A few years ago I wrote a college textbook on business ethics in the fashion industry. Although the idea of fashion and ethics may seem like an oxymoron to many, there actually are many fashion companies built around the idea of “doing good.” In fact, Social Entrepreneurship has become a popular business model for both start-ups and established multi-million dollar corporations who are building entire programs around social consciousness. That being said, the key for a successful model is actually doing good rather than just talking about doing good. Kwagala Project is definitely doing good; in other words, they walk the walk.
As a Professor in Fashion Studies at Columbia College Chicago I knew I was meant to be involved with Kwagala from the minute I met Kristen and saw the beautiful jewelry the girls in Uganda produced. I also knew I had to get students involved! What a perfect way to blend fashion and doing good; something many students are not exposed to, or even think about, in their academic experiences. Working with the Kwagala Project also gave me the opportunity to show students the power of ME…that’s ME as in the Multiplier Effect, which demonstrates how one person’s actions will quickly and positively influence entire communities!
In the fall, we started with one student who brought the Kwagala jewelry to campus to share with the student fashion organization. Selling the jewelry as a philanthropic project generated interest across campus and the jewelry soon found its way into many class projects. In the Entrepreneurship class, students told the Kwagala story and sold the jewelry to raise money for their “business”. The Visual Merchandising class recognized the beauty of the products and the Kwagala mission, and featured both in their semester-long project which culminated with a display window. At the end of fall semester, the Entrepreneurship project was selected as one of the exhibits in the Hokin Senior Exhibit which showcases outstanding Senior projects.
This semester the energy around Kwagala continues as the senior capstone class in Fashion Studies has partnered with them. Students in that class reached out to Mentor Mob, a Chicago-based start-up, and the #iempower project was born. Once the Social Media campaign started, and the Tweets were being Tweeted, the Columbia/Kwagala partnership went world-wide and was featured on CBS2 Chicago!
Of course the most important aspect of all of this is the difference that Kwagala makes in the lives of girls in Uganda.
Looking back on this school year and reflecting on both successes and failures, the partnership I have had with Kwagala has hands down been one of the most rewarding experiences in my teaching career; and for some of my students, I have seen it become a life-changing experience. Students today want to see the relevance of their classroom work as it relates to professional growth and applicability to their future careers. All of the projects with Kwagala have provided them with those lessons while also teaching them the importance of doing good. As we move forward with the inspiration from Kwagala that this school year has given us, I can hardly wait to see what the future brings!
- Julie Hillery, Ph.D. Professor, Fashion Students, Columbia College Chicago