Starting at the base of every societal startup. What problem are you trying to solve?
At Pitupi, we’re trying to establish greater transparency in the fashion industry. We’ve gone from a production cycle that not long ago placed a focus on four seasons a year to one that now embraces up to 22. Garment manufacturers are the ones assuming the greatest amount of responsibility in this new “fast fashion” cycle, at the expense of their health, safety, and livelihood. As prices go down on clothing tags, so too do salaries and labor standards. At the same time, the consumer becomes increasingly more distant from the garment worker and a feeling of -out of sight, out of mind- can unfortunately become the result.
How are you going to solve this? What is your idea?
We’re solving this by reconnecting garment worker and consumer and ultimately, empowering both. We have set up our own production site in northern Albania, outside of a village called Blinisht, where we produce organic kids clothing for children ages newborn to six years. We have trained women from the rural area around the work shop and hired seamstresses whose stories the customer gets to know from the second they touch and see our clothes. Each garment is signed by the seamstress, and her story is told both on a small hang tag and on our website. A postcard accompanies each sale as well, with space for kids to draw a picture for their seamstress or for mom or dad to write a small note of gratitude. We also list the origin and cost of ever button, snap, and other material item in the garment, which customers can look up on our website. Our items consist mainly of GOTS-certified organic cotton.
What impact do you hope to have?
As founding members, we’ve always agreed with the notion that “knowledge is power”. To know where something came from, whose hands it touched, and how much that person was paid to produce it is empowering as it allows the customer to actively have a say in the kind of fashion industry they want to support. We hope to get customers to think about the origins of the items they buy, and we aim so fully to get seamstresses and tailors to feel proud of and -once again- empowered by their hard work.
Focusing more on your team. Who are you? What is your background?
Pitupi is split up into two different companies, Pitupi Sweden and Pitupi Albania. Our Swedish team consists of myself, Stefanie, and my colleagues Maria and Blerta, who are both based in Germany. Our team in Albania includes two seamstresses, Majlinda and Entela, our Pitupi Albania co-founder, Stela, and Emiljan, who handles logistics and technical matters around the studio.
I come originally from Arizona in the American southwest, and have two graduate degrees in Political Science and Entrepreneurship. My interest in globalization, human rights, and other social issues coupled with my desire to start my own business sort of melted perfectly into my current position as co-founder of Pitupi.
Why did you become societal entrepreneurs? Or really, why do you do what you do?
I have always had a strong desire to work in a position where I’m helping others. I’ve been involved in various NGO’s and non-profits and seen the incredible work they do, but more recently developed a deeper interest in the private sector and it’s ability to produce sustainable, long-term solutions to problems. I feel passionately about our aims with Pitupi and what drives me is seeing the results, even the smallest ones, as we move along in our journey.
If you had one advice to give to other social entrepreneurs, what would it be?
My advice would be to stick to your vision and to not compromise on the aspects of your business that truly make it what it is. Social business still carries some labels and misconceptions in the eyes of investors -that includes customers- who still see it as “charity” or forget that it overlaps a variety of sectors, including the much-buzzed about ones like tech. This can be frustrating and sometimes disheartening. But as I see it, we’re experiencing a real shift in consumerism with accountability and awareness in focus and people are rapidly growing tired of “business as usual”. There’s a place for social enterprises and social entrepreneurs, so don’t get discouraged.
If I as a reader want to engage or help you reach your goals of impact. How can I do so? Is there any way to help at this stage?
Certainly! To begin with, consider your closet and the stories behind your garments. Try to purchase from companies who can tell you how something has been produced, or who list their suppliers on their website. You can also invest in items that carry a label that certifies no harmful dyes or pesticides were used in the early stages of its production, or one that ensures proper working conditions during the manufacturing process. Many consumers do this already with groceries, but forget that clothing also follows a long, and rather dark chain before it reaches a retail floor. Next, you can spread the word about our brand! We hope to scale up soon so we can hire even more seamstresses in Albania and eventually have them running the production site all on their own. For that, we need more brand awareness and support.
Photo by Amanda Westin.