I get asked on almost a daily basis how I came up with the idea for Catalyst. It's been quite a journey! A little over a year ago, in May of 2014, I started searching online for ethically-sourced scrubs and found little to no options. I found a few "give back" brands, but there was little information and definitely no connection to the people that made them. I didn't just want my purchase to allow the company to "give a pair" to someone else, or provide medication to people in other countries. While those are noble causes, there are plenty of charities that are already providing those things. I wanted my scrubs to give jobs, to give opportunity, to give hope--and I knew there were other medical professionals that would jump at the opportunity to partner with women in need of stable employment around the world.
The more I answer questions about Catalyst's innovative business model, the more I realize that what we are doing is truly revolutionary--and if you are reading this, thanks for being part of the revolution. Here are the top 5 ways that Catalyst is different from any other medical apparel brand on the market:
1) We find cooperatives that are creating beautiful, quality products. We respect the artists for the work they are known for, and we create products together for Catalyst.
The women of Alpha Fashions, our partner in Chennai, India, were producing high-quality men’s dress shirts that were so popular in their city that they currently own and operate two stores. My husband Jim, who wears a button-down to work every day, traded out his usual Banana Republic dress shirts to don those from Alpha Fashions because the quality is stellar and the style and fit are perfect.
I have purchased home décor and jewelry items from the More than Sparrows cooperative through their online store “The Sparrow Studio.” I was impressed with the artistry of their work and their passion to become educated entrepreneurs and businesswomen. I knew they would be the perfect partner to create the Catalyst accessories.
2) We pay our partners in advance. Most companies wait until they receive the product, it passes inspection, and sales are made before the people that created the product receive payment. The producers are responsible for buying the materials for the items they produce, and the waiting period to receive payment can be almost a year from the time the partners start making their items to sell. At Catalyst, we realize our partners often do not have money to buy the raw materials needed to start making their items, and they are not able to wait a year to receive payment for them. We pay our artists BEFORE they start making our items, so that they can purchase supplies and start receiving their wages immediately.
3) We are a for-profit business. Our business model is based on sustainable, scaleable growth to continue to partner with as many communities as possible. Catalyst believes that the only way to long-term alleviation of poverty is to provide sustainable jobs at living wages. We link arms with women in areas where job opportunities are scarce and finding buyers is almost impossible. Catalyst creates a growing market for their items and ensures they are being paid fair wages to solidify that we are having a lasting impact on their communities.
4) We are not a charity, we are a partnership. Catalyst believes that we are not in the business of "rescuing" our partners, as that would undermine the lengths that they have gone to fight for their own opportunities. We choose to work with groups that are already making a difference in their communities. The women that we work with are entrepreneurs in their own right, simply needing a greater platform to showcase their ability and create their products. We value the dignity and self-empowerment that comes from earning money for a job well done. At Catalyst, our success is truly intertwined with the success of our partnerships. When we grow, so do they.
5) We do not control the businesses that we partner with, and we do not dictate the wages these partnerships pay their workers. Instead, we allow the business owners of our partners to set fair, living wages based on the standards of that area. Catalyst reviews this wage to ensure that it is fair based on the cost of living for that country. Our partners also provide extra benefits to their workers such as school and childcare (India) and a medical fund, business training and education (Rwanda). We also work with our partners to make sure that they are planning adequately for growth and expansion of their own business, thanks to your Catalyst purchases!
And there should be a sixth item on the list: we are true partners with our customers as well. We are reading your excitement about the new line of scrubs on our Facebook page, we see you sharing our posts with your friends, and we see your belief in something that has never been attempted before. Thank you so much, and feel free to keep sharing Catalyst with others!
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