Save the Wino

Check out the new reusable organic East African cotton canvas “Save the Wino” wine bags I created with the CTC mums last week in Maai Mahiu, Kenya.  Available at Whole Foods.  The perfect party gift to go along with that bottle of wine!  Profits go to CTC International and Ol Pejeta Rhino Conservation in Kenya.

Li Edelkoort presents TREND UNION Spring/Summer 2014 with The Supply Change

New York City December 12, 2012 from 9:30am – 1:30pm
Tishman auditorium at Parsons The New School for Design
66 W 12th Street, New York NY 1011

doors open 9am

9:30 – 11:15am  NOMADISM, Trend Union spring/summer 2014 audiovisual presentation by Lidewij Edelkoort

11:15 – 11:45am  THE SUPPLY CHANGE, a new venture initiative to connect artisans from emerging countries with the global market place, presentation by founder Chrissie Lam

11:45 – 12pm break

12 – 12:45pm  POP-UP GENERATION, lifestyle & design audiovisual presentation by Lidewij Edelkoort followed by a book signing session until 1:30pm

fee $150 for current Trend Union clients*, $350 for non-current clients
10% discount for four + attendees from the same company division

RSVP: fill out the  registration form and send it back to
fax 212 214 0488 or register by phone at  212 420 7622

*The client fee applies for members from the same company division who have bought the current Trend Union S/S 2014 trend forecasts

9:30 – 11:15am NOMADISM, the way to freedom, presented by Lidewij Edelkoort

Trend Union new audiovisual presentation on fashion and style trends for spring/summer 2014. Presentation that details lifestyles, colors, patterns and silhouettes for the new season.
The Trend Union audiovisual presentations are created by Lidewij Edelkoort and the Trend Union team.

Lidewij Edelkoort is a wold famous futurist and trend forecaster. Her work has pioneered trend forecasting as a profession, from innovative trend forum Premiere Vision in the late 1980s to the long ranging lifestyle analysis for the world’s leading brands in the1990s and on.
Lidewij announces the concepts, colors and materials which will be in fashion two or more  years in advance: “There is no creation without advance knowledge; without design, a product cannot exist.” The Edelkoort team orientates professionals in  interpreting the evolution of society and the foreshadowing signals of consumer tastes to come, with economic reality in mind.
Lidewij Edelkoort has received continual recognition for her work in providing inspirational stimulus and fostering creative talent. TIME Magazine named her one of the world’s 25 Most Influential People in Fashion, while she received the Netherlands Grand Seigneur Prize one year later for her work in fashion and textile.

 11:15 – 11:45am THE SUPPLY CHANGE, connecting artisans from emerging economies with the global market place, presented by founder Chrissie Lam

Chrissie Lam, a senior concept designer at US retail brand American Eagle Outfitters for twelve years, always wanted to connect her passion for fashion, adventure and philanthropy.
After taking a sabbatical from her design position to go to Rwanda and explore clothing craftsmanship, Chrissie decided to launch The Supply Change, a network whose purpose is to alleviate extreme poverty by connecting artisans in emerging economies with the global market place.

Chrissie explains: “We are curating experiences and enlisting like-minded design colleagues in order to help them realize the potential of sourcing in developing countries. I believe change comes from within a company, and currently there is a disconnect between people in the design industry and social enterprises/artisan groups abroad. We want to create ambassadors that can influence change within their companies and raise awareness and action through real stories and word-of-mouth experiences.”

The venture, she ads, is not a non-profit, for it is meant to bring resources to those involved.
The Supply Change has partnered with travel agency Extraordinary Journeys to create unique travel programs under the name of Fashion Designers Without Borders. The first program will be held in Kenya on February 16-23, 2013 and will educate and connect participants with artisan social enterprises that work with brands like Edun, Suno, Puma, Max Mara, Whole Foods and others.

Design Africa Panel – Oct 9th 7pm-10pm at Shoreditch House, London

The Supply Change will be a part of the Design Africa panel & presentation in London on Oct 9th, 7pm to 10pm @ Shoreditch House – Biscuit Tin, 4th Fl


Helen Jennings – Arise Magazine
Hannah Pool – Journalist / Author

Laurence Chavin-Buthaud- Designer/Founder of menswear label Laurence Airline
Orla Houston-Jibo- V&A
Christopher Spring- The British Museum
Angela Dean- Partner Africa

Moderated by: Jessica Brinton – Sunday Times Style

Special Guests: Representatives from Ethical Fashion Forum : The Source and Chrissie Lam from Supply Change / Fashion Designers without Borders.


