A Family Affair: The Half United Story

December 8, 2017

I reached Christian Black at Half United’s office in Wilmington, North Carolina. His demeanor is demonstrably affected by his North Carolina surf town upbringing; he is warm and convivial immediately, but also chill and unassuming like a surfer from the east coast might be. And regardless of place or hobby, he is deeply friendly. We could talk about surfing, what kind of music we listen to, or what our parents and siblings are up to all day long. Which finally brings us to the reason for our conversation—to discuss the story of the company he started with his sister some eight years ago. The Half United story is a family affair.

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When I ask him to take me back to the company’s origins, he doesn’t go back to the year it made its first necklaces. Instead, he recalls growing up with parents who inspired him to care for people, find purpose in the world at-large, and develop a sense of personal style. Black is extremely intentional about this point, and he delves deep into the different qualities he acquired from each parent. The amount that he attributes his character to his upbringing is endearing, and it explains the next chapter well.

Christian started making his own fashion accessories in North Carolina while his sister, Carmin, was working for TOMS Shoes in Los Angeles. The two were both having wildly different, but parallel, experiences that steered them towards the idea that they could combine fashion and compassion to make products that stand alone and do good for those in need. As Christian continued to refine the first version of Half United’s signature bullet necklace, he lobbied Carmin to return to North Carolina to help him grow the business into something sustainable.

In 2009, she relented and the two got to work planning out ways to grow the brand, to fulfill the types of large orders that make or break fledgling companies, and how they could make the biggest impact as a socially conscious business with an eye for design and a heart for people. While they were doing this, they both worked at the Wilmington Airport to pay the bills, “Most days, one of us would be checking you into your flight and the other one was down on the runway putting bags in the plane! It’s a small airport, but time in the aviation industry was definitely an unexpected turn of events for both of us.”

Christian speaks with a reverential sense of whimsy, as if the hustle was the easy part and the company’s success is a constant miracle to him. Carmin left a steady career in journalism and Christian studied everything from powdercoating to marketing, all while connecting with charities that they believed in. And that’s where he focuses most of his time and energy in our conversation. For every sentence about the company’s trajectory or an individual product design, he has a full monologue about one of their partners in Haiti, Fiji, Cambodia, or the United States.

He tells me about the honeycomb bracelet and where the idea for its design came from. Half United was communicating with a school called N.C.T.C. in Labassa, Fiji about a partnership that would expand Half United’s “One product, seven meals” mission to Fiji. N.C.T.C. is dedicated to providing its students and surrounding community with sustainable crops and skills through its community garden, which prominently features honeybees, vegetables, and lumber from the extremely valuable sandalwood tree. The concept of honeybees caught Christian’s attention and the honeycomb seemed a fitting symbol for its new partnership in Fiji.

He gushes about their partner in Haiti, Elevating Christian Ministries, and their bread oven which helps provide daily bread to over two thousand students and their families every month. “The bread is really good, too!” Then we shift to the recent hurricanes in the United States and Puerto Rico. “We are really dedicated to meeting needs exactly when and where they are. We have long-term partners and we work hard to find new ones when events like this affect our planet.” I notice how carefully he perceives and interacts with the world. Half United provides bread and honey to students and families across the planet and reacts deftly to disasters at home and abroad. Its giving program is a remarkable combination of consistent and adaptable, and it manages to make each of those seven meals go a long way exactly where they’re needed.

You get the sense that Christian could fill his days doing any one of the dozen or more activities we discussed on the phone. He and Carmin are a dynamic duo that learned to combine and multiply their parents’ extraordinary teachings to create a long-lasting brand with far-reaching impact and a great product lineup. The Black siblings are as connected to the needs of humanity as they are to trends in fashion, and they combine them both gracefully for the benefit of all of us. We’re honored to share their passion with you in the Winter CAUSEBOX.

Learn more about Half United:
https://www.halfunited.com/
@halfunited

John is the managing editor at CAUSEBOX and a traveling writer who lives on the road with his dog, Hank.