If you want to give the gift of social responsibility this holiday season, you might want to check out Vida, a new e-commerce site that pairs independent artists and designers with small-scale manufacturers, while leading literacy programs for the production staff.
The site's founder and CEO, Pakistan native Umaimah Mendhro, says she wanted to be an artist growing up but knew that it would be tough to build a career in that profession. She also understood that textiles were a major contributor to the GDP in her home country. After she went off to Harvard Business School and began working in social enterprise, she worked out the concept for Vida, which puts both of those interests to work.
Vida's business model is fairly straightforward. Instead of sample garments, designers submit sketches and patterns to be scanned and digitally printed onto scarves and tops by Vida's six manufacturers, which are based in India and Pakistan. That means the whole process is fast. According to Mendhro, an item can go from sketch to completion in a week.
For the artists, a group that includes up-and-comers like Emma Lundgren and Vogue.com "graduate to watch" Cigdem Keskin, it's about gaining visibility — and earning some extra cash. Scarves range from $40 for a modal blend to $75 for cashmere, and creatives get a 10 percent cut of each sale. At launch, Vida is working with 20 designers around the world, but that number can be scaled as quickly as needed.
As for the manufacturers, Mendhro says Vida has set out to ensure livable wages for its workers and offers three-month literacy and math programs to them, which costs her company about $15 per person.
"The margins are really healthy," Mendhro says. "We're driving a lot of efficiency. We're producing where we can get great prices and also removing a lot of the waste. We can produce really quickly, so we can be responsive to demand — we're going to produce more of this, or less of that."
Vida's model for socially responsible fashion has yet to get the seal of approval from consumers, but a number of prominent investors have already gotten on board with the idea. The company has raised $1.3 million in seed funding from Google Ventures, the Valley Fund, Universal Music Group, Beehive Holdings, Slow Ventures and Jesse Draper. According to Vida, that money is going toward recruiting and product development.
The startup chose a pretty good time to launch. With the holidays right around the corner, a $40 scarf is one of the more no-brainer gifts out there. And if it's doing some good in the world, all the better.