The format will be a panel discussion commencing promptly at 7pm followed by a Q&A and complimentary drinks mixer to end.

Please note this is an invite only event. If you are not able to attend, but would like to send someone in your place please let us know.

Conservation, Carbon & Clothes: Wildlife Works & Soko Visit in Tsavo – Kenya

Zane Wilemon and I visited the Wildlife Works and Soko Eco-factories in Tsavo this week. Nestled in 70,000 acres of conservation land, it’s hard to believe that the collections of Puma, ASOS and runway lines of SUNO and Edun are literally made here in the bush.

We stayed at the cozy eco-lodge in Rukinga, run by Camps International, which provides GAP year students experience in conservation.

Riding atop a Land Cruiser, it’s a 20 minute bumpy game drive to Wildlife Work’s office, where we saw elephants, zebras and giraffes along the way. A pretty awesome morning commute, I must say. Sure beats taking the Manhattan subway.

Our hosts, Joanna Maiden, Founder of SOKO and Lore DeFranc showed us around the site and chatted with us about the progress, the challenges and their exciting future. Their inspiring model is setting the standard for fashion brand-social enterprise partnerships. This is way of the future!

Wildlife Works signed an industry breakthrough partnership agreement with Puma to produce clothing at its local eco-factory. Puma invested $200,000 USD to build a separate eco-factory at Wildlife Works to exclusively handle Puma’s production of 10,000 graphic t-shirts a month.

At the same time, its holding company PPR Group, which owns luxury brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen & YSL, purchased nearly 100,000 tons of carbon credits (at a value of $5 million USD) from the Kasigau Corridor REDD project to help offset its annual C02 emissions.

Through the REDD project, each location around Wildlife Works’ conservation area received an impressive $50,000 to be invested into projects of their choice. This amount resulted from carbon credits sold for the period between June and August 2011. The Locational Carbon Committee allotted 20% of funds to 5 regional school bursaries, and the rest on water projects and other infrastructure.

PPR Group has made a further impact investment in Wildlife Works by acquiring 5% of the company. As such, PPR Group joins German insurer Allianz as major Wildlife Works investors, as Allianz also acquired a 10% stake in Wildlife Works.

UN Press conference on Fashion 4 Development (F4D) announces partnership with Fashion Designers Without Borders

Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia holds UN Press conference on Fashion 4 Development (F4D), a global platform to advance the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Check out minute 20:30 where Evie Evangelou, Founder and Chair of Fashion 4 Development, announces the Fashion Designers Without Borders partnership.


Inclusive Business: The Next Frontier of Fashion

In an increasingly competitive world, global companies are often measured on the social and economic value they create.  Inclusive Business has primarily been the domain of social entrepreneurs in hot pursuit of achieving financial and social success.  However, there is increasing evidence that multinational companies are getting in on the game to build sustainable business models that expand market share and address systemic social issues, such as poverty.

Inclusive Business is defined as a profitable core business activity that expands opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalized populations by helping them become market players.  Yet Inclusive Business models differ from philanthropy and charitable giving because they respond to market demand and success is based on a double bottom line. Taking a cue from social enterprises, many of which are small to medium enterprises or startups, established multinationals are seeking ways to use the whole of the business—from supply chains, to alternative sourcing strategies to market penetration—to make a socio-economic impact in developing and emerging markets.

To date, the Inclusive Business movement has been led by the Food and Beverage, Energy, and Agriculture industries.  Increasingly, it is non-traditional players like the fashion industry that are transforming global commerce by launching Inclusive Business models designed to alleviate poverty through job creation, access to markets, education, and training.  From UNIQLO’s Inclusive Business in Bangladesh that engages low-income populations in planning, production, and distribution of a t-shirt line, to kate spade’s Hand in Hand Collection that is sourced from women-only artisan groups in post-conflict countries—the fashion industry is expanding the value chain to help reduce poverty by including those at the base of the pyramid[i] as suppliers, producers, and consumers.

