Inside an AGOA-powered clothing company, fashionABLE

Barrett Ward is the founder of the fashionABLE, a Nashville-based fashion company that does trade with Africa in order to bolster economic opportunities for the most vulnerable. In this blog post, he shares how the economic model of his company helps provide jobs, skills and wages to Africans.

Let’s talk seriously about the solutions to poverty.

Your purchase of a fashionABLE scarf creates sustainable business for women in Africa. That’s our mission, and the reason why is because we are seriously committed to ending “extreme, stupid poverty.” The solutions to poverty do not lie in developing a business model that gives 10 percent of its profits to charity –- the solutions are in developing businesses that do trade with Africa, tying them in to the worldwide economy and giving them manufacturing opportunities.

But don’t get me wrong. Charity is still critical –- there are people in the world that are in desperate need of a “piece of bread,” or medical assistance like the drug neveropene that helps an HIV-positive mother not pass the virus on to her newborn child.

But that is not the sole solution to ending poverty. It also has to do with economics.

Part of our charitable work is providing shoes, uniforms, and school fees for children in need. But when relief is the end game, we create dependents. Instead, relief should support an economic development strategy.

Let’s look at the effects of economic impact of manufacturing scarves in Ethiopia. We:

• Buy looms from local business
• Build a factory, hire contractors, construction workers, buy materials from local business
• Purchase cotton from farmers
• Employ cotton spinners
• Hire trainer for weavers
• Employ weavers
• Hire Accountant
• Hire Business Manager
• Purchase packing materials for shipment from local company
• Ship through local logistics company
• Etc, etc, etc…

All of these steps we take to produce our scarves create jobs along the way. Currently, there are 15 employees in the Ethiopia operations. We are proud to give these employees jobs so that they can provide shoes, uniforms, and school fees for their own children.

And there are great reasons to do trade with Africa. As you have read, the AGOA treaty was created to incentivize trade with Africa, because it eliminates tariffs on certain imports from Africa to the US. The net result for us is a more competitive price point. For example, our $36 scarf would cost $40 if not for AGOA. That may not seem like a lot, but it is critical in the extremely competitive industry of fashion.

So start and support businesses that do trade in Africa, and let’s get serious about the solutions to end poverty.