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Using Fashion as a Vehicle to Help End Global Slavery & Poverty; with Brad Jeffery

On a global level, poverty, slavery, and human trafficking are all interconnected, and are often fed by the apparel industry. Brad and his company, CauseGear, are working to change this. Their mission is to provide good jobs to the people who make their products and inspire consumers to consider the impact of their purchases.

Changing consumer behavior is a difficult process. Read the interview below for Brad’s insight into disrupting the fashion industry.

Tell me more about your company, and the work that you do.

My wife (co-founder) and I are focused on primarily fashion accessories like backpacks and tote bags, and apparel items like belts, t-shirts, and aprons. We try to focus on products that are widely used for most consumers throughout the market. They’re very visual, very useful, durable, and allow people to connect, tell the story, and create conversation. Everybody has a backpack, or a tote bag, and when they get ours, it’s so much more than that. They love the product, and the quality is great, but then they start to have a conversation about something deeper, the social issues that are going on.

We’re a social enterprise with the mission to help end global slavery and extreme poverty. We’ve researched the biggest factor involved in global slavery, and that is poverty. We’re working on the poverty front in the poorest region of the world, which is also actually the area where there’s the most slavery, and human trafficking in the world. We’re a fashion brand that’s creating what we call Freedom Jobs for people that are most vulnerable to being trafficked, or sold into slavery, and are also vulnerable to extreme poverty.

How did you come up with your idea to start the business?

I was looking at trends in human behavior, particularly with younger generations, like millennials, 10–12 years ago, and saw that this generation was different. They’re more interested in social impact, and social change, and global issues. There were examples of people using fashion tied to cause, using fashion as a vehicle to make a social impact. I saw that the fashion space was a very promising area.

At the same time there wasn’t a lot of work on the jobs or poverty side. When you look at fashion, you look at poverty, you start to see pretty quickly that a lot of people that are very poor are supporting the apparel fashion industry. The apparel industry is a feeder for a lot of poverty. The global bank defines poverty as living on $1.90 a day. Well, it’s actually the average minimum wage in the fashion industry in South Asia, the fastest growing, largest area of fashion manufacturing.

So, fashion became a pretty clear area to work on. I found myself as I was traveling, and I was in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, I was meeting with these women that were very poor and they’re HIV positive, and they’re making typical jewelry, and just trying to survive. It was there in that slum that I became very convicted about creating jobs for women like this, making a relevant high quality product, paying them a fair wage, and connecting the consumer.

Job creation is the most impactful thing we can do. A lot of the work at that time was more of a charitable model. There’s still a lot of that out there; we think, “Well, people are poor, or they need food or water, let’s get them food or water.” And not that that’s not a good idea. They do need food and water, let’s get that to them, but that’s not the long-term solution.

I started looking at the long-term. Instead of treating the symptoms of poverty, what is really needed? People need good work, so they can provide for their families, and they can buy clothing and have clean water. That was the breaking point for me. Then I learned about South Asia, India, where 40% of the global slavery is, and the fastest growing fashion region in the world, so that’s why we focused on India.

What was your background originally before this?

It was very different. I was in the automotive sector in specialty chemicals, a small boutique company. It was a family business, and we were supplying automotive suppliers. It was global, and I learned a lot about business, and supply chain in jobs, and that kind of thing.

What’s been your biggest lesson you’ve learned so far throughout this whole journey of starting your business, and throughout your career?

I think the thing that keeps coming back to me is that for a business to succeed, especially one that’s going to disrupt an established business, you have to have a very strong, compelling reason for people to want to follow you and shift their behavior. Behavior is a tough thing to change, so to change someone’s consumer behavior, there’s got to be a very strong, compelling reason to do that.

When you look at successful disruptors in the history of disruptors you see that. They saw a situation very differently, and created a need, or a desire that wasn’t there, and it was so compelling, people couldn’t help themselves but to join and be a part of that. With global poverty, and slavery being a focus, we’re trying to shift consumers to think differently about that topic by saying, “No, the way I purchase things affects poverty more than the charity money that I give,” so that’s a big game changer.

We have to have a compelling reason for people to buy, and so that’s continually been the challenge. As much as we want to think consumers will do something, because it’s the right thing to do, they typically won’t do it unless there’s a practical, compelling reason for them personally. They have to love the product or service, and the social impact has to just be a bonus to something that they already like.

What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?

Along that vein, be careful not to get too wrapped up in your passion, and lose sight of the practical side of what’s going to compel the consumer to change. I think a lot of people start a business, because they’re excited about it. So, if someone loves to cook saying, “I’m going to start a restaurant, because I love food, and I have some great recipes.”

That’s great, but is that enough? Are they recipes that you haven’t seen? I think a lot of people go into business because they love that thing, whatever it is, and they’re not really good at business. Be really careful to not lose sight of the practical reality of business. Make sure that you do your financial due diligence. That the business model you’re considering is viable financially. That there’s enough profit in it to cover your cost, and then some. That the idea is unique, and novel, and viable, and you have a compelling reason for people to switch their behavior.

What’s your vision for the future? Either for your business, or for the world, or for both?

Our vision is that we are going to change consumer behavior in a big way, so that they look at their buying decisions from a new lens. That they actually think differently every time they spend money, and they think about the larger picture, and the impact that purchase is having on the people, the makers. For example, in our case, we’re trying to create freedom for the maker of the bag. We want people in the fashion space to be very interested in the lives of the maker, and the impact that their purchase has on them.

We’re creating a movement. One of our trademarks is Made Free, and we want Made Free to become a household name that people understand, and know that purchase helps someone become free. It made them free from the injustices of slavery, extreme poverty, and inequality.

What action do you want readers to take?

To investigate the fashion brands that they love. To scrutinize the brand when they buy fashion clothing, apparel, bags, accessories. That they do their due diligence on what does this brand stand for when it comes to the maker of the product?

Business has the greatest opportunity to make this impact on the lives of the maker, because business spends more than consumers do on which brands they choose. Particularly in the specialty advertising space with branded gear.

This is a huge market, and when businesses shift their supplier to having social good for conference totes, or an apron for their coffee shops, they can make a big impact fast, because of the quantity that they purchase. So, I would encourage business owners to think differently about their supply chain of ‘swag,’ the things that they put their brand on.

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Cassi Lowe

Cassi Lowe

I help social entrepreneurs grow their online presence through web design and inbound marketing.