The fashion industry is not only taking the lead in the private sector, it is also being called upon by development and aid organizations to be a changemaker at the forefront of sustainable development.  Awareness raising campaigns, such as the United Nations’ Fashion 4 Development, and multi-stakeholder partnerships like the Ethical Fashion Initiative are helping to ensure that the world’s most marginalized populations, a majority of whom are women, are able to connect to the top of fashion’s value chain.  According to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, “joining forces with civil society and the private sector, including non-traditional players, like the fashion industry, has become indispensable.”[ii]

Motivation, Drivers, and Business Benefits

With ever-changing market trends, aggressive production schedules, and the unyielding pressure to manage costs, profitability is still the reigning queen of fashion.  Yet in spite of these market pressures, the industry has an extraordinary ability to utilize Inclusive Business models to engage consumers on the issue of poverty and achieve its core business goals of growth and profitability.

Market Expansion

Fashion businesses typically require relatively little capital or infrastructure and are often the first step for industrializing economies, which means that there is great potential for the fashion industry to play a leadership role in developing business models that help alleviate poverty.  In Bangladesh, a least developed country, 70% of the gross domestic product is derived from the fashion industry.  Oxfam, the international development organization devoted to poverty eradication and justice, notes that, “If Africa, East Asia, South Asia, and Latin America were each to increase their share of world exports by 1 per cent, the resulting gains in income could lift 128 million people out of poverty.”

The purchasing power of key markets around the world is yet another reason to take notice of the fashion industry’s tremendous capacity to help alleviate poverty.  According to Marketline’s February 2012 Industry Profile on Global Apparel Retail, the world’s consumers spent approximately$1.2 trillion on clothes.  Approximately 35 per cent of sales were in Western Europe, 36 per cent in the Americas, and 25 per cent in Asia.  Over the past several months there have been countless articles hailing Africa as the next retail frontier for fashion, and in the last decade African economies have been growing at a rate that rivals China, India, and Brazil, according to the World Bank.  The Business of Fashion magazine notes that “seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are currently in Africa, with 70 percent of the continent’s population living in countries which have enjoyed average economic growth rates in excess of 4 percent over the past decade. This steady progress has given rise to a growing middle class. In fact, approximately 310 million people on the continent are now deemed middle class (defined as those spending between $2 and $20 a day at 2005 prices) according to a 2011 report by the African Development Bank, driving demand for products like mobile phones, televisions and fashion.”[iii]

Innovation and Job Creation

Innovation is at the heart of the fashion industry, and with many designers who are tasked with creating several collections per year, there is an unrelenting pressure to produce inspired and differentiated products that will ensure a brand’s profitability and growth.  Sourcing from less developed markets where there is a tradition of handmade goods and textiles can serve as a major source of creative inspiration for design teams, help reduce production costs, and create jobs in local communities.  The nature of the industry also makes it possible for fashion companies to work with community organizations that directly benefit the poor, while at the same time influence the community benefits of larger scale and factory production.  For fashion businesses that are social enterprises, like Indego Africa or brands whose goal is to help build trade, like EDUN or SUNO, sourcing from Fair Trade or artisan communities can help to overcome some of the operational complexities that larger companies, particularly those with a low margin/high volume model, face when sourcing from less developed markets.  Minimum order requirements that can limit production opportunities for large-scale fashion brands and retailers are also less of an issue for these types of companies.

Trade is necessary for building economies and economically empowering the poor, and “trade, not aid” is a catch phrase espoused by many social entrepreneurs.  But fashion is a business driven by desire, and products that are responsive to the market are the only way to ensure profitability and long-term sustainability of the business.  Furthermore, trade can inadvertently become a form of aid unless it is executed in a transparent and ethical manner, and artisans are taught the skills necessary to eventually become independent suppliers. Economic independence, which is a critical component of any socio-economic venture targeted at the poor, is of particular importance for women who are often the most disadvantaged and marginalized people in the developing world.

