Archive for August 2010

Social Enterprise   Leave a comment

What do the words “social enterprise” mean?

This is something Rachel and I have been discussing over the last few days, as I try to familiarize myself with the work of KeoK’jay (which, by the way, is blowing my mind so far!)

I am genuinely interested in what you think, so tell me what comes to mind.

“Social enterprise” (a.k.a. “social entrepreneurship”) has become a pretty hot idea recently in the world of business and also in development. I was just asked by my alma mater, Chapman University, to speak to the class of incoming freshmen (via Skype) about this very topic.

Because I haven’t thought about it in any kind of an academic context in over a year, I decided to prepare a bit. I consulted Wikipedia (woo!) and was really happy with this definition:

“Social enterprises are social mission driven organizations which apply market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose.”  Then there was some more stuff…blahblahblah… but the bottom line, at least for me, was this: “Rather than maximizing shareholder value, the main aim of social enterprises is to generate profit to further their social and or environmental goals.

This makes a lot of sense on paper, but it’s a pretty unbelievable concept to someone with a background in market-driven economics or someone who has been a member of the American work force. Let me illustrate how this plays out at KeoK’jay.

So you may already know that the 9 women that make the products at KeoK’jay work from home. On Monday mornings, they come to the shop with all of the products that they made, Rachel pays them and assigns them new tasks for the week.

This week, one of the women brought nearly 40 new crocheted headbands. Of the forty, only TWO were done well enough that we could actually put them in the store. TWO! The rest weren’t horrible, but the sizing was a bit off and the colors didn’t quite match… in general, the pieces weren’t standardized. They weren’t usable.

Disappointing (to say the least), considering how long Rachel had spent training the women on how to make this piece just the week before. But this is not a rare occurrence. In fact, from what I understand, this happens on a semi-regular basis.

What did Rachel do in this circumstance? She paid the woman her weekly salary and assigned her the task of taking apart the 38 headbands. She then showed her (for the third time) how to make the headband correctly.

This is a good spot to pause and mention that this isn’t the case EVERY time. If the product in question is something that the women have made many times before and obviously know how to make correctly, major mistakes result in a deduction in pay. But, needless to say, Rachel’s leniency is HUGE compared to other bosses.

It also probably goes without saying that this business model is inefficient and expensive. To maximize profit, a business consultant would suggest some of the following:

1.)    Hire a more skilled workforce

2.)    Have the women work at the shop, where you can supervise their progress and catch mistakes early on

3.)    Don’t pay the women for flawed products, so as to create incentive to do things right the first time

All good suggestions…. IF what you’re trying to maximize is profit. But, while profit is definitely the end-goal (like Wiki said, to further advance the mission), no part of KeoK’jay’s mission will be compromised in pursuit of profit, because as a “social enterprise”, it aims to maximize social benefit rather than profit.

Because the mission of KeoK’jay is to provide HIV positive women with training and a comfortable work environment in which they can produce environmentally sustainable products and be paid fair wages for doing so, here is our response to the imaginary business consultant:

1.)    A more skilled sewer can find work elsewhere. A woman that has not had the privilege of an education or previous training, especially when she is infected with HIV, cannot. Simply put, KeoK’jay’s mission is to provide employment to women that would otherwise be un-hireable.

2.)    The women sometimes work at the shop, especially while learning to make something new, but ultimately they are more comfortable working at home, where they can take care of their families and take care of their health. The mistakes they make while working there do result in higher cost of production, but the higher cost is worth it for the sake of the mission.

3.)    “Fair wages”, which is a key element of KeoK’jay’s mission, means a wage on which these women can live, and they will not, no matter how many mistakes they make, be paid less than that.

In summary, the social mission of KeoK’jay cannot be met by following traditional business practices. This is what makes our fashion green and fair and, apparently, cutting-edge! 🙂

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Posted August 18, 2010 by Sasha in Uncategorized

FOBs and KeoK’jay team up for the South East Asian Water Festival!   Leave a comment

Three things you should know about:

1.)  KeoK’jay. Need I say more?

2.) FOB’s clothing: Started by a cool bunch of Khmer-American guys in Lowell MA who I had the pleasure of meeting last spring, F.O.B’s Clothing Co. has quickly become one of my favorite new US based brands. Their urban t-shirt line has evolved into a community-driven business catering to the large immigrant population while respectively remaining inclusive to all.

Here’s what they have to say about what FOB’s means to them:

“It can mean a lot of things: to us, F.O.B. is basically anything new, fresh, and inventive. Generally the term is used in a derogatory context towards foreigners and immigrants. Although, we are admittedly just a clothing line, we feel it to be our duty and responsibility to progressively influence the public in a positive effort through the power of art, fashion, and style. Here and now, we’ve come to known F.O.B. as something cool, trendy, beautiful, and positive. We are fully aware of the potential repercussions we may have towards the social identity of the F.O.B. slang and will continue to express our art and creativity with strong moral conviction. We would like to heavily stress that F.O.B. Clothing Co. © is in no way exploiting the term F.O.B. or the culture of immigrants to any degree of disrespect.”

