MEMBER STORY – There is a sense of admiration in the air. Condensing on the vibrant African colours and Dutch design. Starch in contrast with the grey mass of fellow suitors in the game. Is this the candidate that passes all the trials? She fought against breakeven points, the need to scale to be sustainable as a business and the lack of direct knowledge and entrepreneurial experience. On her way deliberate avoided the common route for social enterprises on a scaling journey. Solely by use of her natural wit, she knows now how to beat the more common approaches to get to social impact. It is clear now, there is a new trickster in town. Ready to make change in her suiting, nifty and foxy ways. While influencing the larger institutions on her path of business.
Sivan Breemhaar, former student in Conflict Studies, discovered without doubt her yarn to weave. “We admit, what we want to change is a way to ambitious goal. But it definitely has to come through entrepreneurship, and not by means of development work.”. The winner of last years 60 Day Challenge and participant in the EU Benisi Program founded fashion label Afriek together with business partner Kars Gerrits. With the same bright coloured characteristics of the key item blazer the label encourages to see the positive site of the country where it is produced. Rwanda a former country torn by internal conflicts, now flourishes again. “Did you know they don’t use plastic bags in whole Rwanda? And corruption is at admirable low level.”, just one of Sivan’s swift mentions that lures you to change perspective on the African region. That is exactly the story Afriek tells. One of equality and the power of self providence. Now ready to embark on a new mission, to expand within Europe via participation in scaling program BENISI.
“We bring into practice what we say and mean to change.”
Unexpected entrepreneurial roots
It started with a Master thesis on how transition to democracy takes place after a period of civil war. From the experience encountered while doing research in the country in question, Rwanda, it rapidly evolved into dedication to do fair business. Actually honest cooperation is something to take for granted, is it not? “Doing business with our craftsmen in Kigali is the same for us as let say doing business with somebody in Germany. You are not going to ask them how much you must pay them either.” Afriek sees all their partners in the chain as equal partners. A link to the somewhat disrupted common vision between cultural and economical relations between Europe and the African region is easily made.
As in conflict situations equality is very important to come a solution so is it in economical relations. I am convinced we do not need to help countries as Rwanda. The time has come to let go of our superior vision, long time projected through development work. Afriek takes the stand in putting itself as an equal partner in the market. Again from the conviction that the self providence of a market and a person are the most strongest powers to drive change. With respect and understanding as a solid base.
“Economical partnerships and trade is about collaboration from a base of equality.”
Blazer for honest trade
A lot of trends go by in both the sustainable fashion as social enterprise world. Remarkably enough Afriek is not leveraging one of them in the positioning. Equality in cooperation is our main focus and we use our jackets to tell that story, Sivan stresses again. What we do is simple. We produce a high fashion blazer. Designed by a Dutch designer and made in Rwanda, with help of a small dozen of local tailors, craftsmen and by use of regional materials. We support our tailors in a stable income and provide a number of locals in jobs. There is no need to overstate this with Eko labels, social enterprise or other sustainable predicates.
“A lot of our buyers tell the story of Afriek. That this is a blazer produced in a former country torn by violence and now redeeming an equal trade position.”
The blazer is such a statement in design that it is truly a conversation starter. And that is where our advocacy does what it should. A lot of our buyers tell that this is a blazer produced in a former country torn by violence and now redeeming an equal position. The label in the jacket subtly mentions the personal name of the tailor, the customers name and other parties involved. Yes this is a hand cut quality tailored item. From Kigali, Rwanda. “We bring into practice what we say and mean to change. The story behind the blazer ads to the impact we strive for and vice versa.” A challenge Sivan likes to tackle is to get more insight in the background of the products involved in the production. One of our goals of the Benisi program is to find partners who could tell us more about the origin of the fabrics we use. In terms of honest and sustainable production, we like to improve our product constantly. Therefore we need the information about topics as the labour conditions and ecological sustainability.
In January Afriek is represented on one of the major European fashion trade fairs. “If we continue our unlimited dream, we get more retailers, buyers, and finally consumers. Which translates into more production orders for the partners in Rwanda. We aim to provide at least 10 tailors fulltime for each half a year term. Bring back quality, create a stable production process and make the world more beautiful with yet another international collaboration. Next step would be a collection based on more different cultures.”
Not there yet and now in need of support how to grow in production capability BENISI is a logical next step. From student, 60 Day Challenge participant and starting entrepreneur to now we have learned so much, gained an immense amount of experience. This journey is just started and still interesting because of the continuing learning curve. “I am not that kind of a quitter anyway”. An understatement made by Sivan, taking on a whole different approach on the way to drive change.
“Economical partnerships and trade is about collaboration from a base of equality.” The broad European BENISI network available for her participants is all about supporting unique entrepreneurial visions as Afriek’s. The model Afriek chose within the program is to expand production capability. This is one of the four choices available to scale your business within BENISI. In cohort meetings and one-on-one talks with the available advisers Sivan takes steps to make here plans come to action.
The BENISI partners seek to build a Europe-wide network of networks of incubators for social innovation. This network will proactively identify at least 300 social innovations that are identified with high potential for scaling successfully, and ensure the delivery of necessary support services to those social innovations. Networks are already structured in a collaborative mode; they are more able to spread knowledge and practice horizontally and they are the perfect ally when trying to develop a Europe-wide programme that needs to balance local action with continent-wide strategy and vision.
- Networking: Connected to retailers in London, Paris and Berlin.
- Coaching : Provided business coaching, provided project management advice,
- Knowledge sharing: provided knowledge on scaling to other countries in Europe (local market knowledge)
- Visibility: provided visibility through online media channels.
Milestones since start into the project
- New product line: recently started the production of a new women’s line
Like to know more about Afriek or the BENISI scaling program? Feel free to contact us. Not fully there yet as social entrepreneur? Just a visit is a good idea as well, click here or drop by anytime at your future changemakers place at Westerpark, Amsterdam.