Mallu is a New Zealand social enterprise creating organic street-wear clothing. They’ve create high quality fair-trade and organic cotton tees from India and combine them with original street fashion designs. Not only do these fair-trade tees provide local Indian farmers a fair price for cotton but the factory in Kolkata where the tees are made employ woman once before trapped in Kolkata’s sex trade.
Freeset Global is Mallu’s fair-trade partner and the inspiration behind the brand. Freeset is located in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India.
For most in the community poverty has left them without many options. The noisy stomachs of their hungry children drive these women to sell their bodies to support their family. Every woman who finds opportunity through Freeset also brings freedom to her family. As the business has grown, a positive community has emerged calling itself the “Freeset family. This family not only supports its own members, but impacts on the wider community. The common understanding is “we’re in this together”.
Freeset are currently in the process of building a second factory and community hub in Sonagacchi and are raising funds through The Gateway Campaign. Mallu is committed to seeing this campaign being a success so $2 from every Mallu t-shirt sold will be donated directly to The Gateway Campaign.
Below is a quick Q&A with the team at Mallu
What does Mallu stand for and why did you want to start the brand?
Mallu is the colloquial for for someone from Kerala, India. It’s where one of our founders Clive is originally from before his family immigrated to New Zealand. We (Clive, Meg & Jess) started Mallu because we wanted to create a product that gives design and ethics and same amount of importance.
How big is social enterprise in New Zealand can you give us an idea of how the movement is going in that part of the world?
Social enterprise in general in New Zealand is in a very exciting place! At the start up phase, Christchurch, NZ in particular is getting a reputation for being a bit of a hub of social enterprise – I think this has a lot to do with the fact we are rebuilding our city due a massive earthquake that hit us a few years ago. It’s making entrepreneurs think creatively with a massive focus on societal impacts and sustainability.
How did your love for social enterprise come to be. Was it another brand or entrepreneur that inspired you?
Clive used to work for a social enterprise called Karma Cola. It’s from there that we learned about the social enterprise business model and fell in love with it. We all have a mutual love for street fashion so combining the two interests made natural sense.
How did Clive’s time at Karma Cola help the team with starting Mallu. What lessons did he learn to help launch the brand?
Clive: Majorly, Karma Cola was the inspiration behind wanting to start Mallu, I only had to tell Meg and Jess about how it all works and they were on board right away. Karma Cola as a soft drink company is completely different to Mallu, but the idea of using business and supply chains as an intentional means to help a group of people gets all three of us super excited! The main lesson we embraced was to be confident in our execution. We 100% believe in what we are doing, but it’s another thing to convey that to potential suppliers and also not be afraid of that fact we are a start up.
You work with a really interesting fair trade factory in India, explain a bit more about their mission and how you hooked up with them to make your products?
Yeeeow! We have partnered with Freeset a fair-trade factory based in Kolkata. In essence, Freeset are in the business of freedom and only employ women who were formerly part of the local sex trade. It’s amazing what a cheeky Google search can do! When were first starting out that’s basically what we did and we stumbled across Freeset. Once that happened it just took off from there! Their whole mission is to offer employment to as many women as possible, so for us that makes our equation very easy. The bigger Mallu gets, the more tees we require from Freeset meaning the more women get employed!