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  • Camille Levi

    Hi,
    Thanks for sharing your story, it's awesome to learn these lessons from someone who has experienced them. I have a dream to start a "one-for-one" company for children's clothing. I was wondering if you can suggest where to start with designing and creating prototypes? If you have any links, articles, or more helpful ideas, that you suggest please forward them to me. My email is camillemlevi@gmail.com
    Thanks!
    Camille Levi

    • Michael Paratore

      Hey Camille! Thanks for the message. I can't really give you any better suggestions for sourcing children's clothing then a google search. I've gotten pretty deep into the sourcing of leather and leather goods, but not into clothing. However, I would encourage you to source right. Even though you're planning to do a one-for-one model, you can still do your best to source high-quality, sustainable materials & source from manufacturers that have great work environments and treat their workers well! The best way to ensure that your manufacturers follow sound practices is to go and visit them personally (that's what I like to do), or you can evaluate them based on third party certifications (like ISO or some others). Your already on the right track to finding a good source for your product...keep asking everyone you know/meet, do a lot of googling, and make a lot of phone calls! GOOD LUCK!

  • Frankle

    I've had various pairs of Indian leather slippers but never been satisfied with them - too hard, poor quality leather (they used to split leather into two sheets, making it weak/easily broken) and quickly got hard and unpleasant walking on hard thin leather soles - if they got wet they turned rock hard

    suggest for export you look at a variation of Spanish espadrilles - with soft comfortable padded soles - whether crafted with something like woven rushes, or rubber, even a combination - experiment - come up with something new as your unique selling proposition !

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espadrille - suggests jute soles vulcanised underneath - hand-crafted comfort, stuff like that ...

    • Michael Paratore

      Thanks for the suggestion Frankle. I think Espadrilles are certainly nice shoes and there are a few interesting companies out there selling them.

      I completely understand your complaints with the Indian shoes you've worn in the past. I've spent close to a year going back and forth between California and India, finding new materials, and annoying the heck out of our suppliers with multi-point quality control checklists! We're creating a really high quality shoe that will be more durable and comfortable than what you've worn in the past...though I still don't recommend getting leather shoes wet ;)

  • George Hiley

    Hey Michael, awesome to hear. I still wear my handmade leather thongs / flip-flops from India 2 years on...

    It is a real shame to hear these rural artisans that have been working with leather for generations, are being pushed out of the market by cheap rubber mass manufactured footwear. It is crazy to think the factories of China manage to penetrate markets in India, where even the ~$5 USD I paid for my thongs could be bumped by cheap factory rubber! A nasty situation: killing traditional artisan skills while introducing an ugly and unsustainable, non-biodegradable product.

    I believe in enterprises like yours as a possible way for traditional artisans to access new International (and local) markets. Suppliers at the base of the pyramid can be better utilised and empowered, moving away from exploitation of cheap product and wages, toward a balanced position leveraging the money spent across the world to better support those who need help.

    Would love to hear your thoughts on my response to social enterprises shoe makers... think it will be up your alley. Would also be keen to hear how your planning to balance out social impact in your social model. http://www.good.is/posts/socially-conscious-shoemakers

    Keep up the great work.

    • Michael Paratore

      Hey George! Thanks for reading my post and for the thoughtful comments!

      I really enjoyed reading your post about social enterprise shoemakers. mohinders definitely falls into a similar camp as SoleRebels and Nisolo. Great explanation of the different models of social enterprise!

      Here’s how I think of the 2 ways to start a consumer products focused "social" enterprise.

      “GET BIG, GIVE BACK”

      I call the first method "Get Big, Give Back." Get Big - this means create a business model that allows you to produce and sell a lot of product. Give back - either donate a portion of your revenue/profits to charity or donate one thing per each product sold. The pros of this method are that it tends to reach a large number of people. The cons of this method are that "Get Big" tends to favor sourcing from big factories over small artisans producer groups, and using cheaper, easier to make materials over more sustainable, high-quality, and eco-friendly materials. Another con is that "giving back" can be hard to do - there are many examples of companies and individuals giving money or goods away which actually end-up distorting markets and having other adverse consequences.

      “GIVING BACK BY SOURCING RIGHT”

      I call the second method "Giving Back by Sourcing Right." For companies that source right, like mohinders, the way they give back is in how they source their products. When choosing suppliers traditional business criteria such as lowest-cost producer and scalability are supplanted by criteria such as artisan empowerment, fair-treatment, fair-wages, safe work environment, passion for their craft, and other factors. The same goes for choosing materials, where they use criteria such as sustainability and relative eco-friendliness. The pros of this method are that it preserves cultural trades, gives artisans the ability to earn more money performing their learned trade, and, in cases where the actual product was created and developed by developing country artisans, it rewards them for their ingenuity. The cons of this method are that it scales slowly (if at all), costs are typically higher, and the give back portion of it may not reach as many people as in the “Get Big, Give Back” method.

      My company, mohinders, follows the Giving Back by Sourcing Right method. We’ve partnered with a shoe-making cooperative in Northwestern Karnataka consisting of 2nd and 3rd generation shoe-making artisans. The cooperative was set up by an Indian NGO. I will continue to meet with the NGO and the cooperative when I travel to India to get their feedback on mohinders and their thoughts on the best way we can help the artisans. Right now I’m convinced that the best way we can help the artisans is to continue placing regular and frequent orders with them. To be able to do this, I need to create demand for mohinders!

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    This is such an inspiring story. You knew nothing about entrepreneurship and you went for it. How did you make a plan to make your business model sustainable?

    • Michael Paratore

      My plan was pretty simple...it started with a trip to India where my goal was to find suppliers that I felt were ethical. By ethical, I mean I was searching for suppliers that were paying their employees fairly, providing ethical working conditions, and doing something community oriented. I didn't feel like I could find do this from the US, which is why I spent the time and money on a sourcing trip to India...which ended up being an unbelievably fun adventure! The stars aligned, and I found a shoe-making cooperative that had been set up by an India-based NGO. They're now our supplier!

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Looking forward to seeing if you expand and work with other collectives.

        • Michael Paratore

          Will be meeting with more cooperatives during my trip to India next month! Will keep you posted.