Greatest Love Story in Great Britain

“Life, what is it but a dream? One of the deep secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.” – Lewis Carroll

LIFE Line and The Supply Change are launching the #loveisproject London takeover with American Eagle. This idea sprouted while I was in NYC stopping by the AEO offices to speak with Roger Markfield, the vice-chairman, and Michael Leedy, EVP of Marketing, about the campaign and the LOVE bracelets. I mentioned our planned Paris: City of LOVE takeover with local photographers, videographers, illustrators and students to coincide with Paris Fashion Week. Upon hearing that, they suggested we go to London, following Paris, to execute the same concept in partnership with their three new AEO stores.

With a week of planning, reaching out to friends, and friends-of-friends in both locations, we flew off to Paris & London to spread the Greatest LOVE Story Ever Told. Massive props to the AE London team for rallying and turning this campaign around faster than you can say “God Save the Queen!”

From profiling executives at Whole Foods to Virgin Corporate, and connecting with actor/singer, Emmanuel Jal, performing in Camden to sharing tea with Lord Michael Hastings at the House of Lords, we had an action packed week covering London and its inhabitants. Our excitement while sharing the #loveisproject with locals and influencers, sowing the seeds of the movement.

Scanning the list of iconic London LOVE locations the AEO PR team compiled for us, we geared up for the Amazing “LOVE” Race through town. After interviewing our London cabbie en route to Albert Bridge, we photographed singles, couples, families, friends, tourists and locals at the Blue Door in Notting Hill, Abbey Road Studios, Shakespeare’s Globe and beyond. finding my way to the Banksy mural at the Princess of Wales pub in Primrose Hill. Then it is off to Shoreditch to photograph LOVE-inspired graffiti along with the residents of the East End on Brick Lane. From the South African girls at Royal College of Music candidly agreeing music gives them the freedom to say what they can’t with words to the man fighting youth imprisonment and crime rates with his exceptional relationship-building skills in Maida Val, it was inspiring and touching to hear all the answers.

Our hands-down highlight of our trip is the moment Zane and I make our way through the Straford Mall… AEO’s front store visuals greet us with, “Hey London! What does LOVE mean to you?” It was then that we realized this was real and happening thanks to the hard work of the amazing Austin and Kenya teams, along with supporters around the world.  It was an honor to meet the AEO Straford & White City teams, comprised of different nationalities, like a capsule United Nations, truly reflective of what London is. It was a privilege to hear their meaning of LOVE, while sharing the story and impact of the LOVE bracelet sales.

The LOVE bracelets beaded by the Maasai in the African bush were now on full display at AEO London. I wish we had some of the Maasai mums here to see it for themselves. It’s astounding to see how big the #loveisproject has grown in a short timespan around the globe…from a personal instagram photo project eight months ago. It’s equally extraordinary to witness the impact of the #loveisproject on lives and communities in Kenya, creating over 400 jobs with just one order.

Alas, our week in London is now complete. Endless thanks to AEO for having us out in London and showing massive support for the #loveisproject. In prior years, I’ve traveled to London personally and professionally. However, this opportunity to discover what LOVE means in the Ol’ Blighty has allowed me to learn more about the people and places here. The resounding answers across the board from residents and tourists alike are in:  London is a brimming mix of diversity, culture and creativity. What a compelling and unique place where people are willing to share if you only ask them.

LOVE is the universal truth.

We’re grateful for the spontaneous moments, inspiring friends and strangers that have colored our chapter here, opening us up to surprises, new friendships and partnerships. We’re thrilled to launch the beginning of the Greatest LOVE Story Ever Told in Great Britain while aligning ourselves with brands such as AEO that share our values. We look forward to continuing our impact abroad and at home, evoking a sense of connection wherever we go. Please join us in empowering communities in Kenya, while spreading LOVE from all corners of the earth.

Believe in all the possibilities beyond the Looking Glass. The world is your Wonderland.

“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling that you’ll find LOVE actually is all around.” The Prime Minister, “LOVE Actually.”


