Bill Eimicke, author of ‘Social Value Investing: A Management Framework for Effective Partnerships’ believes that profit and purpose can go together, that you don’t have to choose one or the other. The foremost rule of running a business is to earn profits, but what if the motivation and the primary reason behind establishing a new business is the upliftment of a society, a community or a hub. Apparel manufacturing, the oldest business in the industrial revolution today, has become a means of earning money and living a life of dignity for many. Going unnoticed, some brands and companies have integrated apparel manufacturing as a means for the betterment of the society.
Unquivering faith of Chid Liberty
“It’s not gonna work…” Isn’t this the phrase that we all have heard from other people whenever we have thought of doing something different or have come up with a breakthrough idea. Challenges lie ahead, but it takes just one step as a start to conquer milestones ahead. That’s what Chid Liberty did. A social entrepreneur born in Liberia and raised in Germany. Having worked in the US for a long time, this American professional returned back to his motherland to better the lives of people living there.
Liberia, a country of civil war, sexual assaults, and poverty, is definitely not anyone’s choice to start a garment manufacturing unit or any other business. What motivated Chid for this extraordinary step was the Peace Movement started by Liberian women which ended the ravaging civil war in Liberia – a 14-year long civil war. In 2010, Chid moved back to Liberia. With 80 per cent unemployment rate and equal percentage of poverty rate, Chid targeted women as its partners to start a manufacturing facility, which would eventually uplift hundreds and hundreds of families in the country.
The utmost challenge was no supply of power, water, or raw material to manufacture a garment. With help from friends and family and various other funding networks like BALLE, Investors’ Circle, Social Venture Network, Root Capital, Eleos Foundation, the factory kicked off its operations with 300 machines and 300 operators to transform the lives of Liberian families.
Thus, Liberty & Justice, the first fair trade apparel manufacturing company in Africa was formulated, where garments are ethically manufactured with African organic cotton by 90 per cent of the female workforce. The company got giant orders from American buyers which were around US $ 40 million annual revenue. But, the challenges that lay ahead were under no one’s control. The outbreak of Ebola virus forced the factory to shut its operations and the factory lost all its orders, with fabric lying in-house.
Sadly, the shutting down of the factory meant workers going back to unemployment and poverty. An entrepreneur is someone who does not give up on his business idea and fights to find ways for it to work. Since the factory had enough fabric to make half-a-million pants, Chid Liberty thought of making uniforms for school children.
But, a country where only 40 per cent of children go to school and 80 per cent suffer from poverty, was this idea going to work? Chid worked on one-for-one model and put its uniforms on Kickstarter which caught people’s attention. Luckily, Bloomingdales started selling these T-shirts under the label UNIFORM. For every piece of clothing sold, it promised a school uniform to a Liberian child. An MIT study from 2010 found that free school uniforms lowered the incidence of teen marriage by 20 per cent and teen pregnancy by 17 per cent.
Besides, the workers of this company today own 49 per cent of its shares, and its profits are pledged for the Liberty & Justice Foundation, which reinvests in the community via programs of economic empowerment, education, and healthcare.
Apparel gives prisoners a chance to transform their lives
Resilience Garment Industry, a garment factory in Bangladesh, is different from other factories operating in the country, since it is running in a prison. The facility is set up to give prisoners an opportunity to earn and contribute to the state coffers.
Situated in Narayanganj District Jail with 57 machines, the knitwear facility can deliver up to US $ 1.5 million per annum. It is a state-owned entity that occupies a 5,000 sq. ft. space inside the 12-acre compound of the Jail. The revenue it generates is split into three quarters – one part makes for the wages for the workers, and the other two fractions are divided between the jail and the state coffer.
There are about 2,150 prisoners in the prison and about 300 prisoners would be working at the factory in two shifts. BKMEA is providing the necessary assistance and financing to Narayanganj District Jail to make the project a reality.
Shivam Punjya ‘Behno’ ethos promotes ethics and sustainability
Shivam never thought that his visit to India for thesis research on global health would give birth to a New-York based ethical and sustainable brand ‘Behno’ which means sisters in Hindi.
On his visit to Gujarat (India), he noticed the quality of garment produced by workers and the pennies they earned. He was also perturbed by the perception which considers ‘Made in India’ as inferior quality. This understanding and the Rana Plaza collapse incident that happened at the same time, gave birth to the fashion label Behno in July 2016.
Designed in New York, Behno products are manufactured in India under ethical working conditions. It has partnered with the non-profit MSA, which stands for ‘Muni Sewa Ashram’ in Gujarat. Its factory partner (MSA Ethos), not only sets a new standard for Indian apparel manufacturing but also improves the quality of life and safety of women in the trade.
The story of MSA Ethos is equally interesting. Mukesh Kothari, MD of the company started the company on social platform to provide employment to women in nearby villages. The Ashram also has facilities like bank, hospital, and kindergarten. MSA Ethos also implements ‘The Behno Standard’, which is broken into six categories: health, garment worker mobility, family planning, women’s rights, worker satisfaction and benefits, and eco-consciousness.
Another interesting fact is that Mukesh used to work as the President of Adidas in Germany. He has also worked in Europe extensively before he started several garment factories in India and is greatly familiar with the strict international quality standards.
Shanon Keith finds apparel as a tool to end sex trafficking
A decade back, on her trip to ‘Incredible India’, Shanon was shocked and disheartened to listen to stories of women and children in the small village. Tricked and forced into sex trade, women in the village had no other choice but to join the trade in order to feed their families and children. Seeing their plight, Shanon Keith then decided to give these survivors of human trafficking a livelihood and founded ‘Sudara’.
Meaning beautiful in Sanskrit, the ethical fashion company manufactures ‘Punjammies’ which are traditional Punjabi trouser pants. The brand has partnered with various sewing centres across India and US like Freeset, Ivana, and Ben Holistic. These partners provide jobs and training to the survivors of sex trafficking and also align with Sudara’s goal to empower women and free them from sex-slavery through safe, sustainable living-wage employment.
Over 10 years since its start, many women have graduated from the training programmes and have also started their own tailoring business. And in the course of time, a non-profit fund has also been created called Sudara Freedom Fund that helps women with education, housing, and micro-loans, equipment for new or growing sewing centres and back-to-school programmes.
Purnaa helping marginalised people in Nepal
Corban Bryant & Richard Faber started with a world-class, ethical manufacturing facility in 2013 in Nepal to empower marginalised people and survivors of exploitation. Nepal, one of the least developed countries, has an unemployment rate of 40 per cent.
With 75-people staff, the garment manufacturing facility named ‘Purnaa’ provides custom cut-and-sew, private-label, contract manufacturing services to ethical and sustainable brands around the world. The product range consists of knit tops, handbags, and hats. Recognised by World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), the factory uses sustainable raw materials such as bamboo, organic cotton, chrome-free vegetable tanned leather, and hemp for garment production.