Clothing brand helps give survivors of sexual violence a path

When Congolese physician Denis Mukwege received a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, Milain Fayulu SM ’22 was crammed with pleasure in his dwelling nation. He eagerly set an alarm from Miami to get up within the early hours and watch Mukwege’s speech in Norway.

Within the speech, Mukwege mentioned his expertise caring for tens of hundreds of ladies who survived sexual violence through the civil wars within the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mukwege, who established the nonprofit Panzi Basis to take care of survivors and assist them take again their lives, has referred to as for an finish to sexual violence in conflict.

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“If you take heed to that speech, you simply shake,” Fayulu says. “I believed, ‘Is it actually doable to develop a rustic that has this setting for ladies?’ It turns on the market’s a transparent correlation between how a lot freedom ladies have, how educated they’re, and the event of the nation.”

That perception was adopted by one other revelation about Mukwege’s message.

“The speech has comparatively few views on YouTube,” Fayulu says. “It appeared like he was trapped in an echo chamber of parents enthusiastic about worldwide relations and politics. The truth is change doesn’t occur till your message begins permeating by way of the lots. I got here to the conclusion that he wasn’t reaching the correct viewers.”

To assist deliver Mukwege’s message to the lots, Fayulu based the Congo Clothes Firm. The corporate sells Congo-inspired jackets, pants, T-shirts, and different attire to a worldwide buyer base and donates a portion of proceeds to the Panzi Basis’s job coaching efforts. The corporate additionally helps a course that teaches survivors of sexual violence find out how to sew.

“Nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations usually search help by way of a damage-centered strategy,” Fayulu explains. “We flip it by providing this cool model with designs you would possibly like. All we’re saying is ‘look good, do good.’ Get one thing you assume is cool. The donation, the altruistic half, is baked into you shopping for one thing you already like. We’re inviting you to hitch us from a spot of tradition and trend.”

Congo Clothes Firm’s merchandise is shipped with a booklet that tells Congo’s historical past grappling with conflict, educating prospects within the hopes they change into ambassadors for the corporate’s mission.

“If you get the jacket or shirt, you enter the ecosystem,” Fayulu says. “If you put on it round, say, Cambridge, individuals will cease you — we hear about it on a regular basis — and also you’ll haven’t any possibility however to inform the story of the ladies in Congo and the way your buy has made an influence. That manner the story — and the help — scales. We don’t want The New York Instances to report on it, we simply want Gen Zers and Millennials around the globe to take possession of the issue and do one thing to assist these ladies get again on observe.”

Constructing a model at MIT

Though Fayulu was born within the Democratic Republic of Congo, he lived all through Africa in his youth earlier than ending highschool in Paris. He attended the College of Miami as an undergraduate, the place he started his first forays into entrepreneurship, founding a web based skincare model for individuals of shade after which a property-tech firm.

After listening to Mukwege’s transferring speech, Fayulu labored for a yr to satisfy with the physician, ultimately monitoring him down in Los Angeles in 2019.

He advised Mukwege concerning the shift to acutely aware consumerism in Western markets and defined his thought to assist take Mukwege’s message to a wider viewers.

“Folks need manufacturers that align with their values,” Fayulu says. “Congo Clothes Firm was actually born from this concept that if we are able to discover a technique to merge his work with the mass market, individuals with a voice of their neighborhood, individuals with followers on social media,  you could possibly democratize his work and get it to scale.”

Fayulu got here to MIT in 2020 to pursue a lifelong curiosity in political science whereas additionally leveraging the Institute’s entrepreneurship sources to get CCC off the bottom.

First, he obtained a fellowship from the Legatum Heart at MIT, which help social entrepreneurship. Then he took programs in D-Lab, obtained steering from MIT’s Enterprise Mentoring Service, and frequented the Martin Belief Heart for MIT Entrepreneurship, by way of which he entered entrepreneurship applications together with the MIT Fuse bootcamp, StartMIT, and the delta v summer season accelerator.

By all of it, Fayulu refined his thought for Congo Clothes Firm and superior the model.

“Schooling is necessary,” he says. “We consider ourselves as storytellers. We’re competing for consideration. We’ve chosen trend as our medium, and our capability to amplify the message rests in our capability to provide individuals a compelling story that they will then internalize, personal, and regurgitate. That’s how we unfold the message.”

Congo Clothes Firm’s brand is a zigzag in between two straight traces. Fayulu says it represents the merging of an historical Congolese Kingdom often called Kuba (the zigzag) with a Western aesthetic (the straight traces). Because the model expands its product line, Fayulu has large desires for the corporate.

“For those who stroll down the road in Boston or Cambridge, you may depend the variety of Patagonia jackets you see,” Fayulu says. “We wish individuals to see that zigzag and for it to change into a recognizable brand. Africa doesn’t have many ubiquitous manufacturers, however that’s what we wish Congo Clothes Firm to change into. We wish to change into part of individuals’s every day lives.”

Empowering survivors

The Panzi Hospital opened in 1999. It has since expanded to supply not solely medical care but in addition psychological therapy, authorized help, and job coaching. Up to now, it has helped greater than 85,000 ladies.

Congo Clothes Firm labored with Panzi to develop a part of the job coaching curriculum to show ladies find out how to sew. Up to now the corporate has funded greater than 7,000 coaching days.

“For those who don’t have something if you get out of the hospital, you’ll by no means get better,” Fayulu says. “When you full the workshop, you have got a ability and you’ll return into society with a toolkit. Now survivors have a technique to make a dwelling, and survivors with children can put them by way of college in order that they’re not topic to being recruited by insurgent teams. That manner the violence decreases and also you create a virtuous cycle within the communities.”

Finally CCC desires to broaden the partnership to have ladies manufacture and design components of its clothes. Within the meantime, with the assistance of Enrique Avina ’22 and present MIT undergraduate Rithvik Ganesh, CCC goals to ship extra influence digitally.

In that spirit, the corporate is growing an app it’s calling the ‘CCC Creator Studio’ to supply a quicker, extra direct stream of revenue for the ladies.

“Delivery clothes is a heavy raise,” Fayulu says. “Delivery designs is simpler.”

All of CCC’s initiatives are distinct from the aid-based help susceptible communities usually obtain.

“There’s this savior complicated, the thought is we’re going to bathe these individuals with cash and meals, and we’ll be ok with ourselves, and that’s it,” Fayulu says. “Everybody welcomes support in the event that they want it, however what actually adjustments issues is if you educate individuals new abilities. If you speak to those ladies, they need one thing they will run independently to allow them to depend on themselves. These ladies should not helpless — these ladies are very resilient. They’re a number of the most resilient individuals on the market.”


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