Partnership Empowers Women

 

McDonough School of Business professor Catherine Tinsley and associate professor Edward Soule are preparing to return to Masoro, Rawanda to continue their research on a joint venture between Kate Spade & Company and the Rwanda-based Abahizi Dushyigikirane Ltd.

Kate Spade & Company, one of fashion’s biggest brands, began developing supplier ADC Ltd., an independent fashion accessory factory, in 2013 with the aim of empowering women and promoting economic stability in the village of Masoro. ADC Ltd. was named after a Kinyarwandan expression that means “together, we accomplish more.” The project aims to positively impact the 20,000 people living in Masoro, which lies just 20 km north of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

Working in a socially responsible program and under a strategic economic model, ADC Ltd.’s 170 employees produce handbags and jewelry for Kate Spade & Company’s accessory line “On Purpose.” These products, manufactured in Rwanda, are sold around the world for Kate Spade & Company’s Kate Spade, Jack Spade and Kate Spade Saturdays brands.

Tinsley, the executive director of Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute and a professor of management, and Soule, an associate professor of ethics, visited the ADC Ltd. factory in September after Kate Spade & Company asked them to study its work with ADC Ltd. Tinsley and Soule are returning to Rwanda next month to conduct analyses of sustainability and replicability in order to help other developing nations build up their economies and empower their populations. Tinsley and Soule will share their research with Kate Spade & Company in June and will issue a report in the months following.

Soule’s research focuses on the moral aspects of commercial life and this collaboration mirrors his previous research on a living wage garment operation in the Dominican Republic. Tinsley’s research has also prepared her for this opportunity as she has focused her studies on gender dynamics in the workplace and the promotion of women’s leadership in the past.

According to Tinsley, no other brand has used the social approach that Kate Spade & Company has in Rwanda. Currently, Soule and Tinsley are the only researchers conducting analyses on the partnership between Kate Spade & Company and ADC Ltd.

“Kate Spade & Company reached out to Georgetown because they were pretty sure they were doing something novel in trying to empower an existing artisan community that could be stood up to be a global, fully integrated supplier in fashion merchandising,” Tinsley said. “It is not often that a fashion brand like Kate Spade & Company will look to develop a supplier, in particular in a more rural and remote community where the standard of living is quite poor, and work to boost the standard of living. They wanted someone to study what they were doing.”

Soule mentioned the empowerment he saw in the Rwandan women during his visit in September and emphasized how important empowerment from the fashion product industry is for both individuals and communities as a whole.

“We met this woman who couldn’t feed or house her child. Now, switch forward a year and she has her own wages from ADC, can provide for her child and is even thinking about sending her to college in the United States. That’s the big deal with empowerment. I believe it does ripple through communities and it’s important that all people have a sense of it. Looking at where that woman has been, I think it is so important to have a sense of control. I think that’s why empowerment is such a precious thing to have, independent of the transformative effect it can have on the community,” Soule said.

In addition to empowering workers through wages, Tinsley noted how the unique factory environment also fosters a sense of community among the female employees. In the factory, women participate in two group exercise breaks per day, including routine back-rub trains, and even have choice over the music selection.

“I was amazed at how much I felt welcomed and embraced by these people. It reminded me of when I was a Peace Corps volunteer — the warmth of the women in the community, and sinking into their collective embrace, even though I don’t speak the language. The comradery is quite high,” Tinsley said.

In addition to empowering the Masoro community, Kate Spade & Company CEO Craig Leavitt said in a press release that the company’s collaboration with ADC Ltd. is a for-profit enterprise.

“We introduced this business model to give these talented artisans the ability to incorporate into our supply chain as a manufacturing partner. It’s not charity; it is creating jobs for talented women making beautiful products and offering them a way to participate in the global marketplace,” Leavitt said in a May 2014 press release.

Soule said that she is excited to be studying this social approach to a fashion company since it can make a big difference in struggling communities like Masoro and in the world.

“What we can offer at value is an objective pair of eyes that can say to everybody else, ‘Here’s the deal, here’s what works, here’s what didn’t.’ In today’s world, academics enjoy enormous levels of public trust. I like to be careful about how I use that and whom I associate with. In this case, we have a serious effort to make a difference in the world. I would describe it as perfectly harmonized with Georgetown’s values,” Soule said.

Tinsley and Soule are optimistic about the positive nature of their findings. While the professors are not taking students to Rwanda in February, they believe that this research will be an ongoing analysis project that will welcome students in the future.

 

 

 

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