Kyle Westaway is definitively not a suit-and-tie lawyer. He has built his law practice exclusively around the particular needs of social entrepreneurs, while his new fashion brand Biographe offers sex-trade survivors a sustainable way to earn a living.
“The future of business is going to be a lot more multi-stake holder. It’s going to be more than just a platform to deliver cheaper products to people.”
Even some of the oldest trades can forge new paths. After graduating from law school, Kyle Westaway spent two months at a large corporation, “but realized pretty quickly what I wanted to do,” he says. His own practice, Westaway Law, is now blazing new trails for socially-minded businesses. “There’s always nuance when you’re trying to blend profit and purpose, and that can get tricky sometimes,” he admits, but he enjoys finding new ways to innovate, especially since he's one of the few lawyers doing so. “A lot of lawyers approach their practice looking backwards, so they’re only looking at precedents, whereas I think there’s a lot of opportunity to be forward-looking. And for me, that stuff’s exciting and more intellectually engaging.”
A new post as an adjunct professor at Harvard Law means he can now also share his passion with a few lucky students. Kyle laments, “there’s only a couple schools that have it [Stanford and Harvard].” That rarity speaks volumes about what the law really protects. “Typical law firms or big law firms only innovate when there’s huge profits on the line.” Kyle goes on to discuss the legal repercussions of the bank failures during the recession. “All these CEO transactions were papered up by really complex innovative agreements that created these new vehicles that had never existed before because they were making tens and hundreds of millions of dollars off of it.” Without that incentive, lawyers close themselves off to any risks. “Any innovation is opening yourself up to risk, because you don’t know how the courts may or may not interpret it. Lawyers don’t like risk in general.”
Kyle is also learning firsthand about the challenges facing the social entrepreneurs he works with. His second venture, Biographe, is a fashion brand launched in 2011 to help survivors of the Bangkok sex trade. While researching the project with his cofounders, he saw many of the women going back to the only work they knew, so they could put food on the table for themselves and their families. Though still in the early stages of development, “the goal is to help women make the transition from bars and brothels to a healthy more stable life” through sustainable and equitable work – initially in production, and hopefully moving into design and marketing.
With both of his ventures, Kyle intentionally deviates from business as usual. As he states, “I think we’ve really reached the end of the last 100 years of growth and capitalism into a new paradigm that’s really more focused on conscious capitalism.”