Even with all of the problems US schools are burdened with, access is something we take for granted. In Africa, 1 out of every 3 kids does not go to school. In Liberia, it's 6 out of 10. Uniforms are required for children to attend school, but the cost of these uniforms is a huge obstacle for many families. Many Liberian families are still struggling after the Ebola crisis during which an incredible 50% of working adults lost their jobs.
Chid Liberty has set his sights on solving this problem of access. Chid is the CEO of Liberty & Justice (L&J), Africa’s first Fair Trade Certified™ apparel manufacturer. He is also Liberian. "The problem doesn't just extend to the fact that they're not being educated. We're all losing," he said. "Without getting kids in school, how do we have the next Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president in Africa? How do we have the Kennedy Odedes? How do we have the Leymah Gbowees? How do have all of these powerful Africans that are creating change in their societies if we're letting a third of the population not go to school?" Rather than a lament, I think Chid was merely sizing up the challenge (clearly he's a doer; read his about impressive accomplishments here).
For all those kids who can't go just because of the uniform, we got them.
L&J's predominantly female workforce brought the uniform issue to light and, by brilliant design, are also part of the solution. The traditional one-for-one model simply would not address this delicate uniform-work balance. Their elegant solution was to bring to market their own premium clothing line called UNIFORM, using what has been dubbed a "one-for-one remix." Their first product is a premium t-shirt, the purchase of which provides a child's school uniform and creates jobs for women in the factory where they will make not only the shirts, but the uniforms as well. The factory employees receive living wages, free healthcare, literacy classes, and 49% equity in the factory. At the pre-launch party for UNIFORM, an ebullient Chid declared, "For all those kids who can't go just because of the uniform, we got them."
The name UNIFORM represents both uniforms for the students and the longevity of the line's goals and aesthetic. A few weeks ago, I went to UNIFORM's pre-launch and saw, felt, and tried on a t-shirt for myself. The fit is classic and enduring, and the fabric has a soft hand thanks to a blend of Lyocell, nylon, and silk. The quality of the product coupled with the integrity of the business makes supporting UNIFORM a must.
At L&J, we believe that the path to sustainable development not only gives to the poor but also empowers the poor to create that path for themselves. – L&J CEO, Chid Liberty
The UNIFORM Kickstarter campaign launched on June 2nd, 2015 in partnership with the United Nations and Liberia’s Ministry of Education. The initial target of $50,000 – the amount of money needed to donate approximately 2,000 uniforms to 9 schools – was reached in the first 6 hours and has since grown to over $135,000! However, that doesn't mean the work is done. With their new goal of $150,000, UNIFORM can distribute 6,000 uniforms across 27 schools, and sustain jobs for working mothers in Liberia. Alongside the United Nations and Liberia’s Ministry of Education, their goal is to send 50,000 kids to school within a year. The Kickstarter will end July 17th.