We launched in October of 2010, and the best problem we’ve had is that we sold more scarves than we expected. I wanted to write this blog to talk with you about how we are handling this, as well as address our mission of fighting extreme poverty. So, we were not able to meet demand through just the women we were training at fashionABLE. My expectation was that we would be able to train enough women at a pace equivalent to our sales. Oops. While I was disappointed that we were not able to train women quickly enough, the bottom line of our mission is to fight poverty in Africa by creating sustainable economic opportunity, so I’m thankful for the challenge of exceeding sales expectations. Solutions - obviously, outsourcing production to other countries outside of Africa would be possible (most of the clothes in the world are made in China) but this was not an option for us. It is counter-productive to our mission. Instead, we chose to use other Ethiopian sources outside of the women we were training, including women and men, to meet the demand. While we are sourcing from these partners, we are continually meeting our mission of “creating sustainable business for women in Africa” by training more and more women to fulfill demand. What is the impact of creating economic opportunity in Africa? This is fundamental to why we exist. Let’s talk about women, and the impact of economic opportunity.
FACTS ON WOMEN
Vulnerable women are at the heart of our mission, and they are a backbone of African economic development. Here are some facts: • According to the United Nations Development Program Human Development Report, women in Africa represent 52% of the total population, contributing approximately 75% of the agricultural work, and produce 60-80% of the food. Yet they earn only 10% of African incomes and own just 1% of the continent's assets. • Ethiopia is ranked as the 12th poorest country in the world • According to UNICEF, 39% of the population of Ethiopia lives below the poverty line, on less than $1.25 per day. The results of these facts? Women are turning to tragic choices in order to survive, choices that we find unacceptable. Estimates show that over 150,000 women are involved in prostitution
in the capital city of Addis Ababa alone. Our mission is to give vulnerable women a different opportunity.
ECONOMIC versus SOCIAL opportunity
Let me use an example to highlight the importance of this - children in Africa should have access to education. This provides the social benefit of protecting children from child labor, or even worse, from the sex trade industry. Education is also a pathway to creating a defensible skill set for the job market. Our partner in this work, Mocha Club
, does everything from building schools to providing necessary uniforms and shoes for children to go to school. fashionABLE sends all of our net profits back to Africa for relief and development work. Relief is necessary and critical. But, if we do not provide economic opportunity and create more jobs, then where do those educated children go to make a living once they complete school? What if we outsourced the production of our scarves to another continent? The net impact would be creating more educated people in Africa with the same amount of opportunity… while the job opportunities were created elsewhere. That is damaging, and it doesn’t understand that trade with Africa is a final piece to the solution puzzle
, a piece that is difficult to achieve and often ignored. “Giving” is often easier than “providing opportunity.” Whatever challenges we face in meeting demand, our solutions will always act in accordance with this understanding: when relief is the end game, we create dependants. Instead, relief should support an economic development strategy. Simply put, we are committed to long-term solutions in fighting poverty
. I’m currently in Ethiopia with my wife and daughter. I’ll be addressing the issues of increasing capacity with the number of women we are training, as well as researching thread, new scarf styles, customs, fair trade certification… and after I submit this blog, I’m headed to spend time with the women who make the scarves. You should join me some time. They are some of the most inspiring people I know. Thank you for being with us. I’m humbled and grateful for your support of fashionABLE. Questions / Comments / Concerns? Bring ‘em. Let’s have a great conversation about ending extreme poverty. To see the video of our commitment, go here. For a good article on women in Africa, visit the OECD. To learn more about Ethiopia, as well as its women, visit UNICEF.