By Katie Foote, Epicure & Culture Contributor
When people think about poverty, their minds may conjure up the images often shown of bony African children or dirt-covered refugees in the Middle East. While helping combat poverty abroad is important, there’s also plenty of struggling families within the United States.
Sofia Melograno studied poverty alleviation and development in sub-Saharan Africa. There, she met a woman who established a sewing cooperative for HIV positive mothers to help them provide for their families. This inspired her to produce her own ethical clothing line. She initially intended to start her company abroad; however, upon returning home her eyes were opened to the apparent poverty in her own backyard. She decided to focus her efforts domestically.
Today she is the founder of Beru Kids, a children’s clothing line, produced entirely in downtown Los Angeles at factories paying workers (mostly women) a living wage. The sustainable garments are made of repurposed surplus materials from larger brands to eliminate additional waste in the industry.
1. What first inspired you to study poverty alleviation and development in sub-Saharan Africa?
I grew up in a family of philanthropists, so that definitely influenced my decision. When I was in college I helped establish an on-campus organization focused on getting young adults involved with development work in sub-Saharan Africa. We were a dedicated group of college students who took a great deal of initiative to implement programs to create opportunity in developing regions. I spent a couple of summers working on these projects in both Sierra Leone and Tanzania, and from those experiences, felt I wanted to make a career of humanitarian and development work. Obviously things have changed since that decision when I was 22, but it has most definitely shaped the decision and incentive in starting Beru Kids.Here's how you can end #poverty in #downtown #LA with these #ethical clothes. Click To Tweet
2. What helped you see the apparent poverty in your backyard? Why are some Americans oblivious to this?
It was actually seeing the poverty present in Los Angeles. LA is a segregated city. I grew up just outside of LA, 15 miles from these areas, and had never seen anything like it. Yes, you can argue that I was sheltered, but that kind of extreme poverty is confined to certain areas of the city, though it’s not hidden. You will see homeless populations on the west side of LA, but nothing like you see downtown.
I think a lot of Americans simply choose not see it.
3. Why did you decide to devote your efforts in improving the situation ‘at home’ as opposed to in Africa?
There are so many companies producing offshore, and it’s hurting our local economy and making it really hard for small businesses to compete. I would love to eventually manufacture a capsule collection in Africa, but producing in the US is part of our brand story. Also, producing in LA is logistically a lot easier because we don’t have to deal with importing, duties and tariffs, and we can be very hands-on with the production process and quality control. We can — and do — stop by our factory the same day to check-in on construction.
It took me a little while to let go of being dead set on producing in Africa. This is only chapter one. We have so many exciting ideas and projects in the works right now for Beru Kids.
4. Beyond paying workers a living wage and reducing unnecessary waste in the industry, how did establishing Beru Kids positively impact the world?
Beru Kids isn’t a charity and we don’t aim to be. We are a socially conscious business that is working to manufacture ethically and sustainably in the USA. I think it would be arrogant and unfair to say that I’m improving lives, but instead not contributing to what is abuse in this industry. I’m more focused on trying to set an example and precedent for others in the industry to follow.This #LA clothing #brand is helping make a #positive difference for the #environment. Click To Tweet
5. What can Epicure & Culture readers do to get involved with this cause?
I think that consumers need to be more aware of who makes our clothing, and how and where they are made. There are so many brands that are producing ethically now, and more and more resources available for providing the consumer with transparency. Just take the extra time and effort to make mindful and informed purchasing decisions, in order to support those businesses that are doing things right.
What are some of your favorite ethical clothing brands in LA? Please share them with us in the comments below!
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