There are many companies springing up with lofty claims about do-gooding. (For an awesome take-down of the much lauded Toms head over to Put This On.) The hand-wringing analysis that usually follows any discussions of "business" and "poverty" can border on elitism or misguided economic theory. Try and start a manufacturing company in, say, India, and you're accused of perpetuating financial servitude. Apparently only established companies are allowed to have factories in China. See: Wendy Brandes on manufacturing.Oliberté is a company with a simple goal - manufacture a product, from start to finish in Africa. They chose shoes to take advantage of available materials. Their slogan, "Made in Africa," at first seems to play into the foreign stereotype that all of Africa is essentially the same, but on closer inspection simply reflects the truth of their business. I had a chance to correspond briefly with Tal Dehtiar, Oliberté's founder and president. Can a shoe company really make a difference?
In 2002 while doing my MBA I was challenged by my craving to put on a three-piece suit and run the corporate gig. My family had moved to Canada in 1980 and though my parents were brilliant engineers they struggled to find decent work. With no business skills and poor English, but a passion to take care of their family, they started a high-end furniture business which still exists today. Long story short - I researched what built countries like Canada, the USA, and other G-8 nations, and it's the existence of a thriving middle class and support for small businesses like my parents'.
In developing countries particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America there was no such support at the time, and this still holds true. From that I decided there was a better place for my MBA and, with a friend, I launched the charity MBAs Without Borders. It connects socially-minded business people with small businesses in developing countries. Under my leadership MBAs Without Borders worked in 25 countries from Haiti to Pakistan.
In late 2008 I started thinking about how I could have more of an impact and it really came down to my colleagues in Africa. They continually shared the fact that they didn't need more charity - they needed jobs. They needed something the world wants that they could manufacture in Africa, and so that started
The leather comes from Ethiopia where the shoes are also made. Some accessories, like insoles and canvas for the European market, come from Kenya. We are currently building up our own rubber processing plant to make the crepe rubber outsoles in Liberia. Over the next two to three years we are looking at working in at least Zambia, Cameroon, Uganda, and the Congo.
What are the working conditions like?
That's an important question. Working in Africa isn't easy. It takes a long time and patience, and if you're coming to find the next cheapest option for manufacturing there are better options in terms of price. If, on the other hand, you want a quality product, attention to detail, and have a respect for the people, it's perfect. Both factories that we work with, after eight months of interviewing and auditing about a dozen, adhere to or exceed local government laws. They provide free or subsidized lunches, tea breaks, and maternity leave. Additionally, each partner factory employs about 50% women, whose roles include sewing, cutting, and administrative work. As we grow we hope to support factory workers with additional benefits such as health insurance, credit savings options, and more.-----------
I was sent a pair of the Adibo Chukka boots. They are very comfortable, sturdy, with a playful appearance missing in most men's footwear without looking clownish. I've been wearing them about a month with no noticeable wear (although the little red tag on one of the shoes did come off.) A worthy substitution for Clarks.
In the UK and Ireland.
If you haven't seen this before, Days With My Father is Phillip Toledano's photographic account of his last days with his father. Touching in ways Mitch Albom only dreams about, it's one of the few websites I think will work just as well as a book.
This is a journal. An ongoing record of my father, and of our relationship. For whatever days we have left together.
"If you saw a baby drowning in a pond and decided not to jump in because you didn’t want to muddy up your nice pants or shoes, you would be an immoral asshole."
Jil Sander talks about her collaboration with Uniqlo.
The most amazing comment thread ever on A Continuous Lean.
The fine folks from Archival Clothing have made a rucksack that you'll actually want to use. Look for an interview with them here in July.
From "Ode to My Socks" by Pablo Neruda (trans. by Robert Bly)
Maru Mori brought me
which she knitted herself
with her sheep-herder's hands,
two socks as soft
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
For the last several summers I've done the same dance - go to store, buy shorts I don't really like, wear them one summer, repeat. It's a comfortable dance except for two things: I never get shorts I like, and it's expensive.
Normally the advice parceled out by GQ verges on the mundane, but a recent article grabbed my attention, sat on it, and refused to let it up until I did what it asked. Why buy ill-fitting, expensive shorts, when you can make your own?
The most compelling reason is fit. Most shorts for men are cut as though you're going to hide small mammals in the leg holes. More tailored shorts charge for the benefit of actually fitting. Pants, on the other hand, fit the way your lower garments should - close to the leg, with a proper amount of space for your...er...important part.
From left to right: Club Monaco, Zara, Enjoi.
I bought the Club Monaco pants with the specific idea that I would hem them into shorts. Pants (or for the Brits, trousers) of a lighter fabric probably won't take well to a simple cut. Get a tailor to hem them about an inch above the knee - this might be shorter than you're comfortable with, but hemmed shorts need to be a little neater.
The middle pair I wore as pants for a few years before taking a rolling blade to them. I cut these right at the knee (anything longer, unless you're going surfing, just cuts your leg at an awkward place.)
A little faux-seersucker for the summer. I opted for a narrower hem with this fabric. Ask your tailor.
One final note - those oddly coloured remainders hanging on the sale rack might not work as pants, but will work surprisingly well as shorts. Club Monaco regularly has weird ones for $9.