Three Design Brands Taking Inclusive Sourcing to New Levels

Companies around the globe are increasingly considering not just profit, but also social and environmental issues. As such companies emerge, particularly in their start up phases, we see many different interesting business models. One such model is inclusive sourcing. 

Here, the companies think deeper about who they want in their supply chain, and actively focus on a certain type of supplier who would usually be overlooked by more traditional businesses. The companies listed here have done this, and have focused primarily on female artisan suppliers.  These two groups have not had it easy in business - artisans are usually short-changed by middlemen, and women usually do not have equal pay as men or they have no pay at all.

All three case studies featured below aim to empower female artisans living in Africa, a developing region which needs a more deliberate approach to supply chains (which translate into economic development).

Indego Africa

Indego Africa is actually a non-profit organisation, but it is refreshing to see that it is doing things differently! First, it has focused on paying rural women in Rwanda and Ghana to handcraft its baskets. Indego creates the designs and artisan women bring those designs to life. 

These women are not only its suppliers, but they are also its distributors. Indego works with groups of women to sell its baskets, assuring them of a reasonable income stream. 

In addition, 100% of the profits from baskets sold is put back into the community in the form of vocational and business training for women and youth in the communities where its artisans reside.

This is a powerful NGO model because it pays for itself, and it succeeds in achieving empowerment (not handouts) and capacity building. According to Indego Africa’s 2017 annual report, the company worked with 36 artisan groups, made $160,000 sales and directly impacted more than 1,100 lives. It is particularly impressive to see that Indego Africa publishes how much it pays its artisan women – about $2.23 a day; higher than the poverty line of $1.90 as defined by the World Bank.

Visit Indego Africa

Lemlem

LemLem is an Ethiopian fashion brand founded by international model Liya Kebede. The brand’s distinct beach wear and general laze-around outfits have a distinct and recognisable look and has made it popular in the West. But most fascinating about this brand is how it has utilized the traditional hand-weaving skills of local Ethiopian women to produce its pieces. Lemlem is proud of its ability to give a new market…an international market…to traditional weavers who were facing a loss of local demand for their craft. 

Lemlem’s clothing are woven from natural cotton, and the company aims to increase its reach across many more female artisan groups (its artisans are women) in Africa. The artisans work in Lemlem’s local workshops but still retain their collective group power. 

The Lemlem foundation in turn uses company profits to promote access to maternal healthcare and economic opportunities for women. In particular, the company invests in the training of midwives, nurses and community workers given that (according to Lemlem) most maternal-related deaths happen with 24 hours of childbirth; so equipping those who can save them would be most effective. The company also carries out maternal health education to mothers and upgrades maternity clinics. 

Visit Lemlem

Connected Goods

This American online store has fair trade at its very core. The company sources its products from three channels - fair trade certified organisations; directly from artisans in Ghana with whom it practices fair trade; and local American artisans. Its Ghanaian artisans weave the products from local and bountiful elephant grass, and no chemical processing is involved. 

Connected Goods is proud that all its products are handwoven, that all the artisans they depend on have fair wages, and that its work with the artisans also translates to community development activities - all these in keeping with fair trade standards. Check out some FAQs about Connected Goods’ Fair Trade here.

Visit Connected Goods

Encouragingly, we see many startups utilising inclusive sourcing business models, particularly in emerging economies, and also contributing to community development. This model has great potential in raising the incomes and standards of living of rural women in particular, and by association the communities they live in.

Also, it’s really refreshing to buy a beautiful product from a brand and know that you are indirectly making a difference by patronising the brand.