It’s the early 90’s and Belinda Coker sees the Guns N’ Roses November Rain music video for the very first time. It’s big bangs. It’s round sunglasses. It’s brown lipstick. It’s every girl’s dream – especially that wedding dress. Party (ahem, visible garter) in the front, business (and a very long train) in the back. Wedding perfection personified walking down the aisle.
How could Belinda know that years later she would take that favorite song, her impeccable style – and most of her all her heart and drive – and turn them into something amazing? Truth is, she may not have known how all the pieces would fit back then, but would they ever. With ambition, strategy, and a strong “WHY,” Belinda Coker is not just a successful business owner. She’s a successful business owner with vision.
And that vision – one of all-out social responsibility – is what fuels her latest endeavor, November Rain: an Australian-based designer and manufacturer of stylish and sustainable rain ponchos. The idea, however inventive it is, came only as a catalyst to Belinda’s primary initiative to provide fresh drinking water to developing countries. Unlike other organizations with a “give back” component, Belinda didn’t tack it on as it an afterthought to the main company mission. Donating a portion of revenue to clean water programs has always been THE mission. It’s a cause she holds near to her heart, and to her business plan – one that she’s supported vigorously for many years. Says Belinda:
“I have been working alongside orphanages and other significant operations in developing countries for years. 30 years ago I did six months in far north India on the Tibetan plateau, helping install solar to remote areas accessible only in the summer… In all my travels I have seen firsthand how crucial fresh water is in developing countries. It’s the difference between life and death. Poor water and sanitation cause terrible diseases and death in small children. Women and children walk for miles each day to carry home a single bucket of water for the family to use. We just do not have any concept as to how lucky we are.”
Furthermore, Belinda imparts her experience onto her children, taking each of them at age 14 to volunteer at an orphanage for one week. She says: “It gives them a real wake up call as to how privileged they actually are. My son who turned 21 last month said in a speech that this was one of the most memorable turning points in his life.”
In addition to supporting proper water sanitation around the world, November Rain gear also supports the environment. What does that mean exactly? In terms of construction, their ponchos are fashioned “using ecologically sound waterless printing methods and quality crafted with heat sealed seams.” This system originates from Belinda’s previous enterprise, Envirosax, famous for being the first designer reusable bag with environmental certification. Ecologically speaking, the transition from Envirosax to November Rain was a “no-brainer” says Belinda. She explains:
“Having founded (Envirosax), I already had the knowledge and production ability on hand. The durability ties in with being eco-friendly. Clothing nowadays is not made to last and ends up in a landfill. I am an advocate for buying quality items that last.”
Preserving our natural resources is another global cause that works alongside Belinda’s freshwater goals. She finds inspiration in this quote by Ghandi:
“The earth, the air, the land, and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand it over to them at least as it was handed over to us.”
Belinda has taken those words of wisdom, made them her own, and turned them into companies we can stand behind. Companies that matter. She explains passionately:
“We only have one world, and we are entirely responsible for leaving that world in a state we would want for our children and future generations to come… This is also one of the reasons for introducing reusable bags (and other eco-items!) into our (November Rain) product line. While providing clean water is all well and good, we have a responsibility to look after our own waterways. Single-use plastics are one of the most detrimental items entering our water systems that cause damage to our fragile ecosystem and marine life.”
Gives back, check. Good for the environment, check check. We’re nearly a thousand words into this feature and have not even addressed how fashionable and fun November Rain ponchos are.
With carefully researched palettes and flattering design, this is not your frumpy, dumpy garbage bag-esque rain gear. On the contrary, the inventory goes through a rigorous development process to create a fashion story that is cohesive and works with a wide demographic. On operations, Belinda says:
“Each season I bring out a story based on the current color palette. I try and choose colors that most skin tones can wear (as the hood is close to the face) and also colors that can be worn with a variety of different colored clothing underneath. Neutrals are fine, but a particular blue, aqua, or green can also be matched with various shades or tones. We choose a large pattern for those who like it bold, a more subtle design for those that prefer to tone it down, and then, of course, a solid – just because.”
Belinda credits her studies in design for the versatility of her ponchos:
“I have studied pattern-making (old school from cardboard blocks, not the
computerized version!), so creating the pattern for the ponchos was easy for me. I needed something that women of all shapes and sizes could wear, whether they are blessed with curves or fabulously tall and willowy. Unless we are a perfect industry size, there is always the issue of fit. And I wanted to overcome that, for all women.”
For a woman who does it all, while making it chic, eco-friendly, and socially sound – is there anything too difficult? YES. Choosing her favorite November Rain poncho of course! But we got her to nail it down to two choices … er three: “I’d say Poppies or Rainforest! If I had a favorite solid, it would be PNW (Ocean Blue).”
As for the future, Belinda is always open to collaboration and dreams of creating more brands. Her main focus at the moment is growing the give back component of November Rain and really making a difference in areas of the world where preventable diseases, like Cholera, run rampant. She hints:
“This year we have several projects lined up in Zambia, (as well as) a few other products we will be releasing as part of our range… My creative juices are starting to flow just thinking about them!”
And for those who are inspired by Belinda (we know we are!) and want to work towards your “why,” she has some advice:
“Make giving back your main priority. Don’t throw it in at the last minute as a marketing tool. People see through this. I aim to make money to provide funds for my projects, and this resonates with my brand. This is who I am and what I am about. You need to find your ‘why.’”
So while the somber lyrics of Guns N’ Rose November Rain may say that “nothing lasts forever,” Belinda’s brand couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the only thing that might outlive her ponchos is her impact on the world.