I worked in Concept Design for American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) just shy of a decade. It was an incredible job, allowing me to travel the world, searching for the coolest trends. In 2008, AEO supported my efforts during a 3 month sabbatical volunteering in Rwanda. That trip inspired me to follow my passion to merge design and international development. In June of 2012, I left AEO to start The Supply Change, an initiative that connects artisan groups with brands and creates products for collaborations. Everything has come full circle with AEO’s partnership of the Love bracelet I designed for Lifeline Fashion in Kenya. I couldn’t be happier.

Love is proportional to your will.” The #loveisproject is a true testament to that and the exponential power of love. The dream is now a reality.

In April of 2013, I visited LIFE Line’s Maasai mums in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley to design new products. Finding myself inspired by the vibrant colors and patterns of the tribe, we developed an idea to design a simple and bold message bracelet in their traditional beading.


Just over a year later, with the LOVE bracelet in hand on a flight to Russia, I struck up a conversation with two perfect strangers, girls from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. On a whim, I asked them about love. Upon landing at the Moscow airport, inspired by their answers, I snapped and uploaded a photo of them wearing the LOVE Bracelet to Instagram. The #loveisproject had begun. Coincidentally, one of the girls, Shahlo (pictured below), wore American Eagle denim.


Four months and 31 countries later, 330 people representing 75 nationalities have worn the first LOVE bracelet. Using social media to link their love stories together, what started as a personal passion project began to blossom into a global movement of love.



On my quest across the world searching for the meaning of love, tumultuous world events have unfolded simultaneously, juxtaposing  two passionate energies, love and hate. The profiles of people from the #loveisproject give voice to positivity rather than to the minority extremists dominating headlines.




To see more of Chrissie’s inspirational images of her journey around the world check out her instagram page@thesupplychange

I’m so thankful for American Eagle Outfitters’ support and partnership in launching the #loveisproject this Valentine’s Day.  AEO is the largest employer of Maasai in Kenya through this collaboration, creating hundred of jobs and in turn supporting thousands in the community through economic empowerment.

I’m grateful for my friend, Zane Wilemon, Founder of LIFE Line, and the LIFE Line team who ran a stellar Indiegogo campaign raising more than $33,000 with bracelets purchased in 30 countries. Love is a shared purpose – achieving things together that you never thought were possible. This is just the beginning. Let’s celebrate Love every single day. Please join us in creating the Greatest Love Story Ever Told. May the stories of love inspire you as they have inspired us. Dream on.

To learn more about The Supply Change click here.


Horn & Bone Upcycling Brought to Botswana by The Supply Change

Last year, I visited the Mothers For All project in Botswana. My friend and co-founder, Robyn Scott, introduced me to her partner, Jenny Dunlop.  We had a discussion about the resources available locally, their current use of paper beads and other possibilities to create unique products.

Diamonds are Botswana's biggest export.  Beef is the second.  I asked her what happened to the remains of cattle once slaughtered, and she told me that all the horns and bones are thrown away.  For a country as large as Botswana, I thought that was a huge amount of waste and potential to create products from that waste.  From my time spent in Kenya, I learned about upcycling, and thought there could be an income generating project created by upcycling horn and bone there as well.  I connected her to Ben Omandi, the Head of Bemos Craft Developers in Kibera, Kenya.  Jenny raised funds to bring Ben and his team to train men in Botswana to upcycle horn and bones into jewelry this past month.

Brothers for All was born out of Mothers for All because one of their mothers was brutally killed by her ex-boyfriend in a 'passion killing'. The organization vowed to look at the problem by bringing both men and women together to discuss gender- based violence while also introducing income-generating skills - the cow horn and bone for the men and other recycled paper products for the women.  They hope to combine both horn with paper and get their local designers to come up with exciting new products. They are also planning to share skills, the men will learn how to make jewelry and the women want to make the cow horn and bone products.  I think this is wonderful, as in Kenya, bone and horn upcycling is typically a man's job, and this would allow women to learn these skills in Botswana.