Women’s Empowerment

It is impossible to speak of poverty eradication without considering the role of women who constitute most of the world’s 1.3 billion poor.  A majority of garment workers in developing and emerging markets are young women with little to no work experience who have emigrated from rural areas, and whose propensity for financial exclusion from the market typically exceeds that of men’s.  Despite the gender disparity in financial access, when women earn everyone benefits: women are more likely to focus their earnings on improving the health, education, and nutritional status of their households and communities–conferring the greatest possible benefit to the greatest number of people.  Inclusive Business models designed to increase women’s economic participation is critical to reviving economies and building stronger markets and distribution models where workers at the end of the supply chain are able to share in the success of the products sold.


Inclusive Business is fast becoming de rigueur in sustainable development and corporate social responsibility circles within the fashion industry; however, it is not without its problems.  Companies that have a strong sustainability agenda with a long-term view are usually the best poised to take on Inclusive Business models.  The concept is still leading edge, which means that the ROI in terms of profitability may not be realized for several years.  There are also the added complexities of working in underdeveloped markets which can lack the operating environment, infrastructure, and technical expertise required to easily scale the model.

The Way Forward

As an innovation concept Inclusive Business is very appealing.  But despite its marketability, it can be very challenging to obtain the financial investments required to move the project forward.  CSR professionals, social intrapreneurs, and marketers within fashion brands should not be afraid to go outside of the company to pursue alternative sources of funding for Inclusive Business projects.   In fact, public-private partnerships between fashion brands and development organizations can not only help to minimize project costs, but can also provide project teams with the necessary technical expertise, contacts, and credibility to social impact work that the development industry brings.  Public-private partnerships can also help build awareness among key stakeholders in local markets who are critical to the success of the project, such as policymakers and trade organizations.

The fashion industry is very diverse, and there is no set formula for which fashion businesses should engage in Inclusive Business.  In fact, the playing field for Inclusive Business is wide, and includes everyone from mass market brands like Levi’s to niche, higher-end brands like Nicole Miller.  That said, high-end, luxury fashion brands may be best positioned to benefit from the long-term growth of Inclusive Business models because margins are not driven by high volume, giving them greater freedom to produce collections or a portion thereof in developing and emerging markets.

Inclusive Business models are a powerful way for the fashion industry to help reduce poverty and create sustainable livelihoods for disadvantaged communities.  But Inclusive Business is still the new kid on the block and for those companies willing to take it on, there must be enough “patient capital” for ROI and sustainability, and the willingness to make trade-offs between a significant social impact and a maximized return in order to make it work.

Janiece Greene is a Social Impact Strategist based in New York City, and is a thought leader, regular speaker and author on social impact, financial inclusion, and women’s economic empowerment.

[i] The base of the pyramid is defined as people that are living on less than $8 a day in purchasing power (PPP) terms or who lack access to basic goods and services.

[ii] L’Uomo Vogue, May/June 2012

[iii]Could Africa be the Next Frontier for Fashion Retail?”, The Business of Fashion, May 31, 2012

Q&A with EDUN Head of Production Melanie Reichler

A factory in Madagascar where selected Edun garments are produced. Photo by Jessica Ramey

Melanie Reichler has been in the fashion business for over 30 years.  She’s worked in production for many major fashion labels, such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan and the like.

In 2009, Melanie joined the fashion label Edun as head of production.  After decades in the business, she wanted to do something different, something that would be meaningful, and help other people.

For those of you who don’t know, Edun is the fashion brand launched by Ali Hewson and her husband Bono in 2005.  The brand’s mission is to help build African trade by, both, producing a portion of their collection on the continent (approx. 40% of Edun’s SS12 range is made there) and by casting a positive light on its infinite possibilities to encourage others to do the same.

I had the pleasure of working alongside Mel (as we call her), for the past 3 years, prior to leaving my role as Edun’s Global Marketing Director last year.  Her passion combined with her wealth of experience made for an insightful interview.


When you started at Edun what were some of the highlights and some of the challenges of working in Africa?

 The highlight is you can do it. You absolutely can do it.  It’s difficult for a variety of reasons… Africa does not have transportation and fabric that is available on the continent is limited (especially for the needs of a contemporary collection).

However, in terms of the people having the ability, there is no question they can do it.   They are intelligent and talented, and in some ways, much more talented than other people I have worked with in factories elsewhere.

The challenge is that Africa is not as fast due to lack of infrastructure.  Unfortunately, in an industry where everyone wants things fast, fast, fast it’s difficult to compete. You have to have buy-in from all areas of the business, starting with design, who have to work on an earlier schedule than normal.

