Elexiay Clothing BrandAs artisans stitch rows of thread, their fingers pull yarn through loops in patterns passed down across generations. Elexiay, a Lagos-based Nigerian clothing brand, takes pride in its handmade garments crafted by a team of accomplished women crocheters. Supporting a small clothing business like Elexiay allows consumers to back community-based entrepreneurs as opposed to faceless fast fashion corporations. Small businesses have to compete with fast fashion giants, which makes it difficult for these smaller businesses to thrive. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting small businesses can make a significant impact on the lives of employees. The Elexiay clothing brand empowers Nigerian women and provides jobs to help them rise out of poverty.

The Elexiay Clothing Brand

Elexiay is a brand that redefines crocheted clothing, which is often stereotyped as “grandma’s clothing.” Elexiay’s collection of products is a reinvention of crocheted clothing that keeps up with the latest fashion trends. With crocheted crop tops, skirts and maxi dresses featuring elegant slits, Elexiay displays its grasp of the year’s latest trends.

Elexiay’s signature crocheted designs serve a greater purpose than just style. Elexiay’s founder, Elyon Adede, described to The Zoe Report how vital women’s empowerment is to Elexiay. Accordingly, Elexiay solely employs Nigerian women who handcraft each piece of clothing. Many after-school programs in Nigeria teach the art of crochet. Due to the emphasis on craftsmanship, Elexiays’s employees avoid the hazards associated with factory textile production and can share Nigeria’s art of crochet with the world.

Rising Poverty in Nigeria

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, approximately 40% of Nigerians lived below the poverty line, with millions more at risk of falling into poverty. During the pandemic, international oil prices dropped. This decline severely impacted Nigeria’s economy as more than 60% of Nigeria’s government revenue comes from oil. According to the World Bank, the consequences of the pandemic, coupled with Nigeria’s oil price crisis, could “push around 10 million additional Nigerians into poverty by 2022.”

In this way, Elexiay’s emphasis on fair wages and other ethical labor practices coincides with a time when millions of Nigerians face the risk of poverty. The company’s commitment to the “creation of jobs locally” demonstrates how a small clothing business can help communities in times of economic uncertainty.

Elexiay’s Dispute with Fast Fashion Brand

Despite Elexiay’s success in designing crocheted clothing, the company has faced difficulties. For instance, Elexiay posted a picture on Instagram of one of its pink and green crocheted sweaters side-by-side with a sweater featured on a fast fashion corporation website on July 16, 2021.  The sweater sold by SHEIN, the corporation in question, used a design strikingly similar to the pattern crafted by artisans at Elexiay.

In the Instagram caption, Elexiay described itself as a “small black-owned independent sustainable business” and expressed frustration in seeing “such talent and hard work reduced to a machine-made copy.” The caption also urged SHEIN to remove the sweater from its website.

Since posting the side-by-side comparison of the sweaters, Elexiay’s post received more than 97,000 likes and hundreds of supportive comments. While SHEIN has removed the controversial sweater from its website, this is not the first instance of SHEIN being accused of stealing designs. For example, designer Mariama Diallo accused SHEIN of stealing one of her dress designs for the brand Sincerely Ria in June 2021.

Aside from feeling disheartened after seeing the sweater on SHEIN’s website, the Elexiay clothing brand founder also expressed disappointment in SHEIN’s practices overall. In an interview with Insider, Adede describes the experience as especially difficult because “SHEIN is known for its unethical labor practices, which is the opposite of what I stand for.”

Supporting Small Clothing Businesses

While Nigeria has seen a rise in poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals around the world can make deliberate choices that benefit communities in Nigeria. The women employees of Elexiay crochet garments by hand, spending days on each piece to share the art of crochet with the rest of the world and are provided with a job and an income through the process. When making the decision of whether to shop from a large fast fashion corporation or a local business, it is important to question the values that each brand holds.

Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

Ghanaian local businessesOn June 26, 2021, the 22nd annual Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMAs) crowned Diana Hamilton Artist of the Year. This honor makes her the first female gospel singer to ever win the trophy and comes on the heels of year-long praise for her song “Adom,” which also won Gospel Song of the Year. While Vodafone Ghana sponsors the VGMAs to support the celebration of Ghanaian musicians like Hamilton, the company also recently partnered with Invest in Africa to aid local Ghanaian businesses and ignite growth in Ghana’s economy.

A Promising Partnership

Created in 2012, Invest in Africa (IIA) operates in five African nations: Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Zambia and Mauritania. According to Carol Annang, IIA’s Ghana country director, IIA strives to create jobs and attract investment opportunities for local businesses. By uniting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with large corporations, Annang says that these types of partnerships can help corporations “use their local buying power as a force for good.”