Jenny emailed me photos this week of the successful training which really made my day. They have planned more future trainings.  Over the past two years, there have been challenges and triumphs along the way and this is one of those moments, where I'm really happy to see I've made an impact, by creating jobs and bringing an new industry of horn and bone upcycling to Botswana.

Read More

The Supply Change Facebook Page

Thanks for checking my site out.  I post more on The Supply Change's facebook page, so please do follow that!  Link is at the bottom of my website.  Many thanks.  Chrissie

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

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.


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.


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!

Made in NYC vs. Working Overseas: An Eco-Fashion Debate

Of the many debates within the sustainable fashion community, one that I find particularly interesting focuses on the merits of producing goods locally, versus working with non-profits and co-operatives in the developing world. With local production, designers retain more control over production and benefit from a reined-in supply chain, plus they’re able to support American businesses and create local jobs. But by working with overseas fair trade organizations, designers are able to leverage the western world’s tremendous purchasing power to bring about economic development and social change in communities that need it. Buy local, and you support the people around you. Buy fair trade, and you support a group of people halfway around the world.

So which approach is more ethical and sustainable? There isn’t an easy answer. But over the weekend, a handful of eco-fashion pioneers gathered at the Pratt Institute’s Sustainability Crash Course to engage in a dialogue on the subject. The panel, titled “Eco-Fashion: Made In NYC,” was organized and moderated by NYC-based fashion designer and Pratt instructor Tara St James and featured representatives from across the eco-fashion spectrum: Amanda Judge, founder of the Andean Collection; Annie Millican, director of Awamaki Lab; Auralis Herrero-Lugos, a sustainable fashion designer who produces in New York and Puerto Rico; and sisters Patty and Christine Yoon, founders of BHON, a women's apparel line produced in China.

Each panelist brought a different perspective to the discussion. Judge and Millican come from international development backgrounds, and they highlighted how their work in Ecuador (for the Andean Collection) and Peru (for Awamaki) has had a direct impact on the people in those communities. Herrero-Lugos made a case for working with people in her own backyard, both here in New York and in her home of Puerto Rico. And for the Yoons, who admittedly don’t consider sustainability in their production, it’s a pure numbers and costs game.

The conversation settled on the cost issue for a while. In New York City's Garment District, it can be up to 5-10 times more expensive to produce samples and small lines than in China and other countries with established garment industries. For up-and-coming designers those prices are simply unfeasible, especially if you’re trying to make affordable clothing, said the Yoons.

And while producing locally can afford the designer tighter control over the production process, it can also be much more time-consuming. Overseas, it’s common to sign “package deals” -- that is, the designer provides the sketches and technical specifications, and the factory provides the rest. Designers producing in New York City, on the other hand, often have to provide their factories with all the patterns, materials, and trimmings, down to the last button.

But though it's cheaper, producing conventionally overseas isn’t an option available to everyone. The Yoons were able to secure a factory in Shanghai that would produce a limited amount of units through a connection from Patty’s previous corporate job. But most factories require minimum quantities that are out of reach for many starting designers.

And what about working overseas with fair trade groups? Both Andean Collection and Awamaki Lab required significant amounts of time, money, and effort in order to set up programs that were both socially responsible and mutually beneficial. Quality control continues to be an issue, but Judge said that the establishment of a field office in Ecuador has had a significant impact. Plus, though workers are paid higher compared to others in their community, it is still cheaper to produce overseas in most cases.

It’s near impossible to come to conclusions in a discussion like this, since business decisions will inevitably come down to company priorities. The Andean Collection and Awamaki Lab were founded primarily to alleviate poverty. Auralis is a fashion line that incorporates both sustainability and artisan techniques. And Bhon is a business whose approach to sustainability is that they just want to sustain the business. Every approach along the locally made-fair trade spectrum will have its pros and cons.

Jessica Marati is a writer, content manager, and community builder interested in sustainability, social change, fashion, travel, and design. She runs a blog about socially responsible style at and this summer will launch her own line of handpicked ethical fashion finds from Cambodia. Connect @jessmarati.

