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Feminist Practices Our Voices

Fearless Fashion Connects Community and Culture

 

Lorna Mutegyeki, 32-year-old founder of Msichana

In an industry notorious for unfair wages, waste, and horrible working conditions, 32-year-old Edmonton-based fashion designer and business owner, Lorna Mutegyeki stands out. Born in Uganda, she emigrated to Canada at the age of 18. In 2017 Mutegyeki launched Msichana, a sustainable luxury fashion label that is committed to advancing employment opportunities for women in Africa. The social enterprise employs and empowers women through every step of the production and sales process. Msichana ensures that textile makers are paid fairly, have great working conditions, and that each garment is unique and handmade using the highest quality fabrics on the continent.

Msichana cigarette pant, 2019 collection–you can find more images on Instagram.

“Each piece is a handmade, one-of-a-kind work of art with much love and attention put into it,” says Mutegyeki.

The creations are designed in Canada and proudly produced in Africa by weavers, dyers, and embroiderers. The company’s supply chain is completely transparent and ethically made for women, by women. Materials are meticulously sourced. That includes tracing the cotton all the way down to where the seed was grown. Ethical fashion is hard work.

From belts to dresses, jackets to jumpsuits, prices range from $80 to $600+. The enterprise appeals to a largely affluent segment of the North American women’s fashion market comprised of those supportive of environmental and social justice centred, artisanal scale enterprises. Benefits? Zero mass production. Zero waste. Assurance of thrive-level wages plus a progressive company culture for women in Uganda. Leveraging your economic power to advance women and gender equity. 

Msichana is also breaking stereotypes by providing new opportunities in traditionally male sectors for women in Africa. Mutegyeki told us that in Ethiopia, most weaving work is traditionally done my men. Her goal is also to unshackle women and show the impact that financial independence can have on their lives, families, and community.  Winnie Nabukera, one of Msichana’s artisans explains her point of view in a short interview supplied via iPhone video by Msichana, “African women sole-preneurs are not well supported in a male dominated society”. Nabukera adds that Msichana has created new income opportunities that also helps address the gender pay gap, plus provides an opportunity to upgrade skills, which in turn, helps her connect with other new clients of her own.

LiisBeth introduced Msichana in our February newsletter, and then spoke with Mutegyeki on the phone last week to ask more about her personal journey as an entrepreneur.


LiisBeth: What does Msichana mean?

Mutegyeki: It’s actually the Swahili word for young woman. Swahili is a combination of many languages, a coming together, an intersection. I thought it would be a great way to express the values of the brand.

Liisbeth: You invested in an expensive MBA degree, and successfully leveraged this to get a well-paying job in the finance industry. Why take a risk at becoming a fashion entrepreneur–a brutal industry for start ups– after just a few years?

Mutegyeki: I gave up my golden handcuff job because it was, for me, unfulfilling, and I felt I needed to get out before the handcuffs became tighter. I also wanted to have an impact in the world. I grew up in a strong feminist household. My mother was bold, strong, and not afraid to get emotional and assert herself. I noticed once how a respected local female politician, [the Honourable] Miria Matembe, was treated when she spoke out about rape, domestic violence, the need for Ugandan women to have an education, and equality. Because of her views, she was called unladylike. People said she was losing it. And didn’t take her seriously. I noticed how women as a gender were oppressed in my own country and have to say, was surprised to find out that a first world country like Canada still grapples with similar issues—just like Uganda back home. I understand the current conversation about rage. I myself feel rage, carry intergenerational rage, when I see how women are still treated and made to feel like they are never enough. I wanted to help create a world where the feminine, women’s bodies and women are truly valued for what they authentically bring to the table. A world where the ability to be soft is a sign of courage and inner strength.

LiisBeth: How did you fund your startup?

Mutegyeki: I thought I could save up and then jump in. So I’d been saving for [starting my business] for a long time. Five years. Just waiting until I had enough. I just eventually realized I was just never going to have enough money to do it. The up-front costs for what I wanted to do were far beyond what I could save within a few years. I not only had to buy equipment, I also knew I would have to make a big investment in training our women suppliers before we would have a product. I knew it would be a long time before we were ready to have anything to sell.