Edun silk, Yoruba print jumpsuit made in Madagascar. Photo courtesy of Edun


Challenges and Commitment

The challenges can be overcome with a plan.  The company, however, and all that work there must really have the desire to want to do it.  Without the drive and desire it won’t happen.

What are some of the steps a brand should take when producing in Africa?

First you have to find factories (and they do exist).  After you find the right factories, you have to plan.  If you can do that, it makes it so much easier to work there.  Production planning will help reduce long lead times.

Product Development 

How does this affect the development process?

The system that works best is to make a portion of your samples in Africa. Not a big portion, as flying fabric in is not cost effective and time consuming, so it’s best to make most of your samples in NY (or whatever city you are based).

Once you receive the buy, all your patterns should be ready to send to the factories in Africa.

Improvement and Highlights

Since you started working for Edun are there any factories that have increased their capabilities?

The biggest improvement is the factory we work with in Kenya who have always been committed to increasing their capacity.

We also found 2 new sweater resources in Kenya, which can do smaller quantities – specialty hand knits.   These factories work more so with groups of women who work locally from their homes so they can take care of their children.

Edun glass streak, mixed print, wrap tie dress made in Kenya. Photo courtesy of Edun


What are some countries you feel are primed for fashion apparel production?

I would say definitely Kenya for fashion and Ethiopia for more mass production.

We also found a great men’s shirt factory in Eritrea that is Italian-owned, with offices in Italy, which make it easier to communicate (Eritrea is near Ethiopia where internet access is limited).   In their case, we work with the Italian office, so communication is less of an issue.

Do you use African fabrics for Edun?

 Today, we import most of our fabrics.  African traditional textiles are a bit coarse, which is not relevant for the contemporary market.  What you can make there is tee shirt fabric, but only 30 singles.

The capability is not there, in terms of having the right machinery to spin and knit a finer gauged fabric.

If a textile manufacturer were to invest in the right machinery, it would make African factories more competitive, but it requires investment.  This is assuming the staple of African cotton is the length that’s needed for fine gauge knits (60 singles).

The Future Looks Bright

 In what category do African countries have the biggest opportunity?

 In terms of apparel the most opportunity is still in low price, in my view, because you need quantity to make money.

That said, brands like Suno and Edun can make a difference because of the type of garments they make.  The difference is that those brands have fewer units.

In order for a bigger contemporary brand, like Theory, to bring their production (or a portion of it) to Africa – they have to want to do it.


You need a brand that believes in the cause. It’s a new system and a new way of doing things that’s also incredibly rewarding. If you can get a team and senior management to care about the message, that would be huge.

In terms of fashion, we need more people who are willing to connect in the way that brands like Suno have done.

In order to build infrastructure the commitment also has to come from government to make their country an attractive place to do business.

The more Eduns and the more Sunos there are, the more proof there is that it works, but it’s not cheap and it takes time.

Any closing remarks?

The more people who bring their business to Africa, the better it will be… There’s amazing scarves and jewelry, so many beautiful things that can be made there today.

There’s also great talent on the continent… if brands collaborate with young African designers, that’s another way to move things forward.

Sourcing & Producing in West Africa with AFIA

With widespread labor malpractices and polluting manufacturing processes, textile and apparel designers are looking for new frontiers to source, produce, and operate as a social business.  Many are looking to African countries for a story and process that can be altruistic in social impact while also strategic in building a profitable business.  As my line AFIA is both sourced and sewn in Ghana, I often get asked how I got set up and continue to operate there.  I speak with experience specific to Ghana, but I hope to provide a general roadmap for sourcing and producing in West Africa.

West Africa has a wealth of artisanal textiles, an abundance of skilled production talent in need of orders, and a legal framework that encourages export.  The combination of the inspiration of the culture and textiles with the impact of your venture on the economic growth of individuals is an excellent climate for a social business.

The first step you should take wherever you are in your process, is to get in touch with a USAID project- they exist to connect people like us to the local artisan industries.  In Ghana’s situation, the project is the West African Trade Hub.  I owe much of my success to their team, as they assisted with customs, invoicing, connection to sewing facilities, housing, and beyond.