Whole Foods x CTC International Kenya

I just returned from Kenya a week ago where I was working on a wonderful collaboration with Whole Foods and Comfort the Children International. CTC works in Maai Mahiu, an impoverished area located in The Great Rift Valley about 2 hours north of Nairobi where over a million tourists a year pass by on the drive out to Maasai Mara. CTC focuses on Education, Environment, Economy, Health & Community building initiatives. With Whole Foods’ Whole Body division’s full support on developing CTC’s LifeLine product it will allow CTC to scale and grow its operations, impacting thousands in the region. I was lucky enough to have the chance to work with CTC’s women artisans and can attest to their hard work and skills. Their enthusiasm is contagious. While sourcing in Nairobi, the innovation and creative energy coming out of artisan groups I visited blew me away. From re- & upcycled horn, bone, scrap metal, glass and even flip flops, they showed me our waste is their treasure and all the product possibilities out there. It is a true renaissance period. A pivotal time in Kenya’s history and I’m excited to be a part of it.

The CTC Mailika Mums are such a blast to work with. Their energetic, positive spirit is the force behind CTC’s Economy initiative. The ladies were to sew some proto mock ups of LIFEchange wallets that Whole Foods had asked for. I gave some initial direction on the concept and what details to try in incorporate, but also wanted the women to have some fun with this and express their creativity. They all really got into it and I saw so many variations of change purses that first day.

Late one evening, Zane, Bryce and I were chatting about how nice it would be if we had hammocks where we were staying. Our accommodations in Maai Mahiu were not of the high-end variety. After heading to bed, I couldn't get the hammock idea out of my head all night. I was obsessed. I had to make a hammock. The next morning I got up at 7 am and went out on a reconnaissance mission for Maasai fabric. Low and behold, I found some draped over dowels. I wrapped myself with brilliantly colored patterns and imagined a multitude of possibilities. I found someone willing to do a quick sew-up job and showed him how I wanted the hammock pieced and asked for rope to be brought back as well. Within the hour, I had a newly made Maasai hammock hanging in our outdoor compound of the hostel we were staying at. Please keep in mind this an early Sunday morning in Kenya. Africa-time. Where being mellow is a way of life. Zane strolled out of bed at 10 am and stumbled upon a kid swinging in my newly made contraption. Incredulous, he asked, "When did you do this?" while scratching his head. I replied, "This morning." Who's says you can't get things done in Africa in a hurry? You just need to instill a sense of urgency in everything. ;-)

"Hakuna Matata" (No Worries) just doesn't cut it anymore. There needs to be a new Swahili phrase that says, "Let's Get Shit Done!"

During breakfast, the three of us brainstormed ways to market the Maasai hammock and came up with cool, quirky ad pitches. Bryce is a steller videographer for Mama Hope and has done some incredible videos for them, so we appointed him to Film, Direct and Edit our mini-commercial. I offered Art Direction and Zane dealt with Setup. We took turns modeling the hammock and enlisted a few locals too by Lake Naivasha. Improperly tied hammocks, avoiding really sharp thorns in the grass and lurking attack hippos were just minor problems we had. Beauty shots of the hammock swaying softly in the light breeze with the setting sun as the background brought a tear to my eye. You couldn't ask for a better shooting location or scenario. You can check the video out here. (Video coming)

I had edits and updates to the hammocks on Monday. I had some of the women work to double face the hammock with a contrast pattern, making it cooler and stronger at the same time. In addition, the Maasai are known for pattern mixing, so even better to integrate that concept in the hammocks and massive throw pillows the ladies were making.

Kenyans have never been in a hammock before. You say, Really? I say. Yes, Really. You could only describe the expressions on the faces of the women and men who tried our "Mucuha" (which means SWING in Kikuyu) for the first time as PRICELESS. Unabandoned glee, hysterically laughter, utter relaxation, sleepful bliss were just a few of the expressions I witnessed. Video of their first experiences here. (Video coming)

So basically, this was all created in a day. I love the organic, creative nature of this impromptu collaboration and product pitch. Working with Zane and Bryce on this was so much fun. We make an awesome team!

