Liberty & Justice, Africa’s first fair trade apparel maker, is launching Uniform, a T-shirt label that will donate one school uniform to a child in Liberia for every T-shirt the company sells.
L&J founder and chief executive officer Chid Liberty was born in Liberia but grew up in Germany, where his foreign diplomat father was based in Bonn. After falling out with the then-Liberian president Samuel Doe, the elder Liberty fled to the U.S., living first in Palo Alto and then in Milwaukee, Chid Liberty said Thursday. Inspired in part by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s 2006 election win, Liberty returned to Liberia for the first time in decades and decided to try to help further change. In 2010, he opened the Liberty & Justice factory, manufacturing for such labels as Prana and Lauren Bush’s FEED brand. The facility now employs 300 workers who share 49 percent equity. Ninety-five percent of the team are working mothers.
Trying to build on that bedrock, Uniform’s Liberian-made T-shirts will be sold for 45 days on Kickstarter starting June 2. Through a partnership with the United Nations and Liberia’s Ministry of Education, the company’s initial goal of raising $50,000 would provide 2,000 uniforms to students in nine schools in Liberia, where simple cotton uniforms are the norm for boys and girls enrolled in public or private schools. School uniforms in West Africa can retail starting at $10, according to Oxfam, and go up to $50 for ones worn by more affluent students. Uniform prices vary in Africa, depending on which of the 54 countries one lives in, Liberty said. In Liberia, as of last year about 38 percent of children go to school, according to The World Bank. He made a point of saying that 98 percent of the children whose mothers work at L&J go to school.
With 18 staffers based in a NoMad office and five others in Ghana — as well as 700 contracted factory workers there — L&J workers have visited 100 schools in Monrovia to date to compile a list of children who need uniforms, Liberty said. “We will be making our T-shirts and uniforms in Africa.” Uniform will sell two styles for women and men — a $28 organic African cotton T-shirt for $28 and a tri-blend one with recycled beechwood fibers for $48. In addition to their T-shirts, shoppers will receive a Moleskine notebook and pencil, as well as a photo of the child who will receive a new uniform.
Thanks to supporters like Shaquille O’Neal and Whitney Port, the company has gotten a jump on spreading the word. Uniform will launch an e-commerce site and its wholesale business July 17 with the aim of ringing up between $400,000 and $1.1 million in first-year sales, Liberty said.
Next month Uniform will have an Airstream trailer pop-up store at the Brooklyn Flea and later in the month in Montauk, potentially near The Surf Lodge. Wherever the shirts are sold, Liberty said the company’s focus will be on empowering women by employing them in West Africa.