Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

A New Business Model: Cute Clothes Made Ethically

A New Business Model: Cute Clothes Made Ethically

Maureen and Buelah

Interview with Maureen Dunn, founder of Mata Traders, a fair trade fashion company

Name of Social Enterprise and URL? Mata Traders (www.matatraders.com)

What is your background? I got a bachelors in film production from Northwestern. My focus was on documentaries.

What is your product or service? A fair trade fashion line of apparel and accessories – 2 collections a year. We create on-trend, fashionable fair trade products that compete in the mainstream marketplace. Our products are deigned in Chicago and produced in India and Nepal by women’s cooperatives and artisan groups. Our mission to put fair trade in the forefront of the fashion industry and in turn combat poverty worldwide by empowering women economically. These days, demand for fair trade is growing, but there are not many fair trade options in the apparel industry. What little is out there doesn’t really appeal to the mainstream American consumer because it’s designed in another country for the women in that country. We design for American women, so our fair trade clothing appeals to the stylish and/or socially conscious woman.

Date officially launched? Jan 1, 2006

A New Business Model:  Cute Clothes Made EthicallyWhat came about that made you help in social change? Why was this social venture created? I started importing not knowing what fair trade was. I had a passion for textiles, fabrics, and traditional artisan crafts and a love for India. I was selling at a summer market, and I had a few customers that asked me if my products were fair trade. I did some investigating, and as luck would have it, there was a Fair Trade Futures conference in Chicago that year. So I attended to learn more about the movement. Once I had a better knowledge of the tenets of fair trade—transparency, fair wages, preservation of traditional artisan skills and community development programs—I thought, “How can I not try to do this when I go back to India to buy new products?” So instead of buying things at the market, where I didn’t see who was making the product and how it was being made, I chose to work with cooperative based models.

How many people has this business helped? We work with hundreds of women in different regions of India and Nepal that come from all different religions backgrounds with the common factor of living below the poverty line when they start at the co-op. Our producers are paid a living wage and work in safe and fair conditions in small workshops rather than factories. In addition, the cooperatives offer benefits like on-site day care, medical check-ups, vision testing and glasses, over-time pay, profit sharing, and financial literacy training.

Could others help you and how? Yes, by buying fair trade as consumers. Realize that your purchases have power to effect change. The things we buy have a history behind them; someone made them and it’s important that we seek that out.

What free online or offline tools do you use? We have a WordPress blog: http://www.matatraders.com/blog/

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)? 6 regular employees, 6 people hourly for off-site retail, design, and other projects and 3 interns from local colleges.

Do you tweet, facebook fan page, myspace friend or use any other social media to get the word out?

Facebook page : http://www.facebook.com/matatraders

Twitter Page : http://twitter.com/#!/MataTraders

Do you have a YouTube video URL that you can share with us, and allow us to publish with your story? httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBFHeOk3Pa4&feature=channel_video_title

What is the best advice you never got? Follow your bliss by Joseph Campbell. Don’t hire employees until you absolutely need them.

What is the one thing that you did right? I took small steps. I tested the marketplace for product saleability and the right price point. I got other people involved so the business could grow. I think it was helpful that I didn’t have my own debt and payments like a house and car; I could take the risk on my business. You have to live pretty frugally, at least at first.

What was the biggest transition you had to make? From retail to wholesale was a big transition. Creating a completely fair trade product line, so phasing out other products that were bought in the marketplace. Both of these things I did gradually so it was less drastic. Another big transition was moving from the business from my living room and basement to a warehouse/office space.

Are you doing any type of Search Engine Optimization? Yes, we’re trying.

A New Business Model:  Cute Clothes Made EthicallyWhat can you tell other potential social entrepreneurs who are deciding to make a difference? Go for it. Follow your passions and do what you’re good at. What that is comes intuitively, and use your natural skills. Be aware of the skills that you don’t have so you can merge with someone who does.

What book(s) have you read that others should read? Factory Girls about Chinese women labor in factories. May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons really educated me on the personal stories of so many women in India and the diversity of backgrounds and gender issues. The Power of Now calms me down when I’m stressed out because it makes me realize that my problems aren’t that big a deal in terms of the universe.

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