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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why I started a socially conscious business

Around this time last year I started Sarafina, a fashion retail company that works with tailors and seamstresses in developing countries. I wanted to create jobs but more importantly provide a living wage for those I worked with. I spent the first 18 years of my life living between Cote d’Ivoire, Pakistan, and India and I have always been determined to empower people that make up the lower income brackets in the developing world.

Growing up I saw many people who didn't have access to an education pick up jobs to provide for themselves and their families. My parents were always big advocates of giving jobs to empower people. That included the people working for my family who were always paid a living wage. I could tell you stories about people that used to work for my family when we were in India, such as Anish who now earns a living as a driver for a large international company or Rakhi, my former maid whose two children are both in school and living a carefree life as children should, but I won't. 

Looking back I think what shaped me the most wasn't my experience living in various developing countries but witnessing poverty in my own family. I was born in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa to an American mother and Ivorian father. While we were financially secure and lived in one of the nicest parts of town, a sizable part of my Ivorian family did not have access to the same opportunities that my father did. My father was the only one of his siblings that completed secondary school. After completing his BA in Cote d’Ivoire, he went on to study economics at the University of Colorado and later at Wharton, at the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile many of his family members were coming from my family village and were struggling to provide for their immediate family. I grew up sharing my house, clothes, and toys with my relatives' kids while my parents selflessly helped relative after relative. At the time, I didn’t really understand what was happening but now realize the importance of what my parents did. Instead of only giving them money, my parents helped my relatives get jobs. Twenty years later, my uncles and aunts are financially independent and every single one of my cousins had access to secondary school.

It's with this in mind that I created Sarafina. As a socially conscious business, Sarafina only works with designers who have chosen to pay their tailors a living wage. It is our hope that with a steady income, the tailors will be able to provide for their families and break the cycle of poverty. At Sarafina, we believe that empowering people starts with giving them the tools to allow them to lift themselves up. Please join us in our journey and visit our website at 

- Bita Diomande
Founder and CEO of Sarafina

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