The job comes with a living wage, free child care, free health care — even a free lunch.
It might sound good to anyone.
In this case, the workers are women in India and Ghana who make clothing for a Kansas City-based nonprofit startup called By Grace. The firm, founded by Emily Moon of Kansas City and Kelsey Carlstedt, sells handmade skirts, dresses, clutches and other items online with the goal of empowering at-risk women in those countries.
After starting the enterprise in 2015, Moon and Carlstedt secured their first infusion of outside capital this year by winning a $20,000 prize in an entrepreneurship contest through the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
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The two best friends and co-founders hope to use the funding to boost their marketing efforts, expand their workshops and hire more women. By Grace now employs nearly 100 women in Bangalore, India, and Tamale, Ghana in West Africa, where many women live in poverty and have few opportunities to improve their lives.
The idea came from Moon’s experience growing up with missionary parents in Ghana.
Moon, who now works in business development for a Kansas City law firm, knew women in Ghana who were smart, skilled and talented, she said, but struggled to make a living because they lacked access to resources and global markets.
Some young women from Tamale, unable to pursue higher education, wind up working as porters making 66 cents a day, leaving them prey to homelessness and exploitation.
Carlstedt, who works in the fashion industry in Los Angeles, shared Moon’s desire to change that. The two teamed up to start By Grace.
“We always wanted to do something for the women in Ghana,” Moon said. “But something that was sustainable and was going to have a positive effect on that culture.”
Convinced that they could best help not through charity but rather business enterprise, the two started working with skilled seamstresses there, who have so far recruited eight women in the Tamale area to produce clothing for sale abroad.
Connecting two worlds
By Grace provides the women with training and sewing machines, which allows them to make a living in their hometowns. The women earn on average $15 per week, which may not sound like much to readers in the U.S. but represents about three times the typical wage for workers in Tamale. Moon and Carlstedt said they work with local leaders to scale pay appropriately.
About 80 women work for By Grace in Bangalore, India, where operations are run by Daughters of Hope, a fair trade, socially oriented agency that provides training and employment to women living in poverty.
The women working for By Grace in Bangalore generally earn between $120 and $140 per month, which is about five times what they could hope to make at other jobs in Bangalore, Moon said. At work, the women receive free child care, health care and meals.
Many of the women working for By Grace in Bangalore come from the lowest rung of the Indian caste system: the untouchables. Some are victims of domestic abuse or sex trafficking. Some are widowed or live with disabilities.
“Basically, a lot of women that society has thrown aside,” Moon said. “We are able to tell these women for the first time in their lives, they are not untouchable.
“If we can help girls achieve their dreams, how cool is that?”
By Grace also employs pattern makers, cutters, dyers and fabric buyers who source their materials in the markets of Tamale and Bangalore.
“So what you get is exquisitely beautiful and really something that you can only find there,” Moon said.
Prices for By Grace merchandise range from $49 to $79 for a skirt, $24 for a clutch and $15 for a wallet. The firm has been selling about 60 items per month.
Moon said she and Carlstedt do not draw a salary from the nonprofit and are putting the proceeds into expansion.
“We really want to be a national brand,” Moon said.
In addition to building up their existing operations, which they plan to visit this summer — they have been to Ghana but not India yet — the two are planning new ventures in the United States.
One, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, would employ women with limited work and educational opportunities to produce jewelry and beadwork using traditional skills.
Later, Moon and Carlstedt hope to start a similar program in Kansas City, where women could produce clothing — possibly Western wear or other styles.
They believe their business model could work in numerous places around the world where women need an opportunity and can trade their skills for the capital that is so plentiful elsewhere.
“We’re really trying to connect two worlds,” Carlstedt said. “We want to educate American consumers, especially American women, about the plight of women in the Third World.”
Find out more
For information about By Grace merchandise, or to make a donation, visit bygracedesigns.org.