This article originally appeared on our Forbes blog
When leading Indian fashion designer Payal Singhal and New York-based nonprofit president Megha Desai connected at a Mumbai fashion event last year, a conversation around women’s empowerment spurred an idea: could they create beautifully designed products that would delight clients and improve the livelihoods of the women responsible for making them? The answer, it turns out, is yes.
Social entrepreneurship is a growing field that all business leaders can explore. Here we breakdown how Singhal and Desai combined forces to produce “bags for good” and how their success is giving socially-conscious product entrepreneurs (and entrepreneurial nonprofit leaders!) an inspiration to follow in the process.
Step 1: Start With A Great Idea
The Desai Foundation’s mission is to empower women and children in India and the US through various community initiatives, while the Payal Singhal brand is known for its fashion-forward dresses, sarees, and other special occasion attire. In preliminary discussions about their partnership, Singhal and Desai decided the foundation’s vocational sewing program would naturally be the focal point. Training sewers to produce produce certain Payal Singhal products would provide the women with skill-based work while adding a philanthropic component to the brand’s supply chain.
The final result is the PS x Desai Foundation collection, which includes lenghas, scarves, and tote and makeup bags in a stylish lotus print reminiscent of the nonprofit’s logo. The proceeds from the bags go directly to the Foundation (along with a portion of revenue from the rest of the line), and the sewers making them receive fair wage compensation, in fair working conditions, as well as flexible hours to meet the needs of village life.
Step 2: Build A Solid Team
To set up the supply chain, the pair traveled to one of the Desai Foundation’s sewing centers in Valsad, Gujarat with Monica Dogra, the face of the partnership. Once there, they hosted a communal event to introduce the sewers to the leadership team, brief them on the purpose and scope of the project, and explain the specific benefits they would receive by participating. “We wanted to ensure that they felt like they were a part of the process, so we had a great launch day which got the whole community excited,” said Desai.
To ensure technical expertise, the sewing team completed a 3-month preparatory program, during which an American seamstress was flown in to teach high-end cutting, sewing, and finishing techniques that would satisfy the brand’s international audience. While quality control on the products is of the utmost importance, the Desai Foundation is equally committed to ensuring a high quality of life for each worker. Maintaining open channels of communication with the women to ensure their financial, emotional and physical needs are being met is essential to their production process.
That said, the logistics of any production operation can present challenges. For example, shipping to and from the center, which is located in a rural village, can take a long time. Setting up a successful joint venture requires communicating about these potential pain points up front and ensuring both parties are on the same page. Doing so will help nurture a collaborative attitude towards challenges should they arise.
Step 3: Make It Sustainable
“Great partnerships happen when both parties have shared values and shared goals,” says Desai. The lasting power of such a partnership comes when those principles and aims are part of a self-sustaining system, which the PS x Desai collaboration executes perfectly.
By joining forces, Singhal has access to a transparent, ethical production solution (a challenge for many apparel brands) and can offer her clientele beautifully-crafted products while simultaneously making a philanthropic contribution.
The Desai Foundation’s mission is equally supported, as the union creates exactly the type of jobs women in their program need. And since the foundation receives a percentage of all PS X Desai Foundation sales, this built-in revenue stream sustains and grows the initiative.
This is social entrepreneurship at its best: a great idea, a sustainable business model, and clear benefits for all parties involved.