Help Maha and Hikmat give secondhand clothes more sparkle

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

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By teaching sewing skills to women like this participant in their fall workshop, Second Chance hopes to provide economic independence to women in rural areas of Lebanon. (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

Meet Maha and Hikmat

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Maha, left, and Hikmat
(photo courtesy Hikmat Al Khansa)

Sparkle jeans. Dip-dye. Metallic piping. Maha Mrad’s got more style in her manicured little finger than many of us have in our whole closet.

Maha’s obsession with fashion started when she was about 10. Her cousin was drawing pictures of dresses in her sketchbook and they caught Maha’s eye. Though her cousin’s interest turned out to be more fleeting, Maha’s been designing interesting outfits and patterns ever since.

As a student at Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon, she found a way to connect her passion for fashion with her studies in social entrepreneurialism.

With a partner, friend and fellow student Hikmat Al Khansa, she’s laid the groundwork for a new social good business, Second Chance, which will revamp secondhand clothing into eco-friendly recycled and upcycled fashions.

“I put together the idea and sent it to Hikmat with a feeling that she’s gonna laugh about it,” Maha says. “Surprisingly she liked it and we went through with it.”

Maha, Hikmat, and eight other student collaborators at their university have been working on the model and marketing plans for Second Chance. After they finish their degrees, Maha and Hikmat plan to go into business together to make their idea a reality.

“She’s the best partner I could think of,” says Maha.

The intention

While thrifting and DIY fashion may be commonplace in the US, in Lebanon and many other countries around the world, buying new and designer clothing remains a status symbol that makes shopping for and buying secondhand clothing unpopular.

Because of this, Hikmat explains, “It’s hard for Lebanese people to admit to buying used clothes even if they do it frequently.”

Second Chance hopes to make over both the clothes themselves and the reputation of previously-owned clothes by upgrading outdated garments with stylish twists. With help and training from a well-known designer, Maha and Hikmat plan to hire women from rural areas around Beirut to do the sewing and redesigning.

“We’re trying to show people that it is okay to wear secondhand clothing,” Maha explains. “Wearing such clothes can be trendy and helpful to both community and environment. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”

Obstacles

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Some of the custom designs created for Second Chance’s 2013 pilot exhibition (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

In fall 2013, Maha, Hikmat, and their fellow student collaborators launched a pilot program of Second Chance and organized a 10-day training workshop for seamstresses.

The result was a fashion exhibition featuring over 70 unique designs. While reception was good, the students sold fewer clothes than they were hoping to.

Maha takes the lack of sales at their initial exhibit in stride, saying, “The biggest lesson I learned is to be more patient and not make an obstacle of myself. It’s all about the attitude.”

As students, Maha and Hikmat are still learning about business management and intend to get Masters degrees in management before they launch Second Chance.

In addition to finishing school, they also need to find partnerships with more established fashion designers or brands to help build their reputation. For their pilot project, they enlisted the help of a local tailor to train the women (rather than a famous designer).

When Maha and Hikmat make a real go of it, they’re hoping to get a big-name designer involved to help increase their visibility.

“People here are all about appearance and prestige,” says Maha.

How you can help

  • Do you know of similar projects in the US or elsewhere around the world that Maha and Hikmat could learn from?
  • Are you connected with a well-known fashion designer or existing clothing brand that wants to get involved in a social good project in the Middle East?
  • Are you or do you know a lawyer in Lebanon who can offer advice to Maha and Hikmat as they set up their business?
  • Do you know of a potential marketing or advertising firm that could offer professional branding services to Second Chance?

Reach out to Second Chance through their Facebook page.

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email rebecca@idealist.org.

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Help Seth create a beverage to better the world

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Seth

Growing up in Pound Ridge, NY, Seth Markowitz had to ride his bike for two minutes to get to his best friend’s house which was only two houses away. This isolation was compounded by the fact that he was considered a nerd, and a kid who didn’t understand why there was so much violence and hostility at school.

But then he went to summer camp. He made a ton of friends. He became empowered to be a leader. He was accepted for who he was.

“At the age of 11 it put this dichotomy in my mind: How come life sometimes can be so isolating and it can be so hard to find community? How come sometimes life can be so wonderful and communal?” he says.

His utopian summer camp experience proved formative. As an adult, Seth became fascinated with traditional hunter-gatherer societies that lived in camps, such as the Mbuti or Pygmies, and Native American tribes where there was little emphasis on possessions or competition, nearly everything was shared in an open and loving manner, and there was a lot of time to socialize and bond.

While studying at Bates College, he participated in a volunteer service program with a group of idealistic students that furthered his desire to return to how our ancestors lived. He witnessed how rewarding it could be to live, even for a short time, in a camp-like community of people devoted to helping others.

“I think tons of people would live comfortably, but modestly, and devote their lives to making the world a better place if they had the opportunity to do so,” he says.

The intention

When he’s not spending his days as a special education teacher, Seth thinks about how he can create an urban intentional community that has a cooperative, socially conscious business at its core.

Inspired by Newman’s Own, which donates 100% of its profits to charity, Seth envisions a business centered around a single-serving soft drink, eventually expanding to other products.

“I want to create a brand. And I want that brand to represent altruism,” he says.

Drawing from the model of Twin Oaks in Virginia, Seth hopes the business will support a community in the Bronx or Brooklyn. The community will be a worker cooperative, where the employees own part of the company, make democratic decisions, and as part of the employment contract, have the time to devote to service in the larger community and to each other.

His goal is to create a company that not only has a charitable mission, but provides its employees a fair living wage, good benefits and a community center/dining hall where they can conveniently gather and share meals. Ultimately, Seth’s goal is to build community within the company, in the neighborhood, and in the world.

Obstacles

So far Seth has a recipe for the soft drink, a brand name, a product name, and a label. He’s also gleaned knowledge from a friend of a friend about taste testing and focus groups.

Here are the challenges he is currently facing:

  1. Seth needs $30,000 in start-up capital to hire a consulting company that could perfect his formula, source ingredients, help design the label, create the nutrition facts, and find bottlers, labelers, and distributors.
  2. He’d love to find a trained business person with experience in the beverage industry, ideally someone who is also committed to his philosophy.
  3. Finding people who would be interested in starting an intentional community, as well as initial partners who have an entrepreneurial and sharing spirit, is crucial.

How you can help

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Seth doesn’t want to divulge the exact product yet, but he stands behind its awesomeness. (Photo via Ano Lobb on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

  • Do you know of any other successful charitable business models or intentional communities Seth can learn from?
  • In general, what’s important to you in a brand?
  • When you’re at the store browsing beverages, what makes you pick up one bottle over another?
  • Where can Seth find philanthropic investors to help kickstart his company?
  • If you’ve started a socially responsible business, what are some key lessons learned?
  • If you have specific knowledge about starting a beverage company, what advice would you share about production, distribution, and marketing?
  • What are some challenges Seth should keep in mind when creating an intentional community?
  • Do you have experience working in a worker cooperative, and can you share your ideas about how to make this business model work?
  • Are you interested in living in an intentional community?

Leave a comment below or send him a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

 

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