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Jo Salter’s business has been selling eco-friendly, Fair Trade and traceable clothing online since 2013. But what really drives her business is connecting communities and helping some of the poorest people on the planet find their voice.

Every piece she sells in her social enterprise tells a tale. A QR code in the label links to the story of the people who make the clothes and are helped by being able to sell them.

Jo says: “I argue it’s good for the mental health of the buyer. If you have a connection to things – you are part of their story – you are going to take care of them, appreciate them more.”

It was a vision of Mahatma Gandhi to start a co-operative movement during the 1930’s in India, to empower women. Co-operatives enable women to become an economic force in their own right, giving them a weaving loom and cloth to get started, and insisting they are paid directly.

This means women have greater power in the household and can send their children to school. It could mean a young woman has money to top up a mobile phone or buy make-up, like so many of their counterparts around the world.

The stories the garments tell are personal and real, written by Jo in collaboration with her supplying partners. She knows them as friends, has seen how the cotton is farmed, how it’s processed and the difference it makes to those who make the final product.

In early 2020, was attracting the interest of buyers at big grocery companies.

But lockdown was a disaster for the business. As demand slowed and imports were halted from Africa and India, clothes couldn’t reach their buyers.

So Jo jumped on not just one, but two, pivots. First, she set up an online conference in April to mark Fashion Revolution Month, which commemorates the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh. With a daily theme, delegates joined from all over the world and the money raised was donated to charity.

Then, she set up an online sewing group around the U.K. with her product manager Lucy Kerry at her side, and gave the ladies in her virtual sewing-bee a pattern to make facemasks at home. With input from a doctor and research carried out with the Royal Society, the designs were both easy to sew and easy to wear, with pleats under the chin for comfort and ties at the back to wrap around pony-tails.

Using existing stocks of fabric and some bought back from customers, the masks are organic cotton, unbleached and undyed and come with their own story. And so far they have made 450 of them.

Now, as demand for masks soars, Jo has trained-up one of the factories in India to make them in anticipation of wholesale orders.

As she moves back to the core business, Jo’s award-winning business is one that deserves to succeed.

She said: “80% clothes buyers are women. 80% garment workers are women. It’s a feminist issue. Buying clothing made this way supports the sisterhood in ways that every garment we sell can bring to life.”

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