Spotlight: The Passions that Drive Progoti's Fashion Social Enterprise

Today, UnWrapIt is excited to be launching a new gift collection in collaboration with Progoti, a Toronto-based social enterprise that is challenging & changing norms in the fashion industry.

In the new Progoti Collection, you’ll find a collection of gifts that aren’t your usual clothing gifts for him (and eventually her). Instead of a hoodie, you can give This is a not a Hoodie! Instead of button down shirt, you can give This is not a shirt! And of course, you can give This is not a Tie too!

Each of the gifts substitutes the physical item with contributions that directly support Life Insurance, Disability, and Retirement Benefits for Bangladeshi garment workers.

Of course, if you are looking to purchase any of the clothing items you see in the collection (except the tie) and contribute to the benefits packages for some of the world’s most vulnerable workers, you can head directly to Progoti’s website and place an order there.

Progoti is a new kind of fashion company. And to give you a sense of the passions that drive their social enterprise, we sat down with Nurjahan Begum and Raul Valenzuela for the following Q&A.


Q: For those who have never heard about Progoti, can you tell us a bit about the company’s vision and values?

A: Progoti aims to build awareness on the drawbacks of the fashion industry and improve it by bringing customers on board for positive impact. Most global fashion retailers manufacture their products in Bangladesh because of affordable labour costs. However, over time, fast-fashion retailers have been putting pressure on factories to lower costs and increase volumes without considering the toll that these mandates have on garment workers, the most vulnerable participants in this system.

Our vision is to spark positive change and see a more just garment industry that fairly values the work of the Bangladeshi people who are clothing the world. To achieve this we partner with customers to directly support the long-term financial security of garment workers.

Q: Where did this idea come from? And what is the impact that providing Life Insurance, Disability, and Pension Benefits to a garment worker can make?

A: While working in the industry for 10+ years, I (Nurjahan) witnessed an increasing pressure on manufacturers; which in turn had the worst implications on workers, and I realized how vulnerable they are. Unfortunately, the government does not have a social safety net in place for garment workers, so Progoti is an effort to address this issue from a business perspective.

Generally, garment workers spend most of their income on living expenses and supporting their elders, who lack retirement benefits. The MetLife policies we purchase provide a social safety net.

Customers and workers are connected through their clothing, but this connection seems to have been forgotten. Progoti wants to bridge this gap and enable conscious customers to generate social impact collectively.

Q: What strategies have you seen that work to get people in North America to care more about where their clothes come from?

A: Spreading our message through face to face interactions in fairs and events has been fundamental to grow our audience, and for finding like-minded professionals to collaborate with.

Another concept that we want to push forward is providing insider knowledge about the industry and opening people’s eyes through transparency, a trait that customers today are demanding more of. Ultimately, it is our transparency that has built trust with our audience, especially for online purchases.

Not many brands publicly showcase the cost breakdown of their products, and more so, very few brands are going out of their way to directly support garment workers. For us, we want to be hands-on and make sure they are getting the most effective support. This is done through crowd-funding contributions to enroll workers with holistic insurance policies that will improve their long-term livelihoods.

Q: What kind of feedback have you received to date from your customers? And from the garment workers you’ve helped?

A: At first people are surprised because our way of doing business is not conventional; and then they are in love and do not hesitate to support our underlying cause. In 2018, over 70% of transactions included a voluntary contribution, which is a validation that people resonate with our progressive business model and want to help make a change.

In terms of garment workers, we had pre-enrollment chats with each worker we sponsored, and they were happily surprised to know that this is a benefit they can receive. So far, we have enrolled six workers and we will touch base with all of them in our upcoming factory trip this June.

Q: Finally, what would you want to tell someone thinking of giving a gift from the Progoti Collection on UnWrapIt?

A: These gifts will ensure that retired garment workers have the means to put food on their table and have some level of self-sufficiency as elders. Furthermore, your support will help spark change and demonstrate that collective action for impact can become the norm.

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothing manufacturer, employing more than 4 million workers. Moreover, 4 out of 5 women are women in their 20’s, so this is a big opportunity to improve the industry and empower women in doing so. Progoti is another of several efforts to improve the garment industry in Bangladesh and provide its front-line workers with proper working conditions, including employee benefits and fair remuneration for their work.

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