Since Vodafone Ghana has expressed its dedication to Ghana’s economic and social growth, the partnership with the IIA gives Vodafone Ghana the opportunity to utilize its resources in accordance with the company’s mission. Additionally, because Vodafone Ghana has served small businesses for years, the company can provide IIA with additional experience in “network-based IT and communication solutions.”

Specific Solutions

The IIA and Vodafone Ghana will focus on two solutions to propel the growth of Ghanaian local businesses:

  1. Red Trader: This mobile application and web portal assists traders in overseeing their inventory. Additionally, the application features tools that allow traders to track and collect payments.
  2. Your Business Online: This proposal helps SMEs expand their businesses online with the assistance of Vodafone Ghana’s team. The company’s experts help businesses create an online presence through professional site designs, “e-commerce integration and social media marketing.”

Through these measures, IIA and Vodafone Ghana hope to expand the digital presence of local Ghanaian businesses and boost the economic growth of these businesses. These solutions are set to begin implementation on April 1 for at least two years.

COVID-19 Setbacks and Steps Forward

As Ghana continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, this plan for Ghanaian business growth comes at an opportune time. While coronavirus infections rose throughout the country and businesses permanently closed, by the third quarter of 2020, Ghana entered a recession for the first time since 1982. Additionally, Ghana’s GDP grew only 1.1% in 2020 compared to a growth of 6.5% before the pandemic began.

Because of this low GDP increase and Ghana’s high population growth, the real per capita income of Ghana was “1% lower [in 2020] than in 2019.” Moreover, according to the World Bank Group, additional impacts of the pandemic will include decreases in “foreign direct investment and tourism receipts.” Consequently, many families in Ghana have become impoverished and the country’s poverty rate has increased since the start of the pandemic.

However, one of the principal objectives of the collaboration between IIA and Vodafone Ghana is to help businesses recover from COVID-19 setbacks. In fact, William Pollen, the CEO of IIA, expressed how necessary it is to support SMEs because these enterprises employ the majority of people living in sub-Saharan Africa and constitute roughly 80% of business activity in the region.

The Road Ahead

On the whole, despite the past year’s struggles and the hurdles that arise on the road to economic recovery, the partnership between IIA and Vodafone Ghana presents a positive outlook for the future of local Ghanaian businesses. In the words of Tawa Bolarin, the director of Vodafone Business, “these are indeed exciting times for us and the entrepreneurial community in Ghana.”

– Madeline Murphy
Photo: Flickr

Refugee Soap Maker
Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee populations in Africa. The country has over 495,000 refugees and asylum seekers fleeing war and violence from Somalia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. The majority of these refugees are located in camps in Dadaab in the southeast of Kenya, Kakuma in the northwest as well as Nairobi. In what some have referred to as “the forgotten crisis,” many of Kenya’s refugees have spent generations living in camps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sanitation has become an issue among the refugee population in Kenya, Luckily, a refugee soap maker has emerged to aid with that challenge.

The Situation

The three Dadaab camps, which some originally expected to hold only 90,000, are now home to over 300,000 refugees. Similarly, the Kakuma camp is home to nearly 200,000 people. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the close quarters and less-than-ideal sanitation standards can be dangerous. Like many others around the world, those in Kakuma have been stocking up on everything from food to sanitation supplies.

A Clean, Helping Hand

Innocent Havyarimana is a refugee soap maker in Kenya. Through his business, he helps to combat COVID-19 at the local level of the Kakuma camp. A former chemistry student from Burundi, Havyarimana fled the country in 2013. Upon arriving in Kakuma, he began to look for a way to support himself. In his search, he noticed that the region did not have a factory to produce soap. Afterward, inspiration struck.

Havyarimana garnered information from the web and took a course on soap making which the World Lutheran Federation aid agency offered. With a loan from a former classmate in Burundi, he was able to begin his soap-making business, Glap Industries, short for God Loves All People. The refugee soap maker then received grants from relief agencies including, UNHCR and NGOs, such as the African Entrepreneur Collective.

Glap Industries supplies soap to local institutions and relief agencies outside of the camp. The business additionally provides classes for refugees on making cleaning products. The company also serves as a way to provide jobs for refugees. A total of 42 employees currently work for Glap industries, the majority of them refugees themselves.

