By SHANNON MOLTER
Genet, an Ethiopian woman, was brought from the countryside into the city of Addis Ababa at age 3 by an aunt who promised she would have a “better life.” Instead, she was groomed to be a housemaid and given so many responsibilities that the workload became impossible.
“By age 12, I ran away and began living on the street,” Genet said. “I felt lost and I was continually raped. Eventually, I became pregnant. With a baby at 15, I learned to have sex for money so I could support her. I coped with life through drinking, drugs and smoking.”
Genet’s life drastically changed when Live FashionABLE, a nonprofit fashion company that creates sustainable business in Africa, offered her a job.
Live FashionABLE designs and sells accessories, such as scarves and leather wallets. While headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., its products are all produced in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Live FashionABLE employs underprivileged women, who make all of its products by hand.
“It is different [from other fashion companies] because it is a social enterprise,” said Rebecca Blair Pettit, campus representative program manager at Live FashionABLE. “Its sole purpose is to provide accessories to people while simultaneously providing jobs to people in Africa.”
Live FashionABLE was launched in October 2010 after its founder, Barrett Ward, returned from living in Ethiopia for a year.
Ward said he was inspired to create the company after “witnessing the number of young girls and women having to make awful choices to support themselves and their families. When I talked to these women, I found that they didn’t want charity; they wanted an opportunity and the dignity to stand on their own feet and earn their money.”
Live FashionABLE features products made from materials that are indigenous to Africa.
“Weaving and leather are big traditions in Ethiopia and by working with products that they already have skill with producing, we’re going to do much better in craftsmanship and the manufacturing process,” Ward said.
Live FashionABLE creates scarves in many different colors, patterns and styles, all made out of 100 percent Ethiopian cotton.
“Our design team researched fashion in Africa to inspire the designs of the scarves,” Ward said. “For example, the Eden scarf is very much inspired by the local Ethiopian wear.”
Live FashionABLE launched its leather line in August 2013. The leather products include a clutch, an iPad sleeve and a wallet.
According to the company’s business model, “Through your purchase, you are ABLE to provide opportunity, and a woman is ABLE to have a new choice.”
The company builds a relationship with every woman it employs in Ethiopia. “It’s not just about giving them a job; it’s about a holistic relationship,” Ward said.
It honors the women who create its products by naming each new accessory after one of these artisan women. The scarves and leather products have names such as Seble, Anchinalu and Tigist.
Live FashionABLE also gives its customers a chance to get to know the artisans making the products personally. There is a section of livefashionable.come titled “Women’s Stories,” where you can read a paragraph about each woman, as well as see images of her creating the products.
Live FashionABLE has partnered with the organization, “Women At Risk,” which is a rehabilitation program for former sex slaves. The company also partnered with another organization, “Modern Zege,” which supports the empowerment of women. By working with these organizations, Live FashionABLE is able to help women get off the streets and rehabilitate them, as well as promote fair wages and social change.
One of the main goals of the company is to encourage Western companies to manufacture in developing countries.
“Solutions to poverty don’t lie in continuing to only do charity … we have to create jobs,” Ward said. “We want to teach people that the next wave of social entrepreneurship is not about starting a business to give charity to Africa, but starting a business to give opportunities to Africa.”