We're going to bring fab designed hammocks to the world and to Kenyans, Spreading joy one hammock at a time. Play + Purpose = Peace. Plant 2 trees for every hammock sold. Combating the deforestation in the region.

LIFEstyle. A home collection. Made with love in Mara.

Chico's x The Andean Collection

On a balmy spring day in 2011, I met with the creators behind The Andean Collection at their Williamsburg, New York office. Founded by Amanda Judge in 2008, The Andean Collection works with Ecuadorian artisans specializing in jewelry design with indigenous materials, seeds and stones. Bria Bergman and Jessica Casper are integral to the team, bringing their background in business development and creative design respectively to grow and expand the brand. After looking at their product assortment and aesthetic, I was instantly excited and saw potential for The Andean Collection to work with other brands on collaborations.  Soon after the meeting, I forwarded their linesheets, lookbooks and information to my good friend, Hea Won Chun Harris, VP of Concept and Trend at Chico’s.  She kindly connected The Andean Collection to the Chico’s accessories team to start the co-brand discussion. Bria and Jessica had already proven that their eye and business model would resonate with the average consumer; their successful partnership with Anthropologie had already proven so, and I strongly believed that Chico would also see the potential of this project.

A month later, Bria informed me that the Chico’s partnership was a “Go”.  Awesome news!  Chico's loved them too!

I had scheduled a research and sourcing trip in South America in December and was hoping to stopover in Ecuador.

Fast-forward eight months later, I found myself headed down for my first trip to Ecuador, and took the opportunity to visit a few of The Andean Collection’s artisans who I had learned so much about.  I wanted to see how they were coming along with creating the Chico’s capsule collection.

Upon arrival, my lungs filled with the crisp, fresh, thin Andean air that only comes at this high altitude. After I reached my destination, I took in the postcard-perfect, sweeping views over the crop filled valleys and cloud filled mountains ranges…this magnificent experience was a wake-up call to all my senses.  It's hard not to fall in love with Ecuador instantly.

At Otavolo, Nancy Moran, Carlos Salazar, Olga Moran and Cesar Yamberla welcomed us with open arms into their home workshops high above Otovalo.  They graciously showed us the materials (natural seeds) to the process they use, (the sanding, coloring and assembly process), as well as the exclusive colors and dyes that Chico’s chose for their line jewelry collaboration and the final products.  It was a treat to see the concept from start to finish. The prototypes look FANTASTIC!  I’m now more certain than ever that this partnership will work out splendidly.

The success of the Andean Collection’s sales and past partnerships have generated enough revenue for artisans like Nancy, Carlos, Olga and Cesar to add build/expand production additional rooms in to their home workshops. These extra funds have helped support as well as help fund the extended families' education and health care costs.

A Recap from Bria Bergman, Director of Business Development & Private Label Design at The Andean Collection:

After almost a year of working with Chico’s, we’re thrilled to announce that Chico’s will be carrying exclusive Andean Collection designs in 50 of their stores and online in June 2012.

The Chico’s experience was so positive mainly because of their merchandising and design team, headed by Doreen McFadden. The process went so smoothly because we were kept abreast of what the clients needs were from the beginning, namely, the desired cost of product, margins, and design direction. In past experiences, we have spent weeks going back and forth with a client negotiating the cost of an item. Knowing the desired cost the client needs upfront, we can make any design tweaks that will ensure their needs are met and avoid unnecessary back and forth. It was also really helpful having inspiration and silhouettes upfront, conveying the look and feel the client wanted to portray.

In addition, Chico’s design team was inspiring to work with. They challenged us to use our materials in innovative ways, which are reflected in our designs for Chico’s.

Chico’s was a great brand to partner with and we hope our line is a best seller for them in Summer 2012!

American Eagle Outfitters x Indego Africa - Rwanda

The Story August 2008

Little tin-roofed shacks dot the landscape in the sprawling NGO compounds surrounding our street in Kimihurura. You can hear the little neighborhood kids playing a game of football outside the gate. A group of us are kicking back on the garden porch of my friend, Taylor Krauss’ Voices of Rwanda house/office and chatting over Primus beers, while watching the late afternoon sun set over the thousand hills of Kigali.

Two friends of mine are telling me about a women’s cooperative called Amani ya Juu, Swahili for "Higher Peace," a sewing/marketing training project for Rwandese women in need. This project started in Nairobi in 1996 with three women, and has grown to over 50 women from many ethnic groups in Africa. My friends just had clothing made and after seeing the end results, I wanted to learn more about the project.

The next day, I hopped on the back of a moto-taxi and zipped my way over to the intimate workshop, located in the Gikondo area of Kigali. The women working there come from Congo, Burundi, Uganda as well as Rwanda. All of the cool products are made out of local African textiles (kitenge, batik, and tie dye). Tote bags, quilts, placemats, toys and jewelry are just a few of the treasures you will find here. In the back room, neatly stacked piles of fabric are available for custom-creations. As a fair-trade, self-sustaining project, generated income is used to provide support for the women and their families as well as the operational expenses at the center. None of the proceeds are used by expats assisting with the project.

During my search, I found a few meters of a beautiful Congolese red floral batik with bright green accents on a charcoal ground. I sketched a floor length one-shoulder tie dress inspired by the Mushanana, the Rwandan women’s traditional dress and explained it to the women in a mixture of poor French and charades, crossing my fingers that my request would be understood.  How does one say, “Cut on the bias” in Kinyarwanda?

The Mushanana is an elastic-banded long skirt, a colored tank top (usually--but not always--white) and a length of material tied over one shoulder... similar in style to a toga. It's not cheap, and you have to have it made. (Cost approx. $70-$100) Women can technically wear it whenever they want, but it’s typically worn for big occasions like weddings, funerals, baptisms, and church services. Within a week, my Made-in-Rwanda, Congolese couture dress was ready!

Luckily, I had a place to wear my new dress in Rwanda. I was invited to a friend's wedding negotiation ceremony. One of the interesting things about Rwandan weddings is that the groom is expected to pay for everything, from a cow to his bride’s wedding dress. The negotiation ceremony happens prior to the wedding between the two families. The fathers determine how many cows and goats the bride is worth. My friend and I watched all the traditional songs, dances and vibrant costumes whirl around us from our plastic chairs while sipping on the customary Fantas and Cokes.

*          *           *

A year after I came back from Rwanda, I had a serendipitous introduction to Indego Africa. CEO, Ben Stone, noticed a Gisimba Orphanage fundraiser I was organizing.  He realized that besides our common interest and work in Rwanda, we both also live in the same apartment building in NYC! He facebook messaged me and we ended up having a great discussion on the roof deck about our projects.

Indego Africa’s operation is larger in scale than Amani Ya Juu, but shares the same philosophy. Indego Africa, which stands for INdependence, DEvelopment, and Governance, is an innovative social enterprise built upon the belief that women in Rwanda can lift themselves out of poverty. Indego Africa provides more than 400 Rwandan artisans with access to the global marketplace, enabling them to sell their vibrant handicrafts for a fair wage.

Two and a half years ago, my employer, American Eagle Outfitters, donated product (an unsustainable charity gesture), and shipped it to Rwanda during my sabbatical. After seeing the positive impact programs like Indego Africa, Amani Ya Juu, and donations like AE made on the Rwandan community, I decided to combine my interest in helping poverty stricken women become self-sufficient with my experience and contacts in the fashion industry. These seemingly innocuous concerns united to form The Supply Change – a not for profit that sources socially responsible goods and manufacturers who have previously lacked access to global markets and connects them with mainstream brands in an effort to forge long-term partnerships. These connections can help the fashion supply chain create products that are profitable, as well as purposeful.

Now, my involvement with sustainable products and services in Africa has come full circle. Indego Africa is currently collaborating with American Eagle Outfitters on developing a hair accessories collection for the Summer 2012 season which sets in stores in April. The Rwandans are lifting themselves out of poverty by producing marketable goods and selling them in AE stores.