Glap Industries Adapts to COVID-19

With a spike in the need for sanitation products, the refugee soap maker had to increase its production by 75%. Further, Havyarimana started making hand sanitizer with aloe vera in addition to his soap products. The soap maker wanted to ensure access to sanitary supplies, especially for those most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the disabled and the elderly. To accomplish this, he significantly lowered his prices and began producing smaller, more affordable sizes. Glap Industries offers soap in 100 milliliter to 1-liter containers, the smallest costing only 50 cents. “I lowered prices, as it was more important to protect people than to think of profit,” says Havyarimana.

The Bigger Impact

Businesses and entrepreneurship are a vital part of the economy of Kakuma. According to a 2018 World Bank study, the 2,000 businesses operating in Kakuma bring more than $50 million annually to the local economy. Eujin Byun of the UNHCR in Kenya says that “the refugees are playing a pivotal role in helping contain the spread of COVID-19 in Kakuma.” UNHCR has been working with the government to improve the capabilities of local health facilities to treat patients. Another aim is to spread necessary information concerning the virus, such as the importance of handwashing.

As a refugee soap maker, Innocent Havyarimana encourages other refugees to take precautions against the virus. However, his role stems far beyond fellow refugees. Havyarimana shares the importance of sanitization in stopping the spread of the coronavirus through Kakuma, and subsequently the rest of Kenya. His outreach and business help to minimize the spread of COVID-19 for those all throughout Kenya.

Nina Eddinger
Photo: Flickr

DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Microfinancing Partners in Africa
Microfinancing Partners in Africa is a nonprofit that provides microfinance opportunities to people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its current programs vary in nature. Some examples include giving loans to subsistence farmers to purchase a cow, providing water filtration systems and educating students on microfinance.

Microfinance is an innovative approach to growing the economies of impoverished nations by giving its citizens access to small loans, usually under $200. It is a way for those in poverty to develop a stable income because they do not have access to traditional loans.

Historically, companies have used high-interest rates to take advantage of impoverished people seeking loans. However, agencies like Microfinancing Partners in Africa counter that practice. It offers options that often require recipients to take financial literacy courses and give them loans without requiring collateral. In this way, Microfinancing Partners in Africa works to actively combat poverty within Sub-Saharan Africa. Here are some of its success stories:

Jane Nalwadda

Jane Nalwadda is a woman from Uganda born with an obstetric fistula. Her condition left her unable to have a child with her husband who consequently left her after three years of marriage. The abandonment left Nalwadda without a reliable source of income. She fell into utter despair until a friend recommended the Kitovu hospital to her. There she would be eligible for a free fistula repair surgery program. Here is where Microfinancing Partners in Africa stepped in.

The nonprofit established the microfinance program The Piglet Project. The program helps women make money post-fistula repair by helping them raise and breed pigs, eventually creating a sustainable business. Jane was able to raise $29 with her first litter of pigs, which enabled her to build a better pen. She now has a steady means of making a living and can build a promising future.

Bujugo Village

Bujugo is a tiny village in Tunisia that has clean water accessibility problems. The village received seven water filters from Microfinancing Partners in Africa in 2019. Villagers then received training to use the filters and developed a time table to maximize the amount of village usage. Now, 49 families receive clean drinking water because of this microfinancing program.

Florence Mbaziira and Joseph Mbaziira

Florence and Joseph Mbaziira are an older couple from Uganda who works on a farm with mostly unproductive land. They tirelessly worked on their farm to support themselves and their four grandchildren. By 2014, the family was still living off a small income that came from selling the produce that they grew. Afterward, they turned to the Cow Project.

Microfinancing Partners in Africa created the Cow Project to support farmers through a “living loan.” The Mbaziiras took full advantage of the program and bought a cow for their land. Microfinancing Partners in Africa trained them to use the cow’s manure to increase crop yields. The couple now grows coffee, bananas and seasonal foods. Thanks to microfinancing, the Mbaziiras are able to support their family through their own farming business.

Saida Juma

Saida Juma is a divorced woman with two children living in Tanzania. Previously, she worked as a maid for $5 a month. However, her passions were elsewhere. She had the desire to start selling fish. Juma worked with Microfinancing Partners in Africa to obtain a microloan of $50. With the money, she was able to go into business for a local fisherman by selling fish. Her earnings are enough to support her children as well as send them to school. Her goal is for her children to be well-educated and take over her business when she retires. She also plans to take out another $100 loan soon to buy a fridge to store unsold fish.

All of these people were struggling to survive. Microfinancing Partners in Africa’s varied programs were able to help inspire and empower them to gain a livable income. Microfinancing Partners in Africa helped increase the quality of life for these people and many others, proving that microfinancing is an effective way of fighting poverty.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr