Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fair, Fashionable, and Fabulous

“What if fair trade meant fashion?” That’s the question Kyra Davis and Jasmine Aarons are hoping to answer with their new start-up Voz.

The 24 year-old social entrepreneurs have been friends since they were 13. Davis has a long resume of social change campaigns and start-ups, beginning during her days at Berkeley. “I wanted to learn how to change the world by actually making change, and I didn’t have time to wait for graduation,” she says. By the summer of 2010, she felt ready to start a “real” business.
After Stanford, Aarons went to Chile to work with the Chol Chol Foundation, which serves the indigenous communities of Southern Chile. While there, Jasmine worked with the Mapuche, and discovered the beautiful textiles the women of the community were producing. Over a bottle of wine last June, the friends realized they could collaborate with the Mapuche and do something transformative.

And change is needed. Despite the overall development in Chile, only one in one hundred Mapuche go to college, and most Mapuche don’t even complete a primary education. Because of this, indigenous rural women are often driven to work as maids in cities in order to make a living, disrupting their connection to their culture. For many Mapuche women, artisanal trades are the only solution to making a living in their communities. Textiles and crafts also have minimal impact because replenishable native plants and wool materials are used in the production processes.

So Davis and Aarons, came up with an innovative business model: a fair trade fashion line. Voz, whose motto is “Speak Change, Wear Beauty,” began with the idea that Mapuche weavers can preserve their textile tradition and create fashions that competes in an industry that values innovation and trends above all else. “We found that we could preserve the art and craft of the weavers and create designs that are very appealing to the modern consumer,” says Davis.

Of the 56 billion dollars currently spent each year on fashion, only a small percentage supports ethnic fair trade manufacturers. Davis and Aarons have woven together a team of talented twenty-somethings across the U.S. and Chile, who they think can tap into this open market by making design the priority. “It was clear that if we could compete in the fashion world, we could exact a much larger social change by employing more women with fair wages. The big idea is to make fair trade items that look good and that you would want to buy anyway,” says Davis.

The design and business team have been working on both coasts of the United States as well as in Chile to get the budding business off the ground. Voz’s success would benefit the indigenous community in several ways: empowering Mapuche women, protecting the local environment, and helping to preserve culture and traditions.

Several design workshops in 2009 and 2010 brought metropolitan and indigenous designers together to create the prototypes for Voz’s first clothing line. The designs were well received at several trade shows last year, and now Voz has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the production of their first clothing and accessory lines.

“We believe strongly that a more equitable world can also be a more beautiful world. Design can make the world a better place; it can be a vehicle to help drive social change,” says Davis. You can be a part of this better, more beautiful business model by pledging your support at Kickstarter, where the Voz campaign has already raised over a third of its $8,000 goal.

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