A social entrepreneur, Ayesha Mustafa is the founder of Fashion ComPassion, a brand that is based on the principles of socially responsible, sustainable fashion. Ayesha grew up in Karachi, Lahore, Cairo, New York & Dubai and currently lives in London. With a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Economics from Mount Holyoke College in USA and a Masters in Media & Communications from City University in London, Ayesha’s corporate career has been diverse, from law to marketing to social and development work. It was during her time at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh that Ayesha experienced first-hand the positive impact sustainable interventions could have on the unprivileged communities. This inspired her to adapt what she had learnt and apply it the context of socially responsible fashion, a concept she had been focused on for some time. Through her work, Ayesha’s aim is to help create an awareness of socially conscious fashion, the importance of empowering women through job creation & skill training, showcasing high end socially responsible fashion that moves away from pity buying and creates a sustainable solution against poverty. Following extensive research and travelling to visit some of the people and communities with whom she wanted to work, in 2010, Ayesha launched Fashion ComPassion in November 2010. Today, under her pioneering vision, the brand retails products from over eight countries including Jordan, Lebanon, U.A.E, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia and Kenya.
Considered one of the most influential retailers in the field of socially responsible fashion, products from Fashion ComPassion have been sported by leading celebrities including Anne Hathaway, Livia Firth, Lily Cole, Jenny McCarthy and Eva Longoria to name a few.
Establishing Fashion ComPassion was perhaps inevitable for Ayesha, who has from a young age maintained an admiration for fashion and a passion for philanthropy. Indeed her mandate for Fashion ComPassion is to support marginalized and underprivileged women, incorporate and adhere to fair trade practices, to foster entrepreneurship and vocational skills by training and improving design skills and knowledge of the artisans and by giving back a percentage of profits to the artisans. Ayesha is currently a member of part of the Fellowship 500 of the Ethical Fashion Forum, Board Member of 85 Broads London Chapter and Member of Junior Leadership Circle Women for Women International. She is a mentor for the Tony Blair Foundation and for Women Entrepreneurs at the Cherie Blair Foundation. She has also recently started work with Mosaic, an organisation that endeavours to inspire young people from deprived communities to realise their talent and potential. Ayesha will be launching Fashion ComPassion in Pakistan in September 2012 in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
How did the concept of Fashion ComPassion come about?
Ayesha Mustafa: “Fashion ComPassion is a combination of my two biggest interests: fashion and philanthropy. From a very young age, I have been involved in various organisations that help the marginalised and give back to society. While working at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, I witnessed first- hand how creating jobs and providing a sustainable solution for the poorest in the world had a monumental impact on families and communities. I wanted to take this forward in the best way that I could and help create a sustainable solution against poverty for women.
For a few years I had been dabbling with the idea of establishing an ethical fashion house that focuses on the social development and empowering women in the developing countries. After extensive research and travelling, I decided that 2010 would be the year I would give up my job and start this company!”
What does this concept entail and what does socially responsible fashion encompass?
AM: “The concept of Fashion ComPassion is to be the link and platform for fashion brands that are socially responsible. We work with brands that are locked up in their local markets and provide them access to new markets and new income streams. Socially responsible fashion holds the people that create it at its core and operates in a way that is fair and beneficial to those that are involved in producing it. Socially responsible companies have fair trade and fair labor principles where employees are treated with the respect and work in good working conditions, during reasonable working hours, are paid a fair wage and are provided with additional benefits such as healthcare, child care, educational benefits. Socially responsible companies also give back to the community and offer help and support to people in need.”
How many countries does Fashion ComPassion have a presence in and what are your plans for expansion and growth?
AM: “We source our brands from 7 different countries but we operate from the UK and have held exhibitions and shows in Paris & Dubai and now launching this initiative in Pakistan. In the coming years, I would like to build a greater awareness of Fashion ComPassion and its brands through our existing website and expanding in cities like NY, Toronto, Paris (through online or retail), collaborating with organizations that have a similar mandate & organizing events and trunk shows. In the long term, as my biggest inspiration in Fashion has been Joan Burstein the founder of Browns I hope to see Fashion ComPassion to follow Brown’s footsteps and be the one-stop shop for high-end, unique sustainable fashion.”
How has your educational and professional background helped you in making Fashion ComPassion a success?
AM: “I studied International Politics and Economics in college that gave me a very good understanding of various societies and how both politics & economics have a major effect on the lives of people especially women in the developing world. Further my Masters in Media & Communication helped me in understanding the pivotal role that media plays in depicting the lives of people and also enhanced my writing and communication skills that are crucial when you run a start up. Working in retail marketing and managing brand portfolios at Pepsi gave me a great understanding of retail, margins, developing a marketing & promotional strategy for retailers, customer profiling, the importance of social media and always working towards delivering the best and innovative concepts that have helped me throughout the year and half since I started Fashion ComPassion.”
How have you been able to impact lives through Fashion ComPassion and which particular regions have you targeted?
AM: “Fashion ComPassion has been established to give a voice and platform to emerging socially responsible brands that are working towards improving social problems than just concentrate on profit making. We believe in helping women to help themselves & become independent. Fashion ComPassion gives a percentage of its profits to various organizations that work towards improving the lives of women. We are now working with the UN Women4Women Programme in Pakistan and every time a product is sold we will be giving a percentage to that fund. The objective is not only to provide women with employment and training but to also instill self-belief and confidence.
One of our brands Beshtar that works to improve the lives of women and children from Afghanistan was included in Vogues Green Carpet Challenge and we got numerous orders for the Green Burqa Dress, so much so that we run out of the colour! This money was pumped back into Afghanistan through AWEC that provides education to girls and Gardens for Life that provides vocational training for women. By supporting our brand Palestyle we empower and provide employment to women in Al Biqaa Refugee Camps in Jordon through Al Amal Society for Social Development that provides financial aid, healthcare to poor families in addition to training and providing jobs to over 42 women. Further a percentage of each Palestyle bag or clutch or dress or piece of jewellery that is sold ensures that they lead a better life. Our other social brand Nawa, not only employs marginalize women in Lebanon but gives back all its net profits to social projects. The net profits from the first batch of the Tree of Life bags sold was used to purchase furniture for classrooms of a very basic school in Uttar Pradesh India, the second collection has allowed the launch of a workshop for women to work from, in a small under-privileged area in Lebanon, called Haret el Naameh.”
How does Fashion ComPassion intend to penetrate the fashion industry of Pakistan to bring about women empowerment and instill a sense of socially responsible fashion?
AM: “When we think of socially responsible fashion we don’t equate it with trendy, high-end products. I want to change the perception of socially conscious fashion by bringing in fashion brands that are both luxurious and give back to society. If other countries can produce these why cant we do the same in Pakistan. I also want to give socially responsible brands in Pakistan a platform and access to various international markets and this is one of my biggest goals of brining this initiative to Pakistan.”
You have been involved with various organisations, promoting women entrepreneurship and ethical fashion practices. Can you elaborate on how this involvement came about?
AM: “I love being involved in various initiatives especially those that help women around the world. I am a Member of Junior Leadership Circle Women for Women International in London, which provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency. I am also a Mentor for Women Entrepreneurs for Cherie Blair Foundation, and also Mentor school children from various parts of the world through Toni Blair Foundation. I also a Board Member of 85 Broads London Chapter, which is a global women’s network with a mission to generate exceptional professional and social value for its members.”