted by another co-founder in a Wharton School competition. The winning plan's award provided most of the company's startup capital, and SOMB launched in 2010.
Targeting a younger, hip audience, the Los Angeles-based company touts a "California-inspired, beach-meets-street-style vibe." After its first collection sold out three times over, SOMB was able to donate uniforms to students in nearly 50 schools in Zimbabwe and Kenya. With the release of its second collection, the company now supports the United Nations' global initiative for children to have the right to play. By donating a portion of its profits to the nonprofit children's charity Right To Play, SOMB endorses fun, physical lessons promoting gender equality and racial and religious acceptance. Other games teach children about the risks of AIDS, malaria and other life-threatening diseases—necessary tools for education and healthy habits. "All of the founders played team sports . . . .We recognize the skill set we developed playing sports served us well in our lives," Bennett says.
Each founder, including fellow Exonian Christopher R. Norqual '00, has an equal voice and brings a unique talent to the venture. "All of us were very fortunate growing up," Bennett explains. "We wanted to do something for the kids [who] don't have the same kind of opportunities.We were all motivated by each other, but we believed in our mission to help others. It [has become] rewarding in ways we had never experienced— the beauty of these countries, the amazing spirit and energy of the children."
As the company's co-CEO, Bennett says SOMB's goals are unusual. "Our goals are not based on how much money we raise, but rather the fact that we are making a difference with each shirt. We are really lucky to have received so much support from the celebrity community." Eva Longoria, Snoop Dogg, Britney Spears, Floyd May weather, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Adrian Grenier, among others, have donned SOMB gear.
He describes Exeter as a family affair—with his father, William L. '67; uncles, James "Jeff" '71 and Robert E. '78; and sister, Corey F. Bennett Lewis '98, as Exonians—but Bennett says he wasn't the most collegial student. "I was not a nice person at Exeter," he admits. "I was too competitive and self-absorbed."
At Wesleyan University, however, Bennett changed. "I lost a number of people I love, including my father and my mother, which has been extremely challenging," he says. "But I try to live every day in honor of my parents who, like Exeter, preached non sibi. Exeter is an amazing place, but I didn't fully realize the lesson of non sibi until after I graduated and left the Exeter community."
His greatest joy now comes in helping others: "To actually see the difference your work makes in someone else's life is an amazing experience. Visiting Africa, distributing uniforms and interacting with the kids is truly the best part of my job. I feel lucky to have the background, education and opportunities that I've had growing up . . . but through SOMB, I have a better understanding of how important it is to give back."
Currently enrolled at Harvard Business School, Bennett hopes to launch a second socially responsible brand this year.
— Famebridge Witherspoon