So saving enough was a no go. As an alternative, I thought I could start the business by working after hours, nights, weekends. That way, I could continue funding my startup through my earnings. But I failed. I completely failed. My job was too demanding and after one year of trying, I learned I could not do both. I had to commit to one or the other.

So finally, I quit. And jumped in. While it is tough not having that income, I don’t think I could have made the progress I made in a relatively short time if I had tried to do my full-time job at the same time.

LiisBeth: The Federal Government of Canada has recently made an historic investment in the advance of women entrepreneurs in this Country. Is it helping you?

Mutegyeki: I have been following the announcements and it is very interesting and exciting. And government here does a lot to help entrepreneurs. But I feel that most of the funding is tailored to help established enterprises. The funding is also project-based. So that means to qualify, you to have start a new project. For example, launch a new product line or service that augments your established business. But what if your entire business is a new project? As a startup, the last thing you need is to finance a new project when what you really need are the resources to grow the project you already started. What early stage ventures need is operational funds. Money for more people to scale what they are already doing—not just money for things the existing business is not ready to handle.

LiisBeth: Have you ever asked yourself the hard question—should I keep going or just quit?

Mutegyeki: That’s a hard question to answer. To be open, when I’ve had crushers, I do ask myself that question. And I’m always assessing all my options. The quit option has been on the list at least twice. Especially when I feel lost sometimes, because, if something’s too close to your heart sometimes you can’t see very clearly. But then, just in time, my mentors, my husband, and even clients many who act like mentors, reach in, pull me back to the centre, and ask me point blank the hands on hip “is that absolutely necessary?” kind of question? The biggest thing mentors do for me is ask the tough questions I work hard to avoid by being too busy to think about them. Their support and helpful ideas keep me going and fire me up to tackle the issue—rather than run from it.

LiisBeth: What’s next for Msichana?

Mutegyeki: Right now, I am doing a slight pivot by introducing accessories which are a lower price point than our garments. I also know I need to invest more in marketing. And that I can’t keep “D-Y-I-ing” everything. It’s starting to show. I need to hire someone. But am not at a level of cash flow where it is possible to do so. And I am nervous about raising outside capital. I don’t want to compromise my triple bottom line values. I would consider a loan—but I already have sleepless nights. A loan is just another thing to stay awake at night about. Ideally, I would find a strategic partner who is interested in achieving the same things.

LiisBeth: What is your word for the year?

Mutegyeki: Authenticity.

LiisBeth: What are you reading these days to keep you on track?

Mutegyeki: Anything by Eckhart Tolle, and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

LiisBeth: Lorna, you are fierce and very brave! It’s been a pleasure.

Mutegyeki: Thank you.


Find out how Msichana fashions are made!


Related Articles

https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/07/27/queer-to-their-boots/


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LIISBETH DISPATCH #50

Photo by Sam Beasley on Unsplash

VIEWPOINT 

When we talk about how to advance inclusivity and diversity, we often default to identifying new ways of including those typically excluded to enter the dominant group’s tent. As colleague Dr. Barb Orser would say, this is known as the “Add X (insert your word here____________ i.e., women, LGBTQIA2S, people of colour, newcomers, etc.) and stir approach to diversity and inclusion.

Given the mounting evidence that the decades-plus worth of “Add X and Stir” efforts are yielding disappointing results and, in some companies, even creating rifts, we need to start thinking differently.

This is where the feminist economy comes in.

What is the feminist economy?

The feminist economy is a kaleidoscope of startup and established organizations and enterprises that live at the intersection between feminism, social justice, and business.

It’s not all about bookstores or zine publishers anymore, either.

It cuts across sectors and is comprised of fearless startup founders, enterprise owners, non-profit leaders, plus collective, association, activist and cooperative directors of all genders who collaborate and expressly launch gendered products and/or services that challenge norms and advance both gender and social justice.

This pluralistic, global community doesn’t just tinker. These leaders robustly practice and innovate diversity and inclusion concepts. No wonder. They invented the conversation about 200 years ago. And because they exist on the fringe, often without corporate or establishment ties, they have the latitude to push the boundaries—with both hands.

Sure. They might have also read Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But they are more likely to have been inspired to act by Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent Strategy or Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World when thinking about startup design, finance, and strategy.

