Friday, October 19, 2012
UNT alumni found fair trade lingerie company to promote female entrepreneurship in Africa
What if panties could change the world?
When UNT alumni Tara Smith and Ryan Schuette first met at the university’s study abroad office, neither knew their separate journeys to Africa would later tie them together.
Both are co-founders of Cherie Amie, French for “cherished friend,” the first fair trade intimate apparel company that adopts the Good Returns business model. The company contributes 100 percent of its end-of-year profits to sustainable poverty relief programs.
The Good Returns concept centers on the idea that a business loans 100 percent of its profits to women around the world through micro-lending nonprofit organizations. The women use the money to start their own businesses and then pay back their loans at the end of the year.
Entrepreneur Salah Boukadoum came up with the Good Returns Concept in 2009. He applied the business model to Soap Hope, a company he founded that sells all-natural body care products. Boukadoum met Smith and Schuette through Chiapas International, a nonprofit organization they were involved in.
“I’m happy that they want to do something good for the world by using this business model,” Boukadoum said. “It serves as a solution to help social problems.”
He said his goal is to have 1,000 entrepreneurs adopt this business model. Besides Soap Hope, there are two other businesses implementing the model and four that are planning to join. He said it is still in the experimental stages.
“It’s not enough just to think about it, ” Boukadoum said. “People have to take the action. It’s up to the public to help by shopping at these companies and making a difference.”
Boukadoum said the average woman requires about $230 to start and grow her own business. He said people don’t realize that they can buy a product for themselves and help someone else at the same time.
“I think most people think they have to choose between one or the other, but they don’t,” Boukadoum said. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a difference.”
Be sexy, buy fair
On Aug. 31, Smith and Schuette raised $15,250 in a 45-day campaign through the website Indiegogo.com, surpassing their goal of $15,000 to start mass production of their lingerie in Cameroon. On Sept. 26, Smith flew to Cameroon to meet with seamstresses and begin working on the lingerie line.
Although the company is based out of Dallas, there won’t be a physical location where people can purchase the lingerie. It will all be done online.
“Online retail is a huge business right now,” Schuette said. “It’s difficult to set up a brick and mortar business without taking out a loan.”
According to Business Insider, the global lingerie industry achieved $10.7 billion in sales in 2009, a nearly 5.3 percent increase from 2008.
Before Cherie Amie, Smith founded Peace Tree Africa in 2009 after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, and Schuette co-founded Kroo Bay Initiative in 2009 after winning a Rotary scholarship to go to Uganda, both nonprofit organizations.
“We have so much time on Earth it’s hard to imagine ourselves just watching,” Schuette said. “We’re mission drivers. We want to see people we care about get out of poverty and succeed.”
Professional photographer Carole Hayes, founder of Shot by Carole, said Smith contacted her by email, wanting to meet up for lunch and discuss Cherie Amie. Since then, she has donated her time and skills to help promote the company.
Hayes said she was surprised there wasn’t a lingerie fair trade line already established. She even searched on Google to make sure there wasn’t one that was missed.
“I love that they’re putting a different spin on it,” Hayes said. “People should know about it because the more they buy, the more loans there are, and more people in Cameroon can get work.”
Hayes shot the photos for the company’s calendar, which comes out in November and shot the teaser video to draw attention to Cherie Amie.
Andrea Ramirez, one of the four “fair ladies” models for Cherie Amie, said Smith and Schuette spoke to her about the company and she was drawn in. Ramirez said there isn’t a lot of help and encouragement for women, but this gives women an opportunity to better themselves.
“They have given these people much more than just money,” Ramirez said. “It’s a whole entire life they’re giving them.”
Ramirez said she cannot change the world by herself, but by volunteering to model, she does her share.
“It’s not what am I going to get out of it,” Ramirez said. “It’s what can I do and how can I get there.”
Smith will return with baby dolls, boxers, garters, panties and teddies in time for Black Friday and the holidays.
For more information visit the website besexybuyfair.com.
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