Sew good – breaking a cycle of poverty in Cambodia
WHY – THE NEED
Textiles and creativity are part of Cathleen Tan’s DNA.
The daughter of a seamstress, Cathleen’s journey began in childhood, when she meticulously hand-stitched unique creations for her dolls. Her love for creating led her to pursue design at RMIT in Melbourne. As her love for fashion and design evolved, Cathleen stepped into the world of bridal and in 2012, she established the Cathleen Jia brand.
Business flourished, but in 2019 Cathleen experienced something that made her relook at her life.
“I was busy building wholesale opportunities, talking to buyers and pushing into the export market,” reflected Cathleen.
“ I arrived at a point where I simply didn’t know why I was doing it any more. A sudden change in my body forced me to take a break and I started thinking about what legacy I wanted to leave behind.” join Steps to StartUp – a guided e-learning and coaching program co-hosted by ACRE and Social Enterprise Academy. Ovefr the course of eight modules, Steps to StartUp equips participants with resources, networks and know-how to help take social enterprise thinking to the next level.
HOW – THE APPROACH
During her recovery, Cathleen volunteered for the ‘Stepping Stones’ program run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence where she was matched with migrant women as a mentor.
“This experience gave me a taste of what it’s like to give back. I was inspired to explore new ways of doing business where I could also contribute to society.”
Inspired to research new business models, Cathleen came across social enterprise.
“ I’d never even heard of the concept before. In early 2020 I joined an ‘understanding social enterprise’ workshop hosted by Social Enterprise Academy Australia and realized that social enterprise was a perfect opportunity to bring together my commercial expertise and passion for social change.”
Cathleen wanted to extend her social enterprise know-how and networks, so she applied to join Steps to StartUp – a guided e-learning and coaching program co-hosted by ACRE and Social Enterprise Academy. Ovefr the course of eight modules, Steps to StartUp equips participants with resources, networks and know-how to help take social enterprise thinking to the next level.
“I come from a commercial business background, so the enterprise piece is natural for me – it’s not a challenge. While the social component is quite new, Steps to StartUp has shown me it’s so achievable.”
Cathleen intended to travel to Cambodia in March 2020. However, international borders closed due to the COVID pandemic
She is now collaborating virtually with a team in Siem Riep to establish By Her Brand, a social enterprise centred around a sewing centre that provides skills and job training for disadvantaged women to help break the cycle of poverty.
Cathleen and the team in Cambodia connect regularly via zoom to set up equipment, and put agreements in place for fair wages, manufacturing and distribution processes. Their shared goal is to generate profits from the By Her Brand fashion label, so the centre can employ mothers of children who are at a nearby community school.
As she continues to develop By Her Brand, Cathleen encourages other people from commercial business backgrounds to explore social enterprise as a new way of bringing opportunities to life.
“I kept questioning if I was really a social entrepreneur. Steps to StartUp has given me a new network of support and know-how beyond my immediate family and friends. It’s helped me push forward and identified new opportunities that I had never considered before.’