So, you’ve just finished up your MBA and you’re ready to take on the business world with visions of power suits, power lunches and power plays dancing in your head. Where do you begin? What’s your first move?? If you’re Dubai-based Efua Mensa-Brown, you start by designing a clothing line.
Let’s back up a bit. Efua Mensa-Brown, though a lover of fashion, had never designed anything in her life–she spent years as a management consultant. The game changer? In 2008 while working on that MBA, Efua first learned about the atrocities of the $32 billion per year business of human trafficking. “It sounded like a movie–it couldn’t be real…I couldn’t wrap my head around it”, she says. After graduating, she had the opportunity to go out and do practically anything she wanted (see aforementioned power-suited power lunches), but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she needed to do something with real meaning. She adds, “It sounds cheesy, but I wanted to change the world, make it a better place in any way that I could”. The issue of human trafficking kept haunting her. Doing her part to end it became her raison d’être.
So, how does one person change the world? Efua quips, “I know I can’t do it by myself! That I, Efua, will come to the rescue!” She decided to create something that people would easily buy, enabling her to donate a large portion of profits to an organization that is already working toward the goal of ending human trafficking. Completely undeterred by the fact that she was not a fashion designer, but knowing that women’s wear creates epic revenue streams (expected to exceed $621 billion in 2014, according to MarketLine), Efua ditched the proverbial power suit in favor of designing dresses.
It seemed a bit unorthodox at first. “Human trafficking”, Efua says, “is a dirty word. It’s a crime. How do I align this with fashion? With beauty? How do I give it meaning?” Efua optimistically believes that most humans want to make a difference and want to do good. She feels that she is offering a simple, everyday way for women of normal means to spend their clothing budget more meaningfully. It is a small step, but she feels that hundreds of women making small steps is just as effective as one person swinging for the fences.
Since she didn’t come from the fashion industry, her designs are simple, chic and imminently wearable–conceptual couture doesn’t make sense to her and, frankly, is not the demographic she’s after. Real women making a real difference–that’s Efua’s vision. Using fashion as a vehicle for awareness and change, she currently donates 20 percent of her profits to the A21 Campaign, chosen because of their global outlook and focus on major source countries of human trafficking.
The A21 website reveals that there are approximately 27 million men, women and children that are living in modern slavery. Twenty-seven MILLION. Sadly, only 1-2 percent of these victims are ever rescued from bondage. The site offers ways to get involved: by donating money, volunteering or interning. The site also has an extensive education library to help raise awareness of the problem. In January of 2014, they will be releasing a free downloadable version of their “Bodies Are Not Commodities” curriculum for high school students, which has been a pilot program up until now.
Efua’s line, aptly named Proverbs by Efua, is constructed of high quality, all-natural fabrics; primarily cottons and silks. Her first collection was black with pops of color; she says those pieces were “[…]about being in a dark place, but that there are always bright spots and people that help you in that time.” Her Fall/Winter 2013 line employs bold color, representing hope and a bright future (and just garnered a nice little blurb in the January 2014 edition of British Vogue).
And speaking of bright futures, what does Efua’s have in store? She plans to continue to stay true to her original idea of creating wearable fashion for a cause, but would love to expand into a lifestyle brand–shoes, sunglasses, and possibly even home wares.
Her wildest dream? “Wouldn’t it be nice if everything we bought contributed to a cause?”
All images courtesy Efua Mensa-Brown
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