The #SocialEnterprise converting storytelling artwork into ethical clothing
Thraedable is a social enterprise that aims to raise awareness about social issues that suffer from invisibility or misrepresentation and to raise funds for grassroots organisations that offer sustainable solutions to those issues.
They are an ethical fashion brand, currently producing t-shirts and bags inspired by drawings made by people who face little-told social issues; as well as an online magazine to inform and raise awareness. Their business model is based on our 50 Threads scheme: 50% of our profits are shared with our partner NGOs.
If you attended university (college), did you find it useful in starting a business?
Absolutely! We met at university, during our Masters programme at Sciences Po Paris. University surely taught us to think critically, which is an essential skill for everything a person does. It is this critical eye that made us feel the need to shed light on social issues that do not make the headlines. Having a background in international affairs helps us to understand the contexts in which we operate and to select our partner NGOs. Lastly, university gave us the organisational skills to work under strict deadlines, and an invaluable network of friends all over the world!
What were you up to before you started your company?
Before starting Thraedable we were busy finishing our postgraduate studies and gaining experience in different fields: Aghiles worked in marketing and business development; and Cristina in the international NGO field. This is why we decided to join forces to create a company that brings the private and NGO sectors closer together.
What problem are you trying to solve?
While the media focuses on a limited number of social issues, others go untold, leaving the groups who suffer from them without a voice. This information gap is often accompanied by a funding gap for grassroots organisations that are best placed to offer valid solutions to these issues but have little "marketing" capacity to reach big donors. At Thraedable we aim to bridge these gaps.
What are your key activities towards solving this problem?
Using the metaphor suggested by Thraedable's name, we aim to solve this problem through the “threads on our backs” and “the threads in our media”.
Firstly, Thraedable is an ethical clothing brand. Each Thraedable clothing line is born from a partnership with a grassroots organisation working towards a solution to a social issue that we feel needs more attention. We organise art workshops with the beneficiaries of our partner NGO, to give them an opportunity to express themselves through art, and we then take inspiration from their drawings to create meaningful designs for our environmentally friendly clothes. This way, each item carries the voice of those who can only shout in the dark and it passes it on to others. And of course, the profits from each line are shared 50/50 with the partner NGO.
Secondly, as each Thraedable line tells a story, it corresponds to an informative section on our online platform to raise awareness about the issues at hand. To do so, we also have an online magazine curated by an international team of editors.
Would you recommend starting a company with a cofounder?
Definitely yes! Starting a company is a very challenging time, and challenges are always easier to overcome when there are two of you, especially when you have complementary skill sets. Having another person that is fully committed to an idea is comforting and motivating; and having to make choices together means better decision-making.
How did you onboard your first 5 customers?
Our first customers were our loyal friends and family. We’re sure it is the same for every company that starts small but has big dreams?!
Do you have any numbers on your impact?
At this moment we have carried out five projects with five NGOs in three different countries (Tunisia, Greece, and Italy). Through the workshops we held with the beneficiaries of our partner NGOs we have given voice to more than 200 people, who had the opportunity to express themselves through art while enjoying a moment of inclusion and personal development.
By sharing 50% of our profits with our partner NGOs we aim to amplify this impact, through the social projects that will be implemented by our partners thanks to the funds raised by their dedicated Thraedable line. To make sure that the amount owed to the partner organisation reaches the people and the goals it is meant for, we strive for maximum transparency through a two-way oversight: we give the organisation access to our profits and loss account for the dedicated line, and in return we expect to see where the revenues generated are spent.
We also aim to minimise our environmental impact, by printing with water-based inks on 100% organic cotton or natural fibre.
What is your proudest moment?
Our proudest moment (so far!) was going back to the university where we did our Masters to present the first Thraedable documentary: Inadmissible. We never thought we would become filmmakers, but the need to expose the injustice we witnessed during our project on Lesbos pushed us to explore new ground. Being back at university for the first time as non-students answering questions in front of a audience was a first, and definitely a source of pride.
Why are you launching a crowdfunding campaign? What do you hope to achieve?
We are launching a crowdfunding campaign to have enough funds to start production and to start supporting our partners. Reaching our goal of £10,000 will enable us to commence production of our launching collection composed of ten t-shirt designs (both for men and for women) and five tote bag designs.
Crowdfunding is also a great way to confirm interest in our idea, to grow our network, and to learn new skills.
What type of rewards are you offering as a part of your crowdfunding campaign?
We see our crowdfunding campaign as a way for people to pre-order the products included in our launching collection with exclusive discounts. Our supporters will be able to select different combinations of t-shirts and tote bags, always choosing the designs that they like the most. What they all have in common is that they will contribute to our 50 Threads scheme, and they are hand-printed with water-based inks on 100% organic cotton.
Tell us a bit about your future plans and projects.
As soon as the boutique is operational and we have enough funds for our next projects, we want to start travelling again to establish new partnership and give voice to more and more people.
For the next round of projects we would like to explore the issue of caste division in India, as well as a project closer to home.
What's the best advice you ever took?
Graduates today are often pressured into going straight into work, often regardless of whether they feel inspired by the job or not. Previous colleagues advised us not to take any job we are offered, but to wait and think about what we really wanted to do. This gave us the impetus to ago ahead with Thraedable, because despite the fact that starting your own project can be scary and unstable, we knew that this is what we enjoy the most. And so far, so good!
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs when facing adversity?
We believe that adversity is something that every entrepreneur has to face sooner or later. It is crucial not to give up when facing adversity, while turning difficult moments into opportunities to think critically about what one is doing and to find space for improvement.
Who inspires you?
We both have our own personal role models: Cristina finds inspiration in the courage of Roberto Saviano, an Italian writer who is under police protection for speaking out against the Mafia; while Aghiles has great respect for Mohamed Boudiaf, an Algerian president who was assassinated for wanting to rid the country of its corrupt military.
But the people who gave us most inspiration are those we met on our journeys, from tireless activists to people who live in extremely difficult situations but still manage to have hope.
What’s a book you always recommend and why?
1984, by George Orwell. It is an old book, but it remains surprising to see how relevant it still is today, no matter when and where you read it. In its fictional exploration of totalitarianism, it shows us the dangers of some modern political trends, urging us to be vigilant and critical, and to make sure that freedom and rights are at the centre of our societies.
What are your top three tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
1. Never forget your social aim. Having a positive impact is and should be at the heart of a social enterprise. Being committed to what you do will help you overcome adversity.
2. Use your network, it is always full of great resources!
3. Look out for advantages and funding opportunities for social enterpreneurs. The world is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of ethical business.
Thraedable's journey started in September 2016 in the Tunisian desert, where they partnered with an organisation that supports children affected by a genetic condition that makes them hypersensitive to UV light and thus socially isolated. Their second project was still in Tunisia, but in the industrial city of Sfax, where they worked with a youth-led organisation that promotes active citizenship among the Tunisian youth. They then moved to Lesbos in Greece, and Sicily in Italy, to give a voice to migrants and refugees who reach the shores of Europe.
The above article first published on theupeffect.com in Jun, 2017.