Over the past twelve months, Zirkova Vodka and their charitable arm We Are One+Together have been involved in funding humanitarian initiatives and supporting social awareness programs across New York City.
From the “Choose Love” parade marching from Manhattan to Bushwick to supporting Tarana Burke and the #MeToo Movement, their commitment comes from a genuine place of supporting those creatively challenging the status quo, fighting for social justice, promoting unity and equality, and above all human dignity.
Glassbook sat with one of the founding members of the company, Derek Anderson to further discuss the ethos behind the brand and the projects that they have been associated with since its inception.
Before we dive into the work carried out by Zirkova One+Together and it’s non-profit counterpart We Are One+Together, I’d like to know a bit more about how you personally got to this place. Would you mind sharing a bit of your story with our readers?
I see myself as a citizen of the world. I was born in Ohio, went to school in London, and then moved to NYC to start an advertising agency. It’s a long story. We were one of the first 360 advertising companies in the ‘90’s. We did everything from products, to advertising and retail design. We did a lot of non-traditional ads at the time. We were one of the first people that started to do short films and doing messages on sidewalks. I did that for about ten years, but I remember thinking about it: ‘I’m so sick of this’. I was stuck in a managerial role, dealing with lawyers all the time. I wasn’t doing any of my own creative work anymore. I decided to sell that company and spent five years doing tons of charity work. One day, out of nowhere, I was sitting in LA with a friend. She just turned around and said ‘I’ve got this movie that I wrote. It’s called the “Cook off” One thing led to another, and I ended up buying all of the Terminator franchise. Looking back, and seeing how the whole thing escalated, It’s crazy. Except for the original Star Wars, we were the only movie franchise to have an NY Times bestseller. I ended up selling it a couple of years later. I was living in LA at the time, and I couldn’t wait to get back to NY.
Coming from the entertainment business, what has fueled you to start your own vodka company that is also a non-profit organization?
It has always been very important to me to try and give a contribution to the world. I think that is up to all of us. Charity and social non-profit organizations provide vital support, but they are also not the full solution. The need is always much higher than your ability to fulfill it. I started to think about doing something that is a sustainable way to be a contribution. Not only what we could do with Zirkova, but also what we can achieve as a company to help this paradigm shift. We also want to be an example to show to other companies, whether you personally care or not, that giving back to communities you do business with can also be part the business.
What kind of causes are you trying to support and promote with We Are One+Together?
Our main thrust is human rights and dignity, and that can take a lot of different expressions. It comes from a fundamental belief that everybody is worth it and equal and that we all should have the dignity and the freedom to be who they are. We should educate people about the possibility of change. People need to feel hope and be inspired and see a way forward, because otherwise, for most people, it’s too overwhelming. We also do things around the environment and our planet, because ultimately, no matter how free and equal we are, if the planet is not okay, then we are utterly screwed.
I noticed that Zirkova One+Together has partnered with Ocean Global for a worldwide campaign. Would you like to explain what the main aim of this initiative is?
All the work we do is about giving people knowledge and education to empower them to make their own better choices and contribute in the way that they can. Reducing single-use plastics, such as straws, is vital for us. We serve cocktails, and everywhere you go for a drink they put a straw in it. The campaign with Ocean Global is called Oceanic standard. It is a toolkit that helps the hospitality industry reduce single-use plastics and how to become carbon neutral in a way that is sustainable for your business. We are giving this for free to everybody, and we also send people in to train you. We launched only a few weeks ago, and we already have forty of the best restaurants and bars in NY involved. And people keep on jumping on board.
Hospitality is an intense business, and most companies don’t even have the resources to even think about alternatives. I think it ultimately breaks down to having access to information. Are there other projects you have going on that you’d like to share?
