Ever wondered how you could support ethical, sustainable businesses? Welcome to a regular series highlighting products, services and organizations that are ‘doing well by doing good’.
Beza Threads is an amazing nonprofit created to bring redemption and freedom to the enslaved youth of Ethiopia. One-hundred percent of our proceeds directly fund the rescue and rehabilitation of young adults in sweatshops or forced prostitution. We talked with co-founder Josiah Carter about how it all began.
Please give us an overview of your organization?
All of the products we sell—scarves, wallets and bracelets—were made by former sweatshop slaves in a training program designed to give them the skills, education and business training needed to kick-start their own businesses or find sustainable jobs. In addition, we fund programming for young women once forced into prostitution. Along with emotional support and rehabilitation, these women receive cosmetology or culinary training that results in an internship, government certificate and job placement. Our partner organization, Hope for Children in Ethiopia, facilitates the rescue and rehabilitation of these Ethiopians. We support this organization and the slaves they rescue by bringing their products to the U.S. marketplace.
How did you get started with this idea?
In 2008, I went to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a group of Iowa college students. We discovered a district where block after block was lined with tin shacks and young girls ensnared in prostitution. Many of them were between the ages of 10 and 17, waiting to be chosen at an average price of $1 per encounter. We later found out that more than 70,000 prostitutes, often coerced or working against their will, live in the city of 3 million people. However, we found hope in a local nonprofit known as Hope for Children in Ethiopia (HCE). They were rescuing young girls and boys from forced prostitution and sweatshop labor, providing them with rehabilitation and job skill training. I met dozens of former slaves who possessed the hope, education and skills to forge a viable future. We bought 40 hand-woven scarves from HCE and sold them all at a single campus event, bringing awareness of the issue back to the U.S. And that’s when we realized we might be able to fight slavery from nearly 8,000 miles away. After eight years, we’ve sold nearly 10,000 scarves and generated over $300,000 in revenue to support our partner organization.
What is the purpose of this organization?
We believe any effort that promotes freedom in the life of an enslaved child has immense value. We serve our Ethiopian friends because we cannot imagine sitting back and doing nothing if our own sons or daughters, brothers or sisters were being abused and treated like commodities. Our purpose is to bring hope, redemption and long-lasting freedom to the enslaved.
What are you proudest of?
Since its inception, Beza Threads’ support has led to the rescue of 120 youth from slavery. I couldn’t be prouder of our volunteers and community members for supporting our work, which truly transforms people’s lives. It’s not just that slaves get rescued—it’s that they’re actually excited about the future. By the end of their time with HCE, they feel empowered and ready to change the world around them.
How do you think you are different to your competitors?
Many organizations boast about the percentage of profits they give to charitable causes, but we take things one step further. Giving 100% of our proceeds to an organization that rescues people from human trafficking is unique. And on top of that, we sell a really high quality product. All of our scarves were woven by former sweatshop workers who are taking what was once used against them to craft brighter futures.
What do your customers/community say about your organization that makes you happy?
Our customers love their scarves. Some people buy as many as 10 to 15 due to all the compliments they receive. However, what makes me most happy is when these people realize that they’re truly making a difference in the life of an enslaved Ethiopian. Not only do they become aware of the worldwide issue of slavery, but they learn about what they can do to fight it.
What is your favorite story about your organization?
In 2014, my team and I met a boy who had graduated from HCE’s program in 2012. Prior to his rescue, he was getting paid $2 a week to work in a local sweatshop. He didn’t have enough money to buy food, clothing or housing and had no choice but to remain working for the sweatshop owner. But then, HCE stepped in. He completed their program and started his own business. After paying for his living costs, he’s now saving $75 a month! We jokingly asked him how he keeps the ladies away with all the success he’s had, and he told us it actually is quite difficult to do so. He owns a thriving business and has more orders than he knows what to do with. He’s taken ownership of his freedom, and it’s evident to the people (especially the young women!) around him.
What difference do you make in people’s lives?
The difference we make is two-fold. First of all, we’re changing the way people think and interact with the world. It can be pretty discouraging to know that there are more slaves today than at any other point in history, but our story has nothing but hope. We’re giving our communities a way to give freedom with the simple purchase of a scarf. Second, “Beza” means redemption in the Ethiopian language of Amharic. That’s how we’re making a difference in the lives of Ethiopians; we’re giving them freedom and a brighter future. People once trapped in the worst forms of slavery now own their own businesses or have incredible jobs.
Where can people go to support your organization?
There are several ways people can get involved with our organization, all of which can be found on our website (www.bezathreads.org). First of all, you can buy a scarf! For every 240 scarves sold, one person is freed from slavery. You can also consider joining our sponsorship program, Friends of Beza. With 95% of your monthly donation going directly towards program funding, you can rescue a young woman from forced prostitution or prevent a child from ever entering slavery in the first place.
What are your plans for the future?
We hope to continue expanding our scarf line, as well as explore the possibility of selling other products. We recently began selling leather wallets and bracelets and are excited about finding new ways to support our partner organization. We also hope to continue promoting our child sponsorship program, Friends of Beza, through making the community aware of the long-lasting impact they can make through monthly support.
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