They also routinely draw on feminist scholarship for inclusive operational practice and governance ideas, plus engage with feminist media to share insights and findings—because there is no feminist executive program (yet!). Their companies create economic value—but also serve as social justice labs. They work hard and take risks in order to put into practice feminist values, futures, scholarship, and best practices in an economy that continues to reward in outsized ways kyriarchal compliance (patriarchy + intersectionality = kyriarchy).

According to our most recent LiisBeth survey, the majority of feminist founders and business owners connect with the visionary definition of feminism articulated by feminist writer, bell hooks. It’s based on love for all humanity and the planet.

So where am I going with all this? As argued so well by Dr. Dori Tunstall, OCAD University’s Dean of the Faculty of Design (the first Black dean of a design school in North America), during her keynote at the 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum, diversity and inclusion practices, as we know them today, are not only not enough—they seem unnecessarily colonial, primitive and fragile.

We need new stocky, radical ideas.

Perhaps it’s finally time to make feminism a “safe word” in the world of business and innovation. Instead of marginalizing its scholars and its practitioners, it might be finally time to name, fame, and embrace its wisdom.

#feministeconomy


THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH 

Amanda Laird, author & feminist holistic nutritionist

HEAVY FLOW: BREAKING THE CURSE OF MENSTRUATION 

In the wake of its Oscar win for short documentary, Period. End of Sentence. is about the stigma of menstruation in rural India, and how Girlslearn.org helped a group of Indian women create a micro-economy in their community. We think it’s bloody great to see so much positive press about periods.

Speaking of periods, check out our Q&A with author and nutritionist Amanda Laird about her path to podcasting and how she got a book deal to write about smashing the stigma and shame of periods and listening to your body.

We are so close to being able to use that new period emoji. Next cycle.

FEMINIST FREEBIE!

Go to LiisBeth.com and be one of the first two people to leave a comment on Amanda’s story to receive a signed, FREE copy of Heavy Flow.

Tell us what prompted your feminist entrepreneur journey. OR write a taboo haiku about your favourite (or weirdest) period experience.

Sabrina Dias and crew on site in Nevada, USA

SHE WILL ROCK YOUR WORLD!

Sustainable mining is like saying nutritious mass food production. Impossible in an industry rife with corruption, greed, and sexism. Yet Sabrina Dias stands firmly in her work boots and her vision: successful, profitable businesses built on the foundations of sustainable development. 

Dias used to encounter hostility and bullying in her work, but that has shifted to respect and admiration.

She’s a crusader with a higher purpose. Read the story here to see how she picks herself up and dusts herself off. She is known to “go tribal” and mining companies have everything to gain by working with her. Rock on!

Photo: Unsplash

WRITING “UNDER HIS NAME”

Self-employed people, entrepreneurs and freelancers have no mandated minimum wage, and sometimes they don’t get credit for their work. And many sell themselves short when it comes time to invoice.

Our new contributor, Emma Elobeid, works in the content marketing world—and she says “enough.” While there is no right or wrong (in terms of pay) in online content creation churn, it’s important to know your worth.

Read more on claiming identity and pay equity, and check out lessons learned from the frontline feminist freelancer.

March is around the corner.
Many wil be marching.
LiisBeth needs your help to March forth.
We rely 100% on reader donations.
And every paid subscription helps us with grant applications.
Our impact is measurable. If social and economic justice are important to you, here’s your chance to help us shine a light on the feminist economy.

If you find our content of value, consider contributing to us on Patreon
Each online magazine refresh and newsletter takes a collective effort.
We have reached over 2,500 subscribers, but less than 30% contribute financially.

LIISBETH FIELD NOTES 

Canada’s former justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould: Photo via Shutterstock.

NO MEANS NO!

If you are in Canada, you are probably still reeling from former Canadian justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony yesterday. If you are not in Canada–this story is about another a corporation abusing its power–pointing a gun with a barrell tightly packed with jobs- to an elected governments’ head. Yes. This happens in Canada too.

Was Wilson-Raybould pressured to delay its prosecution of SNC Lavalin? The transcript speaks for itself. She was.

SNC Lavalin is a $10B Quebec-based company with 8700 employees in Canada and 50 000 employees worldwide. There are only two women on its twelve person leadership team The 11 member board includes three women. It did not make the 2019 “Best Canadian Employer” list. It has a history of bribery and collecting billion dollar fraud, corruption and shareholder-led class action suits.

