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Francine LeFrak Headshot

Creating the Demand for a Soulful Economy

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It's that time of year again in New York City -- thousands of people from every corner of the globe gather together to address the world's most pressing social issues. As my friend Louise Guido calls it "The Fashion Week" of Social Impact is in full force. With many conferences, including CGI and the UN in session, we have everyone from prime ministers, presidents, diplomats, to non-profit gurus coming into Midtown Manhattan for one of the world's most active attempts at collaboration.

In true CGI vain, pioneers of the ethical shopping movement gathered at Donna Karan's Urban Zen Loft on Sunday to address their potential to mend some of the world's grim statistics like the fact that 2.7 billion people are living in poverty, and 40% of the world's population live on less than $2 a day. The evening was a call to action spearheaded by Donna Karan, Diane Osgood of Virgin Unite, and Zainab Salbi of Women for Women. I spoke on behalf of SAME SKY, my trade-not-aid initiative in Rwanda alongside Black Mycoskie of TOMS, Lauren Bush of FEED, Paul van Zyl of Maiyet, Patrick Firmenich, among other leaders in the movement. As trailblazers of the ethical shopping movement, we have provided economic empowerment to 100 Rwandan Genocide survivors, TOMS has given shoes in over 60 countries, and FEED has provided over 10 million meals to children in the USA, among so many other endeavors. Donna Karan has done tremendous work in Haiti with her vision to help the country help itself by utilizing the potential of its talented artisans through well designed products and raw materials.

But our accomplishments were not the focus of the evening. Rather, we focused on how to create the demand for a soulful and meaningful economy. We discussed the various ways to urge consumers to think about what kind of world they want to live in. The world we strive for is one where our clothing and accessories act as a ribbon to economically empowered artisans who now have shoes, food, and prosperity within their reach.

At SAME SKY in order to create the demand for ethical shopping, we demonstrate how the consumer becomes a part of the artisan's story. When you purchase a Sky necklace, Clemantine, a Rwandan Genocide survivor, can now pay school fees for her children and Brigitte a victim of rape, now has health insurance, and hot food to take her HIV medication with.

Yet again, I was seized with CGI's agenda this year -with meetings and conferences to address the long-term vision for women's empowerment and the active role we can all play in helping to achieve this. It is a tremendous step in the right direction for all of us who know that unleashing the potential of women is the key ingredient to lifting people (and even countries) out of poverty.

If there is one place to elevate the conversation on women's empowerment its at CGI. I believe it has the potential to put the pieces together -women's empowerment, artisanship, creating consumer demand- they are all pieces to the same puzzle. The long-term marriage of these concepts can give birth to a movement that provides sustainable employment, marketable skills, and the dignity of work. Within one movement we are checking off so many boxes, ultimately leading the world to tangible solutions for the most challenging issues of our time.

When I spoke with Francois Pinot at CGI he said that designers and major labels listen to the trends created by the public. To which I responded, "So why not educate the public?" To make ethical clothing in high demand, the public needs to feel and understand the double benefit of shopping for a good cause. But it is up to social businesses to provide the public with this type of education and to make it trendy.

Some major labels have caught on to what Hillary Clinton describes as "not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing." Gucci has implemented an incredible program to help stop violence against women, and Firmenich has become a thought leader in global sustainability for fragrances by making "going green" their model. These companies, along with all of those at Urban Zen on Sunday have let the public dabble into a movement that has the potential to "put poverty in a museum," as my friend Muhammad Yunus would say.

So as the world's report card becomes increasingly troublesome, this is a call to action to remind everyone that our everyday choices are determining the lives of people in the developing world. I speak on behalf of all of those involved with the Soulful Economy movement when I ask that designers, business owners, major labels, and entrepreneurs 'lean in' and provide your consumers with feel good products and great stories. Once consumers are exposed to ethical shopping, it is with certainty that they will feel and love the connection and the movement.