When Barrett Ward followed his wife, Rachel, to Ethiopia for a year while she worked for an adoption agency, he had no idea he was embarking on a new career in the fashion world.
But Ward was immediately struck by how intense the commercial sex industry was in the area, and knew he had to help. Fashion, surprisingly enough, provided an answer.
“These are women having to make really tough choices to support their family. What we kept hearing from them was, ‘We don’t want charity; we want an opportunity,” Ward says.
In 2010, Ward launched FashionABLE, partnering with female-led businesses and companies with fair wage and hiring policies, empowering women to sell their goods across the world. Shoppers can be proud to show off their handmade leather bags, clutches, and scarves because they’re indisputably cute and help provide much-needed job opportunities for women in Africa.
“There are a lot of people involved in charity, and it’s critical,” says Ward. “But charity should sometimes stop where economic intervention should pick up.”
Which is not to say he’s anti-philanthropy. In 2005, Ward started the Mocha Club after leading a group of college students on a trip to Africa. It asks people to forgo small luxuries—think a manicure or a sushi date—and put that money toward locally developed projects focused on issues like HIV prevention or clean water.
“I started Mocha Club as a way for young people to feel like they could have an impact—to give up the cost of a few mocha lattes and support development work in Africa,” Ward says.
FashionABLE lets you have a similar impact, and the fashion world has noticed: Ward recently won a GQ magazine Leader Award.
Plus, a tag that accompanies each scarf, piece of jewelry, blanket, or handbag communicates a bit about what the woman behind it has gained through her efforts—like Mulu, a former prostitute, who writes, “I am ABLE to provide for my family.” Or Tigist who says, “I am ABLE to dream of my future again.” Not every accessory can do that. —Molly Gallagher
For more information, visit www.livefashionable.com