Last year, we worked with a bunch of other organizations to get five gay Syrian refugees asylum. After leaving Syria, they moved to Istanbul. They were experiencing their first sense of freedom, so they had this idea of shedding light that there are LGBT people in the Middle East. They did a Gay Syrian pageant, about 80 people showed up, someone filmed and posted it on social media. Within a day, they have all been added to the ISIS kill list, and two of these guys families were trying to hunt them down to kill them to cleanse their family of shame. It’s still a big shame for local Muslim communities to have a gay family member. We worked with a bunch of organizations to bring them to safety, and we also created a whole public awareness campaign around it. We do all kinds of things. We started to work with Tarana Burke and the #MeToo Foundation last summer. Interestingly enough, we were the first company to reach out to her. Now we are working on a second phase to try and rally other companies to join the movement. We were working with her to help support the expansion of the work that she is doing with victims of sexual violence. It’s great that this is all now coming out to the light, but one of the things that she found is that a lot of women felt empowered to post on social media, but didn’t understand the ramifications behind it. Up until very recently, almost anything short of rape, most women didn’t classify it as abuse. It opened up a lot of wounds that they haven’t dealt with before. Tarana has got over 3 million emails since the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Tarana is creating an online international directory with all the information and support necessary for these women to seek out help, such as different professionals and organizations. We are also creating nightlife consent program to create safe spaces. Drinking is great, but it might also help impair your judgement at times. It is crucial for us, as a spirits company to take action where our products are sold.
As a woman, I think education is fundamental towards solving this problem. I do not believe that someone will ever understand that certain attitudes might be way out of line unless they are taught and sensitized on how to look through someone else’s perspective.
Definitely a problem within the female-male culture. There are these very narrow definitions of masculinity that often lead to sexual harassment and violence; you’re cultured and conditioned that this is what is asked of you to be a man.
Exactly. I think that is something that has only honestly started to come to light over the past couple of years. I think that male vulnerability within the public spectrum is something that needs to be addressed and cultivated to change the discourse on this matter.
We are working with an organization called the Mens Story project, the campaign is coming out in the fall. Men write their own stories about the definition of masculinity and how that has affected them: How it causes them to fuck up relationships, difficulties with intimacy, and how by not fitting the norm has resulted in some sort of prejudice. It’s still in its early days, but so far we are doing an event on Broadway in NY, there will be one in LA and probably an television special. We are also doing a series of PSA’s that will be going out internationally. I can see that initiatives like this are creating a lot of dialogue within different industries, and people are starting to realize that things need to change.
From equal pay to LGBT rights. Paradigm shifts do not happen overnight, but there are little indicators that ideas are being mobilized. Do you agree?
I am inherently optimistic, but I do see it, things are changing. There are so many positive things happening. From the Me too movement to things like the Women’s march earlier this month, to the kids who raised their voice on the back of the high school shooting. We live in this country where there is still so much gun violence still. As adults, for decades we were unable to do any change into this. But the fucking kids did it. That is so inspiring.
Do you think that growing up with access to the Internet is helping this younger generation to care more about more significant issues?
I think it has honestly created a generation of more curious people. I think that is the most positive thing that has ever come out of technology. It’s also harder to suppress information. You can still manipulate things, but people will realize that too. We no longer live in the world where the propaganda machine can entirely control the masses. That era is dying.
Speaking of media; Zirkova One+Together has partnered with Glassbook before. What is your main take out of those experiences?
I am moved by watching people being the best version of themselves. I started my own company at 22 and just out of college, and I fully acknowledge the fact that if people back then didn’t see the potential in me, I would have never had the life that I had so far. When I was hiring people for creative positions, I had highly qualified people who would fly from all corners of the world to apply for a job. But I would also interview people straight out of college. There was this kid. He was a designer, never worked for anyone before. He only had three projects in his portfolio, but I know he had it. I ended up employing him to be the global creative director of a big account, for a trial period of three months. And he pulled his weight. He is now the global creative director for Mac. To me working with younger people, it has always been a two-way street. It has contributed to me having people with a fresh perspective and showing me something new. Experience is useful, but freshness and naivety are also often where you can find brilliance. Helping people to express themselves is empowering. Whether you’re an artist, a writer a designer. I see that has to be influential in changing the ability to change how people see things. I have always seen these mediums as an opportunity to create a form of connectivity and promote social justice.
Learn more about Zirkova One+Together here.