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A Brighter Future for Women – One Stitch at a Time

This week, onPhilanthropy goes back to our roots, reconnecting with Tamara Backer Tepper, who led Changing Our World’s corporate social engagement division for several years. Before leaving New York for Singapore, where her husband Jason studied international business, Tamara worked with major corporations and organizations such as ConAgra, OppenheimerFunds, Avon, Kraft Foods, and the Council on Foundations, helping to design and implement strategic philanthropic initiatives. Now that they’ve transitioned back to the US, Tamara and Jason have brought with them their new company, One Lemon, building social enterprise into a business that would not only connect them to a part of the world that meant so much to them, but help local craftspeople build a better life for themselves and their families.

Q: Explain how the idea of the business came about.

A: My husband and I started One Lemon while we were living in Singapore.  We spent a lot of time traveling around SE Asia and were struck and inspired by two things: on an aesthetic level I just loved the local crafts and night markets we saw everywhere, and on an emotional level we met some amazing people doing incredible work to help those in need.  So we decided to start a business that combined the two.  

 Q: Tell us about the social enterprise part of the equation.

 A: Every time we took a trip around Asia we would identify and visit a nonprofit or social enterprise that was doing great work around the local crafts traditions, using these cultural artforms as a means for social empowerment and income generation.  We ended up selecting two amazing organizations with which to work - one in India (which now does all our hand-embroidered organic cotton goods for kids) and one in Cambodia (which makes gorgeous hand-woven silks; this one is on hold for a bit as our cottons have taken off and that’s where our attention has been focused).

 Our partner in India is a nonprofit that trains and employs more than 500 women in sewing, embroidery, quilting, etc.  In addition to employment opportunities and fair wages, our partner provides a number of social services to the women it serves and their families.  The organization is actually housed in Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad where he spent 15 or so years of his life and has a really special spirit of love and caring.  Most of the women embroider the goods from their homes so that they can take care of their children and families while earning an honest living.  This, in turn, helps ensure that their own children can go to school instead of working to earn money to support the family.

 Our business is truly a social enterprise.  As we grow, we provide more business to our partners so that they can help more women and families obtain a healthy and sustainable living.  We love this aspect of the business and this is why we created it.  As you can imagine, this social angle also presents its challenges to the business — from a higher cost of goods to sometimes rudimentary systems and infrastructure.  While these challenges are inherent in our business model, the opportunity to help our partner organizations build their capacity, and to know that our growth directly impacts their growth and ability to help others, makes it all worthwhile.

 Q: And the name One Lemon, tell us what that represents.

 A: It’s the sense that something seemingly as simple and small as a single lemon delivers a powerful splash of color, aroma and taste.  In the same way, each small stitch our artisans make not only goes toward producing quality, organic products, but also makes a difference in their lives by empowering them and their families.

 Q: What are some of the ways you’ve incorporated social responsibility into the business?

 A: One Lemon’s mission and operating procedures are very much aligned with the social and environmental standards supported by leading fair trade industry organizations. Our artisans are paid fair wages, and also offered benefits such as food security loans, medical support, and educational support for their children.

In addition, we do our best to minimize our impact on the environment by using reusable, recycled, and responsibly produced materials in our products and packaging. All One Lemon cotton products are made with 100% organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). These fabrics use natural ingredients such as sea salt, herbal dyes, and the sun, and utilize cutting edge processing technology to ensure environmental sustainability.

 To learn more about One Lemon’s mission and products, visit One Lemon

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