We are raising funds to scale up a social entrepreneurship venture called Bow Shoeshoe. Established in April 2015, we train Basotho people to sew and sell their bow ties. The ties are made from a culturally important fabric called "seshoeshoe". We blend fashion and community development to build a brand that creates a unique product while empowering the people of Lesotho. An initiative like Bow Shoeshoe contributes to the sustainable development of the community in more than a purely financial way. I elaborate on this impact further down into this project description.
Where we work:
We do our work in a village called Thoteng, in the Ha Rankakala region of Qacha's Nek district. If you're not familiar with Lesotho geography, this means we live in one of the furthest districts away from the capitol city. There are no paved roads, electricity or running water in our village. There is one rocky mountain road in and out of our community. Our village is too small to be depicted on any map. Since we are so remote, there are less services and opportunities available to our community, and the challenges faced across Lesotho are even more pronounced there.
We produce small batches of bow ties, meaning we never produce more than 50 of any pattern at a given time. Everything is made by hand. We have no electricity so we use hand-cranking sewing machines. So the production of our ties is totally green. No energy is expended in their creation. We have the capacity to produce 1000 bow ties every two months and are the only people in the world using this material to make authentic, self tie bow ties.
Exclusive for Kickstarter backers will be a line of seshoeshoe pocket squares!
Seshoeshoe is a cotton material with layers of ink imprinted upon it with heavy rolling machinery. The textile is produced exclusively in South Africa, however the "Sotho" peoples across all of southern Africa claim this as a culturally important fabric.
Originally presented by French missionaries to the first king of Lesotho in the 1840's, seshoeshoe was only available in an indigo color scheme. It was named after King Moshoeshoe, in his honor. King Moshoeshoe I was a pivotal character in the history of Lesotho and legend supports a remembering of him as a pioneer in African democracy. His name is an embodiment of that ideal. It is said that when he would conquer an opposing force, he wouldn't kill their leader. Instead he would shave that leader's beard, and the sound of the blade moving across the face would make the sound "shway" "shway". Hence the name Moshoeshoe.
Now seshoeshoe is available in hundreds of patterns and color schemes. That means endless bow tie options!
All the producers come from the Qacha's Nek district. Almost all are from the Ha Rankakala region within that district. We've employed 40 Basotho ranging in age from 16 well into their 80s. We work together for a two week period, in which we produce 1000 bow ties.
We've arranged it in this way as to not impose on the day to day life of our producers. There are many things we all must do to survive in a place so remote: take care of family, work the land, tend to sheep and cows, etc. Also, since unexpected things do happen, the producers have the freedom to come and work on any of the days during this two week period, but are also not obligated to work every day. However,on average, 80% of producers show up for every day of work, and we have a lot of fun with it too! The management team strives to always improve our work environment, provide the safest and most conducive work environment. That is why the majority of these funds will be used to build a sewing and education center.
The funds raised through this campaign will be used to build a solar powered sewing center. The center will allow us to move production out of our houses and into a central location. We'll be able to train, practice and produce much easier with this facility. The estimated cost of this facility $3,500.
The other $1,500 will be used to upgrade our tools and source enough materials that we can build a significant stock of seshoeshoe on site, as opposed to traveling nearly 250 kilometers over 2 mountain ranges to source more material each time we need it.
If we exceed our goal, we want to use the funds in the following ways. We want to buy a company vehicle. This will allow us to transport materials on our own schedule, and we could reliably deliver ties to our local vendors. We can accomplish this with an additional $4,000.
If we exceed that level, we'll use the other funds to document everything we do in high quality video. I'd love to film a short documentary about the project and the average day in the life of a Bow Shoeshoe producer. We'd use the funds to purchase 2 additional GOPRO cameras that the producers can use to film their day with, and purchase a Cannon Rebel DSLR camera for further documentation needs. We could do so with about $1,100.
Sustainable Development in Lesotho:
This project is designed to address the development of this community in a multidimensional manner. My Master's studies in Conflict Resolution, with a focus in the encouragement of sustainable behavior, puts me in a a unique position to design a development initiative that is theoretically sound. Coupling this with my year and a half experience living in this specific community, means I blend foremost theories of sustainable development with invaluable experience on the ground. I know the issues that face this community. I speak the first language. I am embraced as a Mosotho in my community. They know me and I them. The following are the non-monetary ways Bow Shoeshoe helps the Ha Rankakala community develop.
1.Skills: Bow Shoeshoe helps people develop marketable skills. Producers undergo a week long training session before they can produce our ties. Through this our goal is to create a community of highly skilled artisans. Whenever they move on to other things, they will have skills that can earn them a living.
2. Empowerment: We empower the women of this patriarchal society by encouraging men and women to work side by side, doing the same work and earning the same wage. 35 of the 40 current producers are women. We also prioritize youth empowerment. There are many young people with few opportunities, especially if they cannot pass their exams to get into high school (which many cannot afford anyway). We give them opportunities to work as well.
3. Community Bonds: We have people from 7 different villages working together. This means creating and strengthening bonds of people who live in the same region. We work, sing and celebrate together. We are building an inter-village network. Bonds like this help out in so many ways. A community that knows each other is more productive, safe and healthy.
4. Identity: One of the biggest things we are able to accomplish through Bow Shoeshoe is demonstrating to the Basotho that they can contribute to the broader world. We are working in a community where many people have never left the kingdom. Many people have never seen the ocean, although the Indian Ocean coast in the city Durban is actually closer than Lesotho's capitol city Maseru. They've gained confidence from having their work recognized by the current king of Lesotho and the many other people who've supported us. A major step towards empowering people so far removed from the world is showing them they have a place in it.
Risks and challenges
Luckily we've had time to work out most of the kinks in our business. Of course new obstacles may emerge. There may be future instabilities in Lesotho that force us to make changes, but that's where having a remote production site is a bonus. The issues that impact the world have absolutely no impact on a village with no roads, no electricity, and an incredibly weak network coverage.
This is my full time business. I'm dedicated to making this successful and a business that will occupy my time for the next several years. I'm young, experienced and I'm driven by ambition as well as a desire to serve the Basotho community. I am all in, and my management team are the same. We've seen the impact our work has already had on our community. There has been no greater feeling in my life, and I plan to continueLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
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