Ever feel like the stuff you own ends up owning you, instead? Ben Davis, the founder of JoinLess, can empathize. As the brains behind the “world’s first open source brand,” Davis wants to create a new symbol-led movement, like the (RED) campaign, “but better,” he tells Ecouterre. Unlike other brands, which get litigious over the unauthorized use of their logos, JoinLess wants you to slap its trademark “(<)” on anything—and everything—to remind you that less is more. We sat down with the man himself to learn more about his anti-brand, what it stands for, and why it’s poised to become the peace sign for a new generation.

THE BEAUTY OF LESS

For many of us, having “stuff” and going out and buying “stuff” is as natural as eating or breathing. Can you explain how JoinLess seeks to change all that?

JoinLess celebrates the long-term emotional well-being associated with leading a sustainable life rather than the momentary emotional rush and subsequent crash associated with shopping and overconsumption. The (<) brand represents a true tribe: people connected around a central organizing belief. It’s like a peace sign, but for a new generation grappling with sustainability. We don’t want your money. We want your help in fomenting a movement. We envision a brand in which every item—like every one of us—is unique. Corporations have nailed that art of mass production. The (<) brand is unleashing the art of “grass-production.”

The (<) brand represents a true tribe: people connected around a central organizing belief.

The JoinLess video highlights the phrase “sometimes the things we own end up owning us.” Can you explain what that means?

I love the expression “the trappings of wealth.” We become possessed by our possessions. We go into debt to acquire things and then worry about their safety and upkeep more than we do the people around us.

Did you ever feel at any point in your own life that your things owned you?

Yes.

Why are people so consumed with their possessions?

Buying things provides a rush of happiness that quickly fades. It’s that rush we are addicted to. The excess of things in our lives are sad reminders of our addiction to momentary happiness.

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JoinLess, Ben Davis, consumerism, materialism, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, less is more, voluntary simplicity

NOT BUYING IT

With JoinLess “transactions,” no money changes hands. Was that a conscious decision?

In working to change global consumption habits, we knew we could never win a war of money. We needed to establish a battlefield on our own terms. Is there something more powerful than money? We decided to dig deeper than your pocket and go straight for your soul, your consciousness, your heart, your gentle yet fighting spirit. We needed to be audacious and clear—no money changes hands. This is not business as usual. In fact, it’s not a business at all.

We needed to be audacious and clear—no money changes hands. This is not business as usual. In fact, it’s not a business at all.

The “less” message resonates within all of us, but how could we perpetuate it without advertising dollars and salaries? The best approach was to beat the marketers at their own game by unleashing a leaderless movement under the guise of a brand. Our (<) tribe, united around shared beliefs, is inherently more powerful than the false tribes that are cleverly duped out of their money by savvy marketers.

Who is the cooler kid these days, the one with Abercrombie & Fitch on his chest or the one who has stitched a (<) symbol on the sleeve of her secondhand sweater? Our brand creates a genuine connection while allowing the individual to retain and even define her true identity.

The world is full of dead logos. Ideas are much harder to kill.

Consider the Nike logo versus the peace sign. Which is more powerful? In my opinion, the peace sign—which is a symbol and not a logo—has deeper strength. Symbols thrives on shared beliefs where logos need money to live and quickly die without it. The world is full of dead logos. Ideas are much harder to kill.

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JoinLess, Ben Davis, consumerism, materialism, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, less is more, voluntary simplicity

(RED)ICU(LESS)

What do you think about business models like TOMS that make and sell stuff but for a good cause?

I support any organization that is trying to do good, so long as they are clear and fair with consumers. The idea for (<) is a refinement of our “Buy Less Crap” campaign. You can see our letter to Bobby Shriver on the website that outlines our suggestions for improvements to the (RED) campaign.

We need significant change in the world, but it must be gradual or the resulting political mayhem would be devastating.

Have you considered the impact anti-consumerism might have on the global economy?

We need significant change in the world, but it must be gradual or the resulting political mayhem would be devastating. I like (<) because it allows us to slow down consumption while we search for better long-term models of living. We’re not slamming on the brakes and going into an uncontrolled skid. We are taking our foot of the gas and looking for a safe and controlled escape route.

(<) allows us to slow down consumption while we search for better long-term models of living.

What are some tips you can share with our readers about how to be happier with less?

Join (<) and take the pledge:

  • I will explore the beauty of less in my own life.
  • I will do more for others.
  • I will neither buy nor sell (<) branded items.
  • How can people get started with JoinLess? What is the first step?

    See the pledge above. You are now empowered to use the (<) mark. No need to ask for permission, ever. Put it on something you own and wear it with pride. Give it as a gift. Spread the word. Avoid judging others. Be a happy ambassador of (<). You are now a (<) brand manager!

    + JoinLess