Tribe + Glory’s cofounders Loren Thomas and Caragh Bennet jetted away from their Uganda home office for a few days of business meetings in New York.
All about women’s empowerment, their business model is an unusual one that helps entrepreneurs gain the skills they need to succeed while also helping to make Tribe + Glory accessories. More than half of their earnings go back to savings for their own business plans and the remaining amount allows workers and their families to live above the poverty line. The end result is that they complete their runs at Tribe + Glory equipped with the skills to make their own companies function, while also helping to elevate their communities.
Their up-with-people approach melds well with two of their commitments this week. The start-up specialists will attend the CFDA’s Fashion Leadership Conference Thursday and later the DVF Awards at the Brooklyn Museum that night. The women are familiar with New York having participated in the Praxis accelerator here for emerging founders last year.
Each of the women lived in Uganda for six to eight months during their gap years before college and continued to make trips there afterward. The cofounders and co-chief executive officers first met in the summer of 2014 and became fast friends. While still at the University of Texas, Thomas helped to started the women’s empowerment program for a different NGO (in the town of Zirobwe in Uganda), that was called Tribe + Glory. Bennet did her dissertation at Oxford on Tribe + Glory. After graduation, the duo decided to go full steam ahead.
When Thomas and Bennet founded Tribe + Glory as a separate and independent 501c3 nonprofit, they moved it to Kamuli, Uganda, in the Busoga Region. At the beginning of 2017, they relocated there and opened a home office where operations are based. Kamuli has the second highest rate of illiteracy in the country, and human trafficking is another severe problem.
Bennet said, “We love the life and the landscape of Uganda. It’s such a rich and stunning place. We always say Uganda has such a bad name for being known for poverty and the civil war, which just ravaged that region. We want Uganda to be known as an exporter of high-end luxury goods in its own right. When we market the products, we always think, ‘How can we celebrate these women?’ It’s a story of victory not of charity. “
Their third collection is rooted in the belief that “linked together we’re unstoppable.” Sold primarily direct-to-consumer with shipping done from Houston, the brand has a yet-to-be-announced collaboration with a domestic department store. There was a recent collaboration with the Maiyet Collective at Harvey Nichols, and talks have been held with Liberty London. Eager to introduce their model to other countries, the founders visited Haiti and Guatemala earlier this year and they plan to return to the latter this summer. Should they scale the strategy in other countries, they would do so cautiously so as not to overexpand.
Twenty-one women are enrolled in the Uganda program, and most cycle through in two to three years. Their areas of focus include bridal services, wholesaling charcoal, a start-up mobile money company, garlic farming and a hair salon, among others. The way it works is Tribe + Glory helps them to develop business plans, and trains them in managerial skills, marketing, banking, literacy and holistic development. The program also offers participants apprenticeships and artisan skills. While making Tribe + Glory accessories, 60 percent of their salaries are saved for start-up capital for their businesses contingent on graduating. The remaining 40 percent helps their families to live above the poverty line. As a nonprofit, all proceeds from sales of our products go directly back into the program. “We really believe that entrepreneurship represents a key part of the solution and how can we do that in a way that leaves them debt-free, which is where the products come in.” Bennet said.
To date, more than 60 children have enrolled in school for the first time. Their business model uses relationship, craftsmanship and entrepreneurship to provide women with the necessary skills to realize their dreams while simultaneously helping to transform communities. Without any advertising, about 130 women applied for the limited number of spots that were available for the program. The cofounders started Tribe + Glory with $25,000 from a private donor and a grant.