Fast & Furious Fundraising: Ethiopia School Supplies Distribution Part 2

To pick up where we left off.  A year and a half ago, my friends, Dominque Soguel, Veronica Ferreri, and I held a Fast & Furious fundraising online event to raise money to get school supplies to an Afar village in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia where we visited in the Spring of 2010.

We raised close to $2000 USD and our partners and friends on the ground there, Christos and Liza Andreou helped organized the purchasing of the supplies and the distribution with the first portion of the money.  We wanted to find the right school and organization in Ethiopia to bestow the remaining amount.

A few months ago, Liza connected me to Peggy and Patrick Josset who have been volunteering with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), an NGO working in Ethiopia.  They work in some of the most impoverished areas in the world and expressed a need for school supplies for one of the primary schools they work with.  They sourced and priced out the supplies and email me donation request.  The Ejenta Primary school is so poor, it does not even have a pencil to its name.  The school is in the Benishangul Gumuz Regional State of Ethiopia.

At the end of December, I transferred the remaining amount plus added an additional amount to round the donation up to $1000.

Soon afterwards, Peggy arranged to purchase school books, workbooks & readers, notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, colored pencils and two globes to outfit the entire school.  She bought all materials from local dealers so not incur any shipping fees, so the whole amount would go toward supplies and also benefit the local economy.  She let me know she was planning the distribution on January 12th and would email photos and video of everything shortly after.

I was feeling a bit glum this afternoon, but when I checked my email this evening, I received an email from Peggy documenting the whole distribution!!

It brought a massive smile to my face and brought tears to my eyes....especially when I saw what was written on the chalkboard in a classroom and the video link of the distribution.  Video link:

I just want to take the time to thank everyone who donated to this cause! The donation has positively impacted the village and the school tenfold and the teachers and students are so happy with all the new school supplies.

Here's a letter below from Peggy Josset, VSO volunteer, writing about the school supplies distribution:
Dear Chrissie,
You and your friends have made a HUGE difference in one of the poorest schools in one of the poorest regions of one of the poorest countries on Earth!!!  Every child in Ejenta Primary School now has an English book, a reader, a copybook, a pen, a pencil and a sharpener.  Every child except the second graders (couldn't find any for grade 2) has a math book.   The school has 2 globes, a supply of extra copybooks for next September and  16 boxes of colored pencils.
Here is a link to a short video of the distribution and some snapshots of the event.  I'm also attaching the final receipts for the globes, colored pencils and extra copybooks.  The last receipt is the one we had the school director sign upon delivery.
The teachers are THRILLED and I can see their motivation got an enormous boost yesterday.  They had been working with virtually no supplies.  The children are often barefoot, in tattered clothes and undernourished.  Getting a good education will make all the difference in their future.
I don't know how to thank you enough.  We will never forget your generosity!
All the best for your continuing great work!

The Social Enterprise Top Ten Holiday Wish List

The holidays are around the corner and I've got the goods!Lately, I've become a walking social enterprise I wanted to give a shout out to some of my favorite giftable treasures for every budget. Whether you spend $5 or $300, you're sure to find that perfect unique gift. Here's a Holiday Wish List of specially curated products from around the world.When you buy these socially responsibly made products, the profits go directly back to the artisans who have made them. This isn't charity, but a way to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty. These truly are the gifts that keep on giving. So make your list and check it twice! Happy Holidays!

1. KORA Designs

Amy Walker and Maxandra Short's line is handmade by local artisans in Kenya, Ghana & Rwanda. I've known Amy since we lived in Kigali back in 2008 and it's been fantastic to see Kora grow over the past few years.

I love and wear my KORA recycled Ankole cowhorn bangles (3 for $150) and Cream Quad Row Cuff($230) with recycled brass details all the time!

2. Indego Africa

Ben Stone, Conor French and Deirdre McGuigan and the rest of the Indego Africa team have been as busy as elves lately.

Check out Indego's new brightly colored, swampgrass bracelets ($20) and woven banana leaf bangles ($10) made from recycled materials by women artisan co-ops in Rwanda. I just put in my order for the stack!