The second step is that you must go there physically, build a network, and feel things out for yourself.  For me, that’s really the perk: I GET to go to Ghana twice a year.  The more you understand the culture of the place where you work, the better you will connect with the people you work with, and the smoother your business will run. Cultural differences are real.


Choosing fabric depends on your angle – whether you are designing the textiles or making a finished product, and what you want your story to be.  The opportunity within artisinal printing is that you can bring along fabric of your choice – organic cotton for example, if that is your story- and design your own prints with the traditional methods.  If artisinal, hand-dyed, handmade fabrics are your jam, I would also look into going to Mali.

Source4Style has a leg up on sustainble sourcing in West Africa, and they are a great resource for designers. A brief rundown of the primary artisinal textiles in Ghana:

Batik – A tie and dye method.  The options for creating your own wax prints and color combinations are limitless.

Kente-  The distinctive national cloth of Ghana.  On extremely complex looms the cloth is woven into strips about 4 inches wide and worn on festive and official occasions.

Batakari - Produced in northern Ghana, Batakari is handspun threads of coarse cotton and indigo dyed. Batakari is usually fashioned into loose pullovers, or smock-like tunics worn by men and boys in Northern Ghana.

KyenKyen- A folk weave made from the bark of the Antiaris toxicaria tree into a coarse jute-like cloth.

Getting the most attention on the international fashion scene are the cotton wax prints.  Though not as romantic as someone hand-spinning on a loom, the cotton wax textile industry is iconic to the culture and extremely economically important.  The colors, patterns, and motifs in these textiles are visual representations of history, proverbs, moral values, and social codes.  Ask the shop owners to explain the adinkra symbols, it will give you a much greater appreciation of the fabric.

The challenge within the cotton wax industry is that foreign imitation is rampant; Chinese textile companies will literally take a design, slap it onto cheaper fabric, smuggle it into the country, and sell on the market at a cheaper price.  It’s inflated the price of the authentic Ghanaian prints so that they are moving towards special occasion rather than affordable everyday wear. Also, brands printed in Holland such as Vlisco are merely marketing – their ads are beautifully African, but they are owned and operated in Holland.  No Ghanaian is economically impacted from their operations; in fact, it’s the opposite as the Ghanaians are merely consumers. I find the imitation situation and marketing angle unfortunate, and this was the seed that AFIA grew from.  Supporting this industry preserves the culture and the economy.  Learn the brands sold in the street markets to know which are printed locally.  Ask the shop owners when in doubt.



Ghana has a range of small, personal cooperatives and large-scale facilities. Because of the exchange rate, you can pay your people well above the local wage and still run a cost-efficient business.  Choose your facility based on your story and size.   If you have the capacity to do so, why not use a combination.

AFIA works with the Dzidefo Women’s Cooperative in Kpando, Ghana.  I found them on google.  I am not tech-saavy, so if I can find a rural cooperative this way, I am confident that you can too.  After a few phone calls from the states, we took a bush van four hours from Accra, showed up at the cooperative, and went to work.


Working with cooperatives requires constant communication.  I’ve found that the biggest challenge is communicating what it takes to sell to the US market - explaining what buyers look for, how important the details and execution of one garment is in style, consistency, and uniformity.  Most Ghanaians have their clothes custom-made to their own measurements, so mass production of the exact same piece over and over again isn’t common for your local seamstress.  The goal is to empower them to take ownership of the project and take pride in their work.   Development is a process.

If you have had any conversations with investors on growing your business, their first question is always: how will you scale your business?  If you do plan on growing, Ghana has facilities that have the capacity for larger orders.  The West African Trade Hub again came to my aid, and introduced me to Linda Ampah at Cadling Fashions.  Cadling is a women-owned and run production facility in Accra that can handle orders of 20,000 no problem.  Their tailors are on salary, which is a very rare thing in Ghana.  Regardless of the flow of orders, they get paid.  The more modern and streamlined setting is not as romantic as a woman sitting in a sun-bathed room, working on an antique sewing machine, but the economic impact is just as great.

We will always take a portion of our orders to Dzidefo, and expand to work with additional cooperatives as well.  Larger orders will go to Cadling. It takes more organization, but it spreads the wealth.

