“In my experience, poor people are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Every day, they must innovate in order to survive. They remain poor because they do not have the opportunities to turn their creativity into sustainable income.”
– Muhammad Yunus, author of Creating a World Without Poverty
Charity is critical. Its importance lies in giving relief to those who are in great destitution from what are often unbearable circumstances. At the same time, giving food, medical care, clothing, and other charity to the poor should be the beginning point, and not an endpoint, to the solutions to poverty. It is widely known that if we are to end extreme poverty, two things must happen. One, we must create jobs for those lacking opportunity, and two, we must do so for women. This is the piece of the puzzle that FASHIONABLE seeks to be a part of.
To be clear, FASHIONABLE is not a charitable model of business. We believe that generational poverty is interrupted when people can provide for themselves. We believe that social businesses whose aim is to alleviate poverty should use their business skills to create job opportunities for the poor, not give them more charity. What we seek to “give” to those living in poverty is opportunity by purchasing goods from them, and helping those businesses grow and employ more.
Our business model is not creating goods in a strong economic country, selling those goods in the West, and then giving charity to developing countries. This still leaves the developing country out of the opportunity for economic growth, and keeps them in a cycle of dependency. We believe in doing the manufacturing in the communities we wish to have impact, so as to create jobs. Although it often creates a unique set of challenges, trade with developing countries is an empowerment model that we are committed to.
Through much study and understanding of the social sciences, those in the development world understand that giving a woman a job leads to a much stronger benefit to a family than when given to a man. We also understand that in the developing world the disparity between women and men’s wages are extreme, and in women’s ownership of land the disparity is even greater. FASHIONABLE’s focus on working with women comes from this understanding, and our own growth and education continues in us learning how to do this the best way possible.
The question is often asked “how much money goes to the women?”. This is a question that assumes we are a charitable model that gives either money or items away, like clothes or shoes. This is actually a stigma of social companies that we want to break. We believe that serious, long-term solutions to poverty lie in creating jobs, not in giving more away. Again, that is not what we do. We do trade with companies in Africa and our role is to hold those companies accountable to fair employment practices, and to help embolden those companies that are doing good work.
We are continually growing in how we measure this impact. Here are a couple of ways:
- Made In a Free World – this is a third party group that helps us to measure the potential for child labor in our supply chain, as well as other similar challenges that face companies in developing countries.
- B Corporation – if you’ve not heard of this categorization for a company, the idea is a new standard for companies that wish to be measured by the highest standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. As this status for a company was just made legal in Tennessee in January of 2016, we were pleased to be among the first to be knocking down that door, and our conversion will be complete very soon. Soon, you’ll see reports about FASHIONABLE from B-Labs, who measure B-Corps and create reports for the public to view.
Places to learn more about working to solve poverty
Poverty, INC – a film highlighting the impact of charity versus trade
Our leather partner in Ethiopia
The popularity of products means that we’ve been able to provide more jobs and help strengthen capacity with our partners. Our leather partner, Modern Zege, had inconsistent power which lead to laborers often sitting with no work they could do. This leads to higher costs and a lack of competitive edge in productivity. Because we’ve seen our leather business more than triple this last year, we were able to help them secure consistent power supply from the government when our team was visiting Ethiopia last fall. This equals their business being more competitive with pricing, and more competitive on the world stage. Read more about this impact here.
In Nashville, TN
In the Fall of 2015 we were pleased to add the LOCAL component of our work and mission, creating opportunity for women in Nashville who have overcome challenges from homelessness to prostitution to addiction. The addition of the Miriam Collection of jewelry has already provided 5 full-time jobs at our offices in Nashville, with plans to continue to grow and expand in 2016.
HOW WE STARTED:
FASHIONABLE started when Barrett was living in Ethiopia and met women coming out of the commercial sex industry who wanted jobs. Now FASHIONABLE works globally with women coming from many different backgrounds, all looking for opportunity.
Gracie started creating jewelry and doing creative therapy with women coming out of recovery who have battled everything from addiction to depression to homelessness. Hearing from these women that it was often difficult to get jobs post-recovery, they started selling their jewelry to create jobs for the women.
Who is your customer?
We certainly love our customer, and they are varied. Here is who we’ve learned them to be:
This girl loves the simple things in life. She buys pieces like the Dainty Circle Necklace and the Cognac Mamuye tote that she can wear everyday. She believes that “less is more” and loves curating her capsule closet for each season.
This girl loves bold accessories paired with black and white prints. Her unique fashion-forward style is a mix of edge and feminine sensibility. She admires fashion, art, and music, and loves to travel to new places for inspiration. The Waterfall necklace & black Mamuye Leather Tote are the perfect accessories for her chic style.
THE BOHO ADVENTURER
This girl loves floral prints and turquoise accessories. She’s a free-spirit that is always exploring the world around her. She loves to spend her time outdoors listening to music and admiring the beauty of nature. Her chocolate Mamuye Tote and Santa Fe ring are the perfect companions for all of her travels and adventures.
This girl has cool, classic, and effortless style. Her go-to outfit is denim-on-denim with a pair of flats and dainty accessories like our monogram Tiny Tag necklace. Her Abera tote is the perfect bag to carry all of her essentials from work to the weekend.
What do you value as a company?
It can’t be more simply stated that we are able to do what we do, and the women we work with are able to do what they do, because of your advocacy and purchases. So, we are grateful for you and want to exceed your expectations in customer service. April heads up that work, and she is super super nice.
We work hard, knowing that the work we put in positively affects the lives of women across the globe. We are a family here, and even if things get stressful, we know blood is thicker than water. We love to celebrate each other… which really means we eat a lot of cupcakes!