3. Article 22

Elizabeth Suda's new social enterprise accessory line out of Laos is da bomb! Literally! PeaceBOMB bracelets ($50) are made out of melted bombs with special details and inscriptions on each one. Elizabeth worked as a merchandiser for Coach for 2 years before she set off to Laos back in 2009.

Her smartly designed line of jewelry, bags and clutches are exploding onto the scene at these fine stores: Shop Laltitude, The New Museum, The International Center for Photography and Arcadia Boutique.

4. Raven and Lily

The Raven & Lily team (Kirsten Dickerson, Sophia Hirokawa Lin and Lori Fox) works with women artisans in Ethiopia who melt weapons into stunning jewelry. How incredible is this for conflict resolution?!

I own the Azana Long Charm necklace ($112) featured above and it is one of my favorite pieces. The Malam braided bracelet($48) is pretty spectacular too.

5. The Andean Collection

Founder, Amanda Judge, started working with artisans in Ecuador back in 2008. They use all local and natural materials in their jewelry, from açai, huayruro, jaboncillo, pambil to tagua. You can find their products at Anthropology.

Bookmark their lightweight, Infinity scarves ($58), Mariposa necklace ($78) made from coconut shells and tagua and their felt Lola Hat($68). I've just seen their new lookbook for spring and I'm hoping to get first dibs!

6. The IOU Project

The IOU Project is a new, innovative, prosperity chain initiative in India, redefining the production and commercialization processes in fashion. They create total transparency in the supply chain by directly linking the artisan, manufacturer and consumer. Founders, Kavita Parmar, Enrique Posner and Iñigo Puente are building a platform upon which a social network could be constructed to act as an empowered and socially engaged salesforce.

My IOU Project Men's Real Madras Blazer ($169) is one of my wardrobe staples! Check out all the fabulous products and meet the person who made them through their website! The Vegetable Wash Skinny Jean($85) is on my wish list this holiday.

7. Mercado Global

Having just spent a week down in Guatemala with Mercado Global, I was able to see first-hand their design and development process. Co-founder, Ruth Degolia, started MG out of her Yale dormroom in 2004 and now works with over 500 women artisans in the Lake Atitlan region.

My brocade & leather trim Weekender Travel bag ($225) is perfect for getaways to the beach or a visit to the parents' house for the holidays. The contrast Guatemalan textile lining is a nice surprise detail when you open the bag. Love the dip dye pillows($50)! They'll be a perfect fit on my daybed. I just got my hands on a new dip dyed clutch which I will be rockin' this spring!

8. Krochet Kids

As the winter chill sets in, stay warm and stylish in Krochet Kids' alpaca/acrylic hats made by artisans in Peru! Each hat is personally signed by the person who made it just for you. Co-Founder, Kohl Crecelius, started KK with two of his best high school friends from Spokane, Washington. They currently work with over 100 people in Northern Uganda and have just recently expanded into Peru.

The Eisley ($29.95), The Riley ($25.95), and The Hodge Podge ($32.95) Buy a hat. Change a life.

9. Dutzi Designs

Ariane Dutzi launched her social enterprise in the Yucatan region of Mexico with Mayan craftspeople. Her mission: create beauty + create jobs = create happiness...while preserving the environment and culture.

Her burlap, leather & tropical wood clutches($280) are awesome!

Your office mates will love you and think of you everyday as they drink their cup of joe. The L.I.F.E Jacket ($5) is handmade in Kenya by a special group of women. This reusable coffee sleeve provides them the opportunity to earn an income for their families, provide an education for their children, and create an eco-friendly product. Available at Whole Foods. This is the perfect Stocking Stuffer or Secret Santa gift.

Founder, Zane Wilemon, has been creating holistic and sustainable change in a village called Maai Mahiu, Kenya since 2000. Their L.I.F.E. totes bags ($12)are also made there. I love my HOPE Campaign bag!

Didn't get everything you wanted in your stocking this year? Not to worry! The Supply Changecreated exciting new partnerships between some of these social enterprises and American brands you know and love. Look for new products in 2012.