The Avon lady has become one of the quintessential symbols of female Americana, but a new study shows that she's now doing her part to boost the economy and morale in South Africa as well.
A three-year study conducted by Oxford University found that Avon's employment of women in South Africa has allowed them to find financial independence and higher confidence levels. Since its launch in the mid 1990s, the South Africa branch of the cosmetics company has recruited a sales team of local women to sell its products, the same business model that Avon uses stateside.
The door-to-door sales company was founded by David H. McConnell in 1886 to sell books for the most part, but was soon switched completely to cosmetics when the founder noticed that makeup sales were a more lucrative business. McConnell also saw a niche opportunity for housewives to stretch their legs in the working world in a time when employment opportunities for them were limited. These founding principles have been applied on a global scale to combat gender inequality in South Africa, offering women an opportunity to earn a living and be independent.
The study concluded that women in South Africa employed by Avon "were more likely to use any incremental wealth to improve the diet, health care, and education of their children." Respondents reported very positive experiences working with the company, with 74.6 percent saying it had given them financial autonomy and 88.8 percent saying it had given them more self confidence.
The social impact was made clear to researchers, who referred to the participants' hyperbolic enthusiasm as "lipstick evangelism." They also noted how many of Avon's employees were orphans, refugees or rape victims with almost no other job alternatives.
Fashion and beauty companies have already had their eye on giving back, from TOMS providing shoes to children in need to Stella McCartney championing animal rights. As more brands expand globally, there seems to be an increased focus on charitable ventures.
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