By Michael Davidson
In an unlikely pairing of two worlds, a new business recently started by three Baylor students aims to combine the selling of luxurious, high-fashion products with the humanitarianism of fighting third-world poverty.
Kith + Kin, whose name is derived from the word kinfolk or community of people, was founded earlier this semester by Waco senior Christen Batson, Fort Worth senior Meredith Noles and Dallas senior Jeffrey Sholden. The company was created as part of Baylor’s Accelerated Ventures program, a course that funds students for the opportunity to create real businesses and make real profits over a two-semester period. Kith + Kin utilizes a unique business model to sell high-quality leather bags, which are designed by Noles here in Waco, but manufactured by former prostitutes in Rwanda.
“We want to be a change in the fashion world,” Sholden said. “We want to show that you can be highly fashionable but also really care about people and help them. Directly combining the two ideas into one product could be a very powerful thing.”
While the concept of aiding the poverty-stricken people of third-world countries has been around for decades, Kith + Kin hopes to do its part by approaching the issue in a different way.
Many prostitutes in Africa are forced into the practice indirectly, as they see no other way to provide for themselves or their family. In addition to being given a job, these women are also given an opportunity to become self-sustaining and to influence others struggling with the same issue, Sholden said. This can have a positive impact both economically and emotionally.
“There’s a certain sense of accomplishment that comes with earning your own money as opposed to someone just giving it to you,” Noles said. “A huge goal of ours is to not only help these women but to empower them. We see them as social influencers.”
A long lasting effect that will inspire future generations is the ultimate goal, Batson explained, which she said comes as a breath of fresh air in a world of charity currently dominated by a process of hearing about poverty, sending a lump sum of money and forgetting the whole thing ever happened.
“We just want to make a real, long-term impact with these women,” Batson said. “This may be a small drop in the bucket in terms of the overall poverty issue, but we hope it will ripple out and start the same process for their kids, and their kids’ kids, etc.”
The women are paid for each bag they produce, and are trained by a local tailor who is also employed by Kith + Kin. This concept is very important to the company as they see themselves as not only helping people earn money, but also stimulating the local economy by creating new jobs. Though it is, at times, a struggle to run a business in which the operations are split between two different continents, Noles said the nature of the endeavor always makes it worth it in the end.
While helping those less fortunate is a large part of the company’s ideology, it is not the only one. They also hope to make an impact in the fashion world and in the lives of those who purchase their bags.
Noles said she believes that what sets them apart from similar organizations like Fairtrade International is the fact that their product is not only high fashion, but high quality as well. Made solely from premium grade Italian leather, the purses will be marketed toward middle to upper-class shoppers and sold in high-end boutiques in large cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.
They also hope to offer personable customer service and provide the buyer with a product that means more than what meets the eye.
“The business world can be very cut throat, so another huge goal of ours is to be relational and make solid connections with our clients and customers,” Baston said. “We are aiding a positive emotional experience for the customer buying the bags here, and we want them to feel like a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. With Kith +Kin, you can buy a really nice product, but you can also impact a community.”
Kith + Kin is ambitious in running their business said Sholden, who has had previous experience in this area, formerly helping run a similar company based in Kenya. In a collaborative effort and through carefully calculated planning, the three have combined their goals to create a win-win business model.
“It’s not about having the next billion dollar idea; its about making an impact,” said Sholden. “It’s incentivizing both ways, because the more bags we are able to sell, the more income these women will have. Yes, if we are successful we will make more money, but our business is about more than just a profit line. It’s also about people.”
Above anything else, Kith + Kin is about collaboration: people working together for a common goal. Just as Batson, Noles and Sholden have combined their respective yet diverse passions, they also hope utilize and build upon the talents of these African women. Noles said the end product will be like nothing anyone has ever seen.
“With our business, much like our name, we’re trying to tie two worlds together to form one large community and help people,” said Noles.
Kith+ Kin hope to officially launch their first line of products in December, but in the meantime, those interested can check out their Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account, as well as sign up for their email list, which will keep customers updated on their ongoing business operations.