We’ve recently been featuring Vancity Entrepreneurs who place a large focus on social impact and cutting edge fashion. This week, those two focuses unite to present to you: Wabi, a surging fashion company led by two very young and bright entrepreneurs (the first women duo of this series) – meet Brianna MacNeil and Malissa Bautista. Ladies (and gents), brace yourself for a very unique feature this week on a company with an amazing cause, fully backed by UNICEF Canada, and soon, a variety of retailers across North America.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and how it got started.
Wabi is an up-and-coming women’s ready-to-wear line. Our first collection is launching this Spring/Summer 2013. We are all about intertwining fashion and philanthropy, giving women the opportunity to take part in a movement – our campaign ZEROtoFIVE. The process of contributing is as simple as buying one of our blouses or shorts. Wabi began as we were discussing what to wear to an upcoming music festival and our love for DIY clothing projects. It was sort of a natural evolution and everything from then on seemed to sort of fall into place.
We thought up Wabi and upon researching it further, found that it is a Japanese term used to describe Eastern views on aesthetics. Wabi essentially means any imperfection that adds elegance to a whole, and from this, the essence of our brand was born.
2. Tell us more about your creative philanthropic approach with birth certificates and your product.
We are really disturbed about the realities of human trafficking and how this is a daily-life for millions internationally. For each Wabi item sold, approximately 5 children in developing or emergency regions will receive a birth registration. We wanted to give our customers a tangible donation so we decided to partner with UNICEF Canada in order to attack human trafficking at its core, by protecting potential victims.
Birth certificates offer a wide range of protection and services to those who possess them. Unfortunately, out of the 130 million babies born each year, approximately 50 million will go unregistered. It may not seem like a huge investment to those in the developing world, but birth certificates provide children in developing and emergency regions with access to healthcare, immunizations, education and social services. It also protects them from being exploited as human trafficking victims, child labourers, child soldiers and being married at an illegal age. Children who cannot prove which state they belong are unable to access their rights from their place of birth and, if they cannot prove their age, may be subject to horribly exploitative situations.
By bringing awareness to unregistered children we hope to both provide many children globally with registration and create a movement for those exploited due to un-registration.
3. We see a lot of cool clothing lines out there, but only a few make it. Aside from your partnerships and mission, what makes the actual product stick out from the rest?
Wabi really has three pillars and components; first of all, we have the mission and our partnership with UNICEF . Secondly, we pride ourselves on our companies fashion forward designs which appeal to those who would rather stand out than fit in. Our designs are centered around the principal of giving our customers an outlet to showcase their uniqueness. What you wear speaks volumes to those you see on a daily basis, and although Wabi girls are classy, they are definitely not afraid to let their inner badass shine through. Thirdly, our products use premium quality fabrics and hardware. Our denim and leather products have a lifetime warranty and our first collection of blouses are made of 100% silk. We didn’t want women to just look amazing, we wanted to make clothes that last and feel good too.
4. What are some of the biggest challenges you and the team face today and how are you working to overcome them?
One of the biggest obstacles is getting buyers to take a look at our products. For some of the larger stores, we’re sure they receive hundreds of look books every month from new designers, so it’s one of our main jobs to make sure they take the time to look at ours. We’ve even gone so far as to ensure that our samples will make it into the buyer’s hands of stores we adore through some pretty extreme measures! It’s really about making the decision makers aware of the quality and mission behind our products with persistence. The hardest part of this has really been convincing buyers to meet with us in the first place. Once we’re face to face, it’s an easy sell. It eats up a lot of their day distinguishing the promising designers from those who are not as appropriate for their store(s), so we have to make sure they recognize us as one of the promising ones.
Another difficulty we face is the fact that we are so young. Many people are a bit shocked by our boldness in creating a company at such a young age, but the vision we’ve created for Wabi is so clear that it’s easy to bring people on board. We know we have amazing products in quality, material and style, and to top it off, we have the confidence of UNICEF behind us, who took a chance on a new company to help better the world. They saw something in our company that we hope many people will begin to see in the near future, and we know that Wabi and the ZEROtoFIVE campaign will persist for many years to come.
5. How does this improve the city of Vancouver? What is the real world problem you’re solving for a Vancouverite?
We aren’t going to sit here and say we are impacting Vancouver in an enormous way; we just began, so realistically, we haven’t done much to improve the city itself. In the long run? Well, we are here to spark a movement, to spark a change in the minds of the younger generation and show them that anything can be done if you put your mind and efforts towards it.
We also will raise awareness of humanitarian issues that don’t get the spotlight that they deserve with child protection and human trafficking being our primary concerns. Human trafficking is a worldwide epidemic and Vancouver has been identified as a major port of concern by the U.S. State Department (http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/octip/). This means Vancouver has been identified as both a transit and destination port for human trafficking victims.
By addressing human trafficking issues at the core by providing potential victims with birth registration, we hope to prevent human trafficking and protect those who are most vulnerable. In turn, this could result in a worldwide reduction in human trafficking where the current number of trafficked children is 1.2 million.
You may think that human trafficking happens only to those in developing countries, but approximately 16,000 people are trafficked domestically each year. Children who are at high risk of becoming a victim are between 12-17 years old, are minors living independently or with older men, those who have been victimized by internet predators, children who runaway or go missing and socially marginalized children, particularly aboriginals.
6. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
WORK. It’s as simple as that. People don’t realize how accessible their dreams are to them; all they have to do is actively work towards what they want. Not a lot of people are willing to put in the effort it really takes to make something successful, so being an entrepreneur definitely takes a particular type of person. Did we ever dream that we would be founding our own fashion line? Yes. Did we ever dream that we would get a partnership with UNICEF? Yes. We work 80+ hours a week and talk to each other 24/7, to get what we want. It sounds so cliché but really, when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.
One of the greatest realizations we ever had was that everything was once an idea. From Apple to the telephone, literally everything that exists today was once an idea that someone put their entire heart and soul into to make a reality. With that being said:
- Your idea, no matter how big or small is achievable. You just have to utilize the tools before you as best you can and create the ones you don’t have. We decided to imagine and construct this larger than life company and just go for it.
- Obsession: live, breathe, dream, think about your company constantly. Our greatest ideas have come from late night conversations and texting, calling and emailing each other constantly.
- Make your customers and employees fall in love with your company as much as you do. We cannot emphasize how critical this is. As Steve Jobs said, “A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.”
- Be persistent. Be persistent. Be persistent.
It’s amazing what these UBC student entrepreneurs are accomplishing as they balance out the university life of exams and cheap UBC eats. It’s a joy to see my Alma Mater producing so many great up-and-coming entrepreneurs and as more and more entrepreneurial focused programs partner with great universities like UBC, I see a very bright future for the people we like to call – the Vancity Entrepreneurs.
Stay in touch @pauldavidescu
*Vancity Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs or startups that are making Vancouver a better place. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send firstname.lastname@example.org an email explaining why*