In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould concluded by saying  “I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity. These are the teachings of my parents, grandparents and community. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House. This is who I am and who I will always be.”

Speaking truth to power. Raybould-Wilson, you have taught us all a lesson.

The question is–do we have the stomach to learn from it. Will Canadians support governments who uphold the rule of law when faced with material threats by neoliberal era King King corporations?

Gilakas’la (means “thank you” in Kwakwala), JW-R for your courage.

For other takes on the case, check out these indie media articles we believe are worth reading. They be can be found here and here.

Carole Murphy (pictured above) is a Montana-based eco-entrepreneur, gender equity advocate, and creator of Heart Stock Radio. In 2016, she incorporated her business, Purse for the People, as a Benefit Corporation.

A Benefit Corporation is basically a B Corp backed by legislation.

Why is that a good thing? For starters, it protects the company from those wanting to mess with its social benefit mission. As social entrepreneurs know all too well, mission is often on the auction block during capital raises, leadership changes, and founder exits. Incorporating as a Benefit Corporation also prepares businesses to lead a mission-driven life post-IPO.

The UK pioneered the concept of a legislatively backed hybrid organization with the introduction of the community interest company (CIC). The United States followed suit with their version of the idea. Only two provinces in Canada, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, have a legal option that resembles benefit corporations. That’s gotta change.

Murphy says, “The biggest challenge with benefit corporations is a general lack of understanding about what they are, and why they’re important.”

That, too, has to change.

Murphy is launching an equity-based campaign on March 1.

You can check out past live recordings of Heart Stock Radio here. MARK THE DATE: LiisBeth founder, PK Mutch, will be on the show on Friday, March 8 at 7 p.m. EST.

COMING IN APRIL: THE LIISBETH READING LIST 2019

Rebecca Traister’s latest book is timely and crucial. It offers a glimpse into the galvanizing force of women’s collective anger which, when harnessed, can change history.

We bet Canada’s former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, plus many others will curl up tonight with this one.

Last fall, we asked over 130 LiisBeth readers in our last survey where they went to keep up with feminist ideas and thought leaders. The number-one source was feminist media and books. In a time when social and gender justice is the new political centrefold, the feminist book category is, not surprisingly, exploding. There simply is not enough time to read them all.

So we are going to help you whittle it down.

Watch for our 2019 recommended reading list next month. If you missed last year’s list, you can still download it here.

Illustration by J. J. Steeves

AAAACK! I NEED HELP!!

Thinking of starting an advisory board? Not sure where to start? Check out this month’s handy Growth Wheel in the form of a free downloadable briefing: “Advisory Board or Red Wine Club.” It will help you get started.

Lorna Mutegyeki combines her business background and creative expertise to connect people and make a real difference.

FEARLESS FASHION CONNECTS COMMUNITY AND CULTURE

In an industry notorious for unfair wages and horrible working conditions, fashion designer and business owner Lorna Mutegyeki stands out. Not only because her clothing designs are bold and unique and stunning, but also because she insists on treating her employees with the respect they deserve.

In 2017, Mutegyeki launched Msichana, a sustainable luxury fashion label that is committed to advancing employment opportunities for women in Africa. The social enterprise employs and empowers women through every step of the production process. Msichana ensures the women are paid fairly, have great working conditions, and that each garment is unique and handmade using the highest quality fabrics on the continent.

“Each piece is a handmade, one-of-a-kind work of art with much love and attention put into it,” says Mutegyeki.

From belts to dresses, jackets to jumpsuits, prices range from $80 to $600+, which might sound pricey, but remember: you get what you pay for. Zero mass production. Zero waste.

The creations are designed in Canada and proudly produced in Africa by weavers, dyers, and embroiderers. The company’s supply chain is completely transparent and ethically made for women, by women. Materials are meticulously sourced and include tracing the cotton down to the seed where it was grown. Ethical fashion is hard work.

Mutegyeki is based in Edmonton. She is a chartered professional accountant and has an MBA from the University of Alberta. Msichana is the result of an inner need for Mutegyeki, the desire to make a difference in the kind of work she was doing.

“I realized the dissatisfaction I had was probably never going to leave so I decided to just take the risk and tackle it head on,” she says.