2.)  Southeast Asian Water Festival: in the tradition of several Southeast Asian cultures, Lowell hosts a water festival every year where there are boat races, food, festivities, and more. This year is the 14th annual event!

And the conjunction of all these three = KeoK’jay is teaming up with FOBs clothing to sell our goods at the water festival! So get yourself down (or up) to Lowell, see some boat races, have some great food, and most importantly, get your hands on some KeoK’jay clothing! We will mostly be selling accessories to compliment the t-shirts of our fabulous counterpart. We’ll have some new headbands and bags for sale that you don’t want to miss. Here are the details:

When: August 21 · 10:00am – 6:00pm

Where: Lowell Heritage State Park Esplanade & Sampas Pavilion 500 Pawtucket Blvd. Lowell, Massachusetts 01854

Why: Why are you still reading this? Go now!

Posted August 15, 2010 by keokjay in Uncategorized

KeoK’jay-EGBOK-Apliiq collaboration   Leave a comment

Two KeoK’jay prints are being used on a line of t shirts by Apliiq, a company making customizable t’s and hoodies in the US. Apliiq is helping out EGBOK (Everything’s Gonna Be OK) Mission, an international non-profit organization empowering young adults with the educational and vocational training needed to support themselves as hospitality professionals. EGBOK asked us to make the fabric for the t-shirts and hoodies, and the profits will be going to their super cool organization. Check out the result of this collaboration here!

Posted August 13, 2010 by keokjay in Uncategorized

Happy Birthday Josie!   Leave a comment

Today we’d like to send a shout-out Josie Norris, who works for Nau, the amazing sustainable clothing company based in Portland, who, through their grant for change, have given us a good bit of publicity and support. (No, we didn’t get the grant, but we were a finalist and are very grateful for all the connections we’ve been able to make through the process!)

But, un-related to Nau, Josie decided to give us a washing machine for HER birthday, which is today. Until now we’ve been washing all our clothes and fabric by hand, and sometimes they have to be washed twice because we wash the fabric and iron it as soon as we get it from the market (since we use a lot of second hand fabric) and then again before we sell the clothing. As you can imagine, having a washing machine will make a big difference to us in terms of efficiency and productivity. So thank you Josie, and happy birthday!

ps: pictures coming soon.

Posted August 9, 2010 by keokjay in Uncategorized

Christening our print table   Leave a comment

For a long time now I’ve wanted to make a print table. It’s quite simple really, but it’s been something on my long list of things that need attention that made it to the forefront finally because of KeoK’jay’s new designer, Genny Cortinovis. Previously we would roll out a piece on cloth and print all our designs on the floor. Now that we’ve re-organized our workshop (special thanks to Tory Stolper for her amazing powers of organization and subtle hints to get my act together) we had space to put a print table. We don’t normally have men hanging around here, but when our friend Cameron was here visiting we put him to work helping us to build the print table and also a wall of our dressing room in the back which needed to be expanded. (Thanks Cameron!)

Then Genny and I did the first test of the print table with a pineapple skin inspired design, which is being used for some dresses designed by Genny.

Collaboration at it’s finest! It’s really nice having another designer here to bounce ideas back and forth with.

I initially designed this interlocking repeat print for EGBOK (Everything’s Gonna Be OK) Mission, an international non-profit organization empowering young adults with the educational and vocational training needed to support themselves as hospitality professionals. (Pineapple = symbol of hospitality.) This print and two others are going to be used in a line of t-shirts and hoodies made by apliiq…coming soon! but, everyone loved this print so we’ve decided to get some more mileage out of it. Once again…we love collaboration.

Posted August 8, 2010 by keokjay in Uncategorized

Rainy Season   Leave a comment

For your amusement (and our dismay, because we obviously don’t get many customers when it’s like this) here’s the view from outside our shop when it rains. Well, to be fair, its only like this about once per week during the rainy season (it’s about 6 months long folks) and every other day it just rains “a little.” So next time someone complains to me about the rain in seattle…

Posted August 8, 2010 by keokjay in Uncategorized

Our Phnom Penh Boutique and workshop   Leave a comment

pictures of our shop, for those of you who can’t come visit in person! in the back is sewing workshop and dye space which we recently set up after getting kicked out of our other workshop. (shop interior pictures by James Grant)

Most of our staff work at home, so our dye kitchen, printing area, and sewing workshop are really just a test space for making new samples, as well as for training new women. During the day we’ll have 2-4 women working and training in our sewing shop.

Our printing area and sewing workshop

a screen used for a traffic inspired t shirt print and our dyeing area (I honestly don’t know why there is a watermelon in the dye kitchen.)

These baskets of scraps are supposed to be organized by color for easy usage (we’re working on it)

a view of our shop from the loft

Posted August 8, 2010 by keokjay in Uncategorized