HISPID - the fashion company helping to fight gender inequality across the world
- Credit: not Archant
A fashion business launched in Macclesfield is helping to transform lives in poverty-stricken areas of Pakistan
To fashion-conscious shoppers in Cheshire they are a stylish accessory but to a group of women in Pakistan they are a route out of poverty. The silk scarves they make in their homes in the slums on the outskirts of Islamabad not only bring in money and raise aspirations, but give the women a real sense of pride.
Although it was launched just a few months ago, the business is already making a huge difference to the lives of the women making the scarves and to their families.
The company was created by two men from Macclesfield who drew on their home town’s long association with silk to help people in need in another important staging post on the Silk Road.
Dave Chorlton launched the company last year after he spent time working for a charity in Pakistan as he studied for a masters degree in development studies with the Open University. ‘My sister Helen works for the Foreign Office and had a placement in Pakistan for 18 months and I went out to visit her in the summer of 2013,’ he said.
‘I went for an internship with the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and saw the ins and outs of a charity in those circumstances. It was very rewarding. For about a year after I carried on with my masters but I always planned to go back to Pakistan when I finished.
‘About a year ago I was really engaged in modules about business ethics which concerned clothing and sweat shops. As well as the ethical clothing side I was very interested in the development but not having any expertise in these areas, the idea just gradually evolved in the back of my mind.
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‘One evening I texted a few friends in Pakistan about the idea of starting some form of ethical clothing company. The message came back that they were keen and thought it was feasible so I just went into it head first. At first I wasn’t even sure what products we were going to make but Pakistan is great for silks, cottons and fabrics so we started small with silk scarves.’
Dave, and friend Sam Edwards who joined the business shortly after its inception, sent money to contacts he had made in his time in Pakistan for them to buy the raw materials. The silks and cottons were then taken to Nazia and Magdalein, to women in Rawlpindi near the capital Islamabad, who were asked to make scarves and who were paid up front.
‘Our payment for Nazia’s family food and the work gave her a great sense of pride and that’s one thing we want to focus on, we’re not just giving people money, they are earning it,’ Dave said.
‘A lot of our artisans have told us that they want to support their children and we want to provide regular work for a small group, not little bits of work now and then with a large group. A lot of the women know each other and word is getting around now – people are starting to ask to work with us.
‘We now have ten women and a couple of men on our books, although we do try to work with women particularly, and the women are paid equally to improve equality out there. We help people who need work. We work on an ad hoc basis, there’s no factory, set hours or deadlines.’
The scarves have been for sale for about six months now on the Hispid website – the name comes from a breed of endangered Asian hare – and this promises to be a big year for the brand. The company was given a boost when the actress Linda Robson wore one of their scarves on ITV’s Loose Women and Dave and Sam now have other famous names in their sights.
Dave added: ‘We are working with Sophie Anderton on a range of kaftans and we are looking to make leather bags with Kelly Simpkin.
‘They will be higher end products which we hope to get into boutiques. We are now working with a factory in Lahore, a very small ethical factory and with a fashion designer in Pakistan.
‘We are looking to have some products made professionally but which also incorporate our artisans – a bag made by a professional tailor which features a small embroidered piece they have made, for instance. They will be made to a high standard but will still help people who need help by giving them some work.
‘I feel the scarves will become a small part of our range. We will take our time with it but ideally in a year I would like to be providing work for twenty people on a regular basis.
‘This will be a huge year for us, it has grown very fast and now we need to focus on the next stage. The more we sell, the more work we can give people in Pakistan and if we do manage to get some of our products in boutiques, that would really help.
‘Hopefully the company can start making a good level of money which we can invest. It’s very important for us to work with charities and to learn from them.
‘The whole point of starting the project was to make money which we could invest back into projects in Pakistan. We are hoping to finalise wholesale and boutiques deals very soon and then we can take the project to the next level.’
To see the scarves and find out more, go to hispid.co.uk