If you are not yet convinced that Africa is the new clothing production frontier,  factor in a beautiful regulation called the African Growth & Opportunity Act.  To encourage foreign business investment, no import or export fees are imposed for producing on the continent of Africa.  How awesome is that.

As we move into this fashion frontier let’s make sure we do it responsibly with human respect and dignity.


Q&A Interview with kate spade CEO Craig Leavitt and CCO Deborah Lloyd

Deborah in Rwanda

Craig and Deborah in Bosnia

Back in February, I moderated a panel at FIT on Creating Sustainable Futures: Empowering Women through the International Fashion Industry.  Panelists included, Craig Leavitt and Deborah Lloyd, CEO and CCO of kate spade new york.  I recently had the opportunity to do a Q&A session with the visionaries behind kate spade on their successes and challenges of working with social enterprises in developing countries. “It’s kate spade’s mission not only to broaden our work and impact, but to inspire colleagues in other companies to find ways to participate in the effort to empower women through economic independence.” – Craig Leavitt


How did the partnership with Women for Women International (“WFWI”) originate?

DL: The founders of our brand had been working in a very small way with some women from the program in Bosnia, doing hand knit goods.  When we started looking around for an organization to support, we realized we already had one- we just needed to make the program more formal and robust.

What made WFWI an ideal partner for ksny over other non-profits and/or social enterprises doing similar work?
CL: As Deborah said, we were already working with them in a small way, so this felt like the logical next step.  We also realized that this is a cause that not only resonates with our consumer, but it really resonates with our internal teams around the world.  When Deborah and I met Zainab Salbi, the founder of W for W, we were smitten.  She really is an incredible force in this movement and is such a dynamic and engaging individual.
How would you quantify ksny’s social impact to date?
CL: We have employed over 400 women in Bosnia and Herzegovinia, 250 in Rwanda, and over 150 in Afghanistan.  We have also produced over 23,000 units between all of those countries.

How many years have you been producing social enterprise-made products?DL: Like I said earlier, the brand has been making a few pieces for some time before Craig and I came to the brand, but our formal agreement with Women for Women started in 2009 when we founded the Hand in Hand program.

What % of ksny’s product line is made by the Hand in Hand program?
CL: That changes every season, but we try to make sure we are producing a few key pieces in each country every season.
What have been the most successful products in the Hand in Hand line? Why? DL: Our knitted goods from Bosnia are always a hit.  We also did a collection of straw bags from Rwanda which did very well.  At the end of the day, they did well because they were desirable product that fit well within our brand DNA.
How much has the program/product grown since inception?
CL: Well, we started out in one country and now we are in 4.  Our goals for the program have gotten bigger as well.
How did you build the supply chain? What was the most difficult part? How do you mitigate the risks of producing internationally?
CL: It has been different in each country.  In some places, we will partner with an existing company or organization, in others we have started from the ground up.
What are some of the materials and methods utilized for creating the product line?
DL: In Bosnia and Kosovo- we have used wool and straw.  In Afghanistan, we have used semi precious stones for jewelry and cashmere for knitted goods.  In Rwanda, we have used straw for bags and beads for jewelry.
How has the program been received by members of the local community? How does this collaboration affect the traditions and ways of life of the artisans and their communities?
DL: We have been welcomed with open arms everywhere we have worked.  Our goal is to provide sustainable income and employment for these women, so it has been wonderful to go back to places where we have been working for a few seasons and to see the effect that these jobs are having on the women.  One is able to put all of her kids through school, one was able to buy a cow and some chickens and was then able to feed her family and sell milk and eggs to her neighbors.  One woman was able to buy a home and then another small home and she became a land lady – renting out the second home.
Define success. Is the program / business profitable?
CL: I think it has been a success so far, but we have a long way to go.  The business is not profitable and ideally it will be eventually so that we can keep doing it.


Where do you find your greatest source of inspiration? Is there anything that stands out in your mind?

DL: We were just in Rwanda in December and the colors and the way women mix these brilliant bright colors and bold patterns was so inspiring.  I loved the way that they‘d be wearing 3 crazy bright contrasting patterns all at once- one on their skirt, one on their top and one on their head wrap.  It was jaw dropping.  Really beautiful and so organic.

Is it necessary for designers to be intimately involved in order for pieces to be appealing to a Western market? If so, to what degree?