Msichana is also breaking stereotypes by providing these types of work opportunities for women in Africa. She told us that in Ethiopia, most embroidery work is traditionally done my men. Mutegyeki’s goal is to empower women and show the impact that empowerment has on their lives, families, and community.

We’re following some exciting design news (hint: it involves inclusion) from Msichana in the coming week. Look for a full profile at LiisBeth.com

A look inside Msichana’s studio in Uganda.

Yin Yoga with Affirmations for Self-Love & Healing
[30 minutes]
Self-love is not just for Valentine’s day.
Practice healthy self-care with Yoga with Kassandra. Your inner self will thank you.

LIISBETH STORY VOTE

We asked, you answered. Tack! That’s “thank you” in Swedish. A portrait of former Swedish Feminist Initiative Party Leader, Gudrun Schyman, is coming in weeks.

NEW POLL from our query bucket: Which story should we publish? Click here to vote (takes one minute or less to complete).

  • Is the attack on neoliberalism bad for women? The numbers show that many women benefitted from it around the globe.

  • The Wakefield, UK miners’ strike was famously supported by gay and lesbian organizations—and serves as an example of an intersectional movement long before the word was coined. What is the legacy it left behind? What is Wakefield like now?

  • Profile of a social justice–oriented Oakland, CA dance studio run by two fierce feminists and their unique “Try Matriarchy” initiative.

WHAT WE’RE READING 

How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life?
Emergent Strategy author and editor adrienne maree brown finds the answer in something she calls “pleasure activism,” a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work. Drawing on the black feminist tradition, she challenges us to rethink the ground rules of activism. Her mindset-altering essays are interwoven with conversations and insights from other feminist thinkers, including Audre Lorde, Joan Morgan, Cara Page, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Together they cover a wide array of subjects—from sex work to climate change, from race and gender to sex and drugs—building new narratives about how politics can feel good and how what feels good always has a complex politics of its own. —www.akpress.org

Do you cringe everytime you hear a speaker at a women’s empowerment event tell the audience that “it’s our time” because colourful scans of women’s brains prove they are biologically wired to align with today’s most desired leadership skills like empathy, collaboration, or flower arranging? Good news! Gina Rippon’s new book crushes that myth with a Dr. Martens boot. Rippon, emeritus professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, describes herself as “an outspoken critic of the ‘neurotrash’ (known as the “Neurotrash Warrior”) defined as the populist misuse of neuroscience research to misrepresent our understanding of the brain and, most particularly, to prop up outdated stereotypes.” The book has just been released.

AND FINALLY . . . IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!

  • China and Feminism: Will the feminist’s movement’s work ever be done? Not likely. Especially when we see initiatives like China’s social credit system on track for implementation by 2020. Essentially, citizens will be ranked and rated on a social credit score based how well they meet their social and economic obligations. Imagine. Hanging out with the Feminist Five? Minus 100 points. Good Confucian housewife? Plus 50. China ranks 87 amongst 142 countries in terms of political empowerment and economic participation of women, positioned in between Venezuela and Uganda.
  • More on China: Episode three of the Netflix series, Patriot Act, focused on censorship in China and included a full interview with feminist activist Xiaowen Liang and how women in China are initiating the #MeToo movement despite censorship regulations. Follow @FeministChina for the latest info on grassroots Chinese feminist movement. New episodes of the Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj air every Sunday where he brings an incisive perspective to global news, politics, and culture in his unique comedy series.
  • Breakthrough Film Festival 2019 submissions are being accepted until March 1st. BFF is dedicated to supporting emerging filmmakers who identify as women, trans, or non-binary. The yearly festival takes place in downtown Toronto and showcases Canadian and international short films in all genres made by emerging directors of all ages, with a special category for new generation artists (18-30 years old). Eligibility: must be an emerging talent and identify as a woman, trans, or non-binary person. To submit, click here.

That brings us to the end of our 50th newsletter!

If you found value in what you read here or in the original articles on our website, we hope you will consider donating one time or becoming a monthly subscriber for as little as $3/month.

Demonstrating growth in paid readerships is not just about the money–it also helps us secure sponsorships and grants—it serves as proof positive that readers value what we do.

To donate one time or become a donor subscriber, click here.

Next newsletter will come out April 2nd-ish! Mark the date! 

Peace out,