As someone who has worked in developing countries for more the six years, I believe the solution to poverty and changing the life of an individual is not solved through access to microfinance loans or education, but instead, by providing access to sustainable employment opportunities. It is through consistent employment that people have the means to look forward into their lives and are able to see something more for themselves and the lives of their children. My company, Collaborative Group, advocates for artisans and their families by creating such opportunities for them. At Collaborative Group, we aspire to bring sustainable employment to artisans and under-served populations around the world, specifically people struggling in the developing world.
In our first year of operation, our company has employed female artisans in Morocco, India, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Kenya, and Togo. This has totaled to a life change for over 1,000 women and their families. It is so exciting to see the number of women we employ grow, as well as the length of time we can give them work for. These numbers provide constant motivation to increase sales, capacity, and innovation in our business model. Of course, the greatest impact is what sustainable income means to each individual employee of the Collaborative Group. It is our goal to continue to find work so that the needs of each person we employ can be met.
Our company works directly with fashion brands and retailers to both aid in the design and sourcing of the products created by the artisans we serve. Our creations include beautifully crafted fabrics and handbags. In addition to our guidance in products, we also provide brands with all of the materials they need: photos, videos, and testimonials. We want our clients to communicate their amazing impact to their customers. Our brands align with a powerful global mission of fighting to alleviate poverty, and we ensure that they can celebrate their meaningful role in this process.
In the past year, we have worked with clients such as: Feed Projects, Rachel Roy, TOMS Shoes, and Reef Footwear to provide consistent and sustainable income to artisans in need. The results of these collaborations have been so influential: helping women pay off their debts, install electricity in their homes, receive the medical attention they need, send their children to school, and move further and further away from the poverty line.
Expanding Our Mission
A constant challenge is improving upon how Collaborative Group can serve our brand partners so that we can create an even larger scale impact. Up until now, due to disintegrated supply chains and a lack of understanding of the fashion and retail industries, there has been marginal success in leveraging the power of the fashion space to create true sustainable employment in the developing world. Brands are often nervous that a collaboration means losing their voice in the design process or control in the production time or quality. My goal is to eliminate every objection and hesitation that brands may have about sourcing in this way, making the decision to participate simple. We have the ability to integrate any client’s needs with the capacities of our company, and we will continue to take steps to accommodate collaborations in any market.
I believe that brands want to be a part of large-scale, positive change but need to do it in a way that is cost effective, scalable, and works within their current business models. We work every day to make this possible. In an effort to best operate inside a brand’s working business model, Collaborative Group will guide them through our process in a way that motivates them to have a measurable stake in the fight against poverty. Brands are not merely an added piece to our company – they are the way that we can change the lives of artisan women, their families, and their communities.
As a startup company, I have been lucky enough to experience first-hand the power of mentorship, and how it can help propel you much further than you could ever go yourself. When trying to solve an issue as large as global poverty, it’s so important to have some bright minds at the table with you. Going into Impact Engine, I was most excited to have the opportunity to tap into the brainpower of the Chicago community, and I have been blown away by the help, support, and advice I have received. The Impact Engine team put together an amazing program for us to not only expand our resources, but also our perspective on our business plans far into the future. I have been challenged to critique every aspect of my business model, from current design to integration of new practices. This has been incredibly motivational and affirms my belief that social entrepreneurship is a major way to solve global issues.
Additionally, I realize that if I want to scale this business beyond what I have done, I will need outside investment. December 5th (Investor Day) will be day one of fundraising for Collaborative Group, and I am excited to invite investors to see our potential to both change the world and remain profitable while doing it. It is always exciting to merely show people what an incredible difference it makes to look at markets from a new perspective and unite brands with our cause. I am so lucky to have had so many incredible opportunities with Impact Engine over the course of the last few months, and I am looking forward to showing how far we have come with their insights.
* This article is the sixth profile within an eight-part series, featuring the eight startup companies from Impact Engine’s inaugural cohort. Impact Engine is a 12-week accelerator program that supports for-profit businesses making the world a better place. *
Kathleen, I think you are on an incredible mission and love what you are doing around the world. Keep up the great work! You are an inspiration.