DL: Yes- absolutely.  We often send members of our design and production team to the countries, to help train the women and to ensure a certain level of quality.

How do you inspire and give creative direction in different social contexts?

DL: I really just try to take in my environment- wherever I am. I am constantly inspired by what is around me and then I share that with my design team and our women artisans.


How did you gain buy-in / build the business case for the program?

CL: Both Deborah and I felt so passionately about this project, that it really didn’t take much convincing for the rest of our team.

From my experience, merchandising dept. is most difficult, because there are competing interests.  What are your strategies to gain buy-in from that team?

DL: Luckily, our head of merchandising is equally passionate about this project personally, so it wasn’t too hard.

What is the most challenging aspect of implementing the social enterprise sourcing program / business? Cost/pricing/profit margins? Compliance? Capacity? Capabilities? Resources?

DL: There are so many things that we have found to be difficult.  Sourcing the raw materials in country has been very difficult, quality control is tough.  We struggle with our costing and margins as well.  It’s all hard- but worth it!

What were your biggest mistakes?

CL: I think we underestimated how much we would need to invest in marketing the program and educating the press and consumers about the collection.  It really is tricky and you need to put the time and the resources behind making sure your message is clear.

What advice would you give to other brands looking to explore social enterprise sourcing?

DL: Don’t be afraid to get on the ground and really dig into the communities to find out what their real needs are.


How has the industry changed or advanced since the beginning of your involvement? What needs to change?

CL: Because the manufacturing industries are so young in most of these countries, any advances we make felt like leaps and bounds.  So yes- they are changing, but there is still a long way to go.

What has surprised you the most?

DL: How ambitious most of these women are.  They are driven and they want to work hard and to provide for their families.  They are also incredibly positive- true optimists, despite overcoming horrific circumstances.

What’s next for the business / program?  Are you looking to expand production to other developing countries?

CL: We are looking to evolve our program and are in the process of doing so now.  No news yet – more to come!

Connected through Crochet

I feel like Mali found me.  I knew absolutely nothing about the Francophile, West African country until last summer. I had been talking to a Crafts Development coordinator from an African development organization about working with textiles artisans in West Africa…I thought that I would go to Ghana to work with Batik and traditional African wax cloth fabrics but I was assured that Mali had “the best textiles in Africa”, an opinion that I took as truth and ran with.  I am sooooo glad that I did.  I traveled to Mali in December to work on Proud Mary’s new collection and was totally blown away with the talent and depth of textiles.  I spent the majority of the time in the capital, Bamako and Segou, a village a few hours North along the Niger River working with artisan workshops developing samples for our line that debuted at the New York Gift Fair in January.

I had an idea going to Mali of the collection I wanted to create; I knew I wanted to work with mud cloth (of course, it is Mali) and tie-dye but discovered a wonderful cooperative that works with crochet and had to incorporate that into the new line.  Not your grandmother’s crochet either…these women create insanely unique designs with their crochet.  The head of the cooperative is an incredibly beautiful woman outside and in.  I loved spending afternoons in her atelier speaking the very limited French that I knew and through my translator (who I’m not sure really knew English very well).

About a month after returning from Mali I got news that the head of the crochet cooperative’s husband had been killed fighting in the North of Mali. He was in the Malian military trying to fend off heavily armed insurgents and lost his life after a battle.  Whoa, and we think our lives are intense. [In the past 6 months there has been an influx of insurgents in the North of the country attempting to claim the desert in the North of the country as their own.  The situation was starting to get more intense when I was there but it didn’t seem like something that would actually reach the news in the U.S.]

Fast forward a month and I get news from Mali that there has been a coup d’ etat. The military had taken over the government for not supplying them with adequate resources to fight the insurgency in the North.  Now came the news…a coup in a model democracy in volatile sub-Saharan Africa was now a story.  I’m so glad I’m not there, I hope all of our artisans are safe, how long will it last, and will I get my products; all thoughts going through my head; some selfish and some not.

It’s a strange feeling to be personally connected to a political situation on the other side of the world but this is globalization right?  We’re all connected, we are all people, and we all deserve each other’s respect and love. I am so excited to share our new, Mali collection and support and share the AMAZING, and honorable work of our artisan partners!  Made with some serious love and coming soon to!