Fash­ion In­dus­try Ca­reers Fu­eled by Tech­ni­cal Skills, Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion

Nomi Net­work equips hu­man traf­fick­ing sur­vivors and at-risk women with skills and re­sources req­ui­site for fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence.

WWD Digital Daily - - In Focus: Business Insights - BY TRACEY GREEN­STEIN

As brands and re­tail­ers in­creas­ingly em­brace ini­tia­tives cen­tered on con­sumer de­mand for sus­tain­abil­ity and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, a new pur­pose­ful fo­cus on fe­male em­pow­er­ment has emerged. And for or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Nomi Net­work, a non­profit eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment agency, its work aims to help in­ter­na­tional hu­man traf­fick­ing sur­vivors and at-risk women gain fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence by teach­ing vi­tal em­ploy­ment skills and of­fer­ing ca­reer place­ment ser­vices for fash­ion in­dus­try jobs and pro­fes­sions.

Op­er­at­ing out of Cam­bo­dia and In­dia, Nomi Net­work’s Work­force De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram pro­vides foun­da­tional train­ing that “em­pow­ers and equips” women with the knowl­edge, skill and re­sources req­ui­site for ca­reer suc­cess. The firm has worked with brands with such as Sephora, Patag­o­nia, Gap Inc., H&M, Ama­zon, Macy’s and Fos­sil, which have pro­vided tal­ent and sup­port for its Cam­bo­dia-based fash­ion school and in­cu­ba­tor.

Here, Di­ana Mao, a co­founder and pres­i­dent of Nomi Net­work, talks to WWD about its com­pre­hen­sive de­vel­op­ment pro­gram and the im­por­tance of tech­ni­cal skills and fi­nan­cial ed­u­ca­tion.

WWD: Nomi Net­work’s ba­sic cur­ricu­lum is fo­cused on tech­ni­cal skills and fi­nance. What are the spe­cific com­po­nents of the cur­ricu­lum and how is it struc­tured? Does it vary by re­gion? Di­ana Mao: Nomi Net­work’s cur­ricu­lum varies by re­gion based on our client­cen­tric ap­proach. In In­dia, we work in the poor­est states where there is sys­temic vi­o­lence and abuse against women.

For ex­am­ple, in In­dia we work in the poor­est states like Bi­har, where 40 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion — 103 mil­lion — live be­low the poverty line, and with­out ac­cess to health and hu­man ser­vices, th­ese fac­tors lead to high in­stances of hu­man traf­fick­ing. Chal­lenges in Bi­har in­clude poverty, so­cial in­equal­i­ties, gen­der-based vi­o­lence, caste dis­crim­i­na­tion and poor in­fra­struc­ture. Half of Bi­har’s girls marry be­fore they are 18, ap­prox­i­mately 95 per­cent drop out of school, and 90 per­cent are il­lit­er­ate, with no for­mal ed­u­ca­tion or job ex­pe­ri­ence, sup­port­ing mul­ti­ple chil­dren. Of the 32 mil­lion peo­ple en­slaved glob­ally to­day, half th­ese slaves are es­ti­mated to live in In­dia.

In Cam­bo­dia, we work in Ph­nom Penh, the cap­i­tal of Cam­bo­dia. Cam­bo­dia is a coun­try plagued by the af­ter­math of the geno­cide that ended in 1978. It is a coun­try rich in her­itage in non­profit sup­port. We work in part­ner­ship with 45 anti-traf­fick­ing and com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­vide res­cue, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and coun­sel­ing while Nomi Net­work pro­vides em­pow­er­ment and pre­ven­tion ser­vices through our fash­ion school and in­cu­ba­tor. We work in up­skilling women and help­ing them be­come suc­cess­ful en­trepreneurs and lead­ers in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

In In­dia, we fo­cus on ru­ral em­pow­er­ment and de­vel­op­ment, which en­tails work­ing with women who have never had the op­por­tu­nity to ad­vo­cate for them­selves, due to a lack of eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence and il­lit­er­acy. Our fo­cus is pri­mar­ily on life skills (re­build­ing con­fi­dence, ad­dress­ing ba­sic hy­giene, time man­age­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills) and pro­vid­ing the nec­es­sary skills for each woman to be self-suf­fi­cient. We work with all women to open their own bank ac­counts and learn the ba­sics of per­sonal sav­ings and mi­cro­fi­nance. Each in­di­vid­ual then learns tech­ni­cal skills, which al­low her to find her place; some have be­come mas­ter train­ers through our Train-theTrainer pro­gram, oth­ers earn a steady salary by work­ing in pro­duc­tion, and those with an ap­ti­tude for en­trepreneur­ship have started their own busi­nesses.

Our Ado­les­cent Girls Em­pow­er­ment pro­gram tu­tors girls to help them pass their col­lege en­trance exam. In ad­di­tion to hos­pi­tal­ity and tai­lor­ing cour­ses, we also have a beau­ti­cian-train­ing pro­gram to equip girls with mar­ketable skills that al­low them to earn an in­come and lessen fam­ily pres­sures to marry early. We also pro­vide them with le­gal ser­vices and train­ing so they can know their rights, stand up against their abusers and on­go­ing le­gal aid as cases arise.

Nomi Net­work par­tic­i­pants tour Fos­sil’s “Asia Dome” ware­house in­spired by the scale and or­ga­ni­za­tion. Photo cour­tesy of Nomi Net­work.

WWD: What em­ploy­ment channels are avail­able to par­tic­i­pants? In what ways does cul­tural or gen­der bias af­fect job place­ment?

D.M.: The em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the women we work with are se­verely lim­ited based on many fac­tors: caste, gen­der, the fact that many who come to us are il­lit­er­ate, etc. But in ad­di­tion to those who have gone on to start their own busi­nesses, Nomi has a pro­duc­tion site where women are able to em­ploy the skills they learned at our sew­ing train­ing cen­ter. We also have a won­der­ful net­work of part­ner sites, which have gone through a thor­ough vet­ting process by our staff, and em­ploy many of the women who go through our pro­grams — em­ploy­ment part­ners in the hos­pi­tal­ity, food, agri­cul­tural and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors. We also help our trainees who have an ap­ti­tude for en­trepreneur­ship to start their own busi­nesses.

WWD: How does Nomi Net­work en­sure up­ward mo­bil­ity through its cur­ricu­lum? D.M.: Many of the women who come to us, who are at risk of traf­fick­ing, have been de­prived of any op­por­tu­nity. By pro­vid­ing both in­di­vid­ual sup­port and teach­ing tech­ni­cal skills, each woman gains higher lev­els of em­ploy­a­bil­ity and con­fi­dence. We are in con­stant con­tact with part­ner sites, and pro­vide con­sis­tent fol­low-up to make sure women from our pro­gram are em­ployed and work­ing un­der re­spect­ful con­di­tions. Where they go from there is for them to ex­plore and de­cide. Through our cur­ricu­lum, they gain self-con­fi­dence and the abil­ity to ad­vo­cate for them­selves. They also have our on­go­ing sup­port once they are placed in jobs. But we help lay, and con­tinue to sup­port, the foun­da­tion.

Upon com­ple­tion of Foun­da­tion Train­ing, grad­u­ates are placed in jobs and ap­ply their skills to start a new life. In our ex­pe­ri­ence, a job and in­come give women a voice, choice, and abil­ity to stand up for their rights within their fam­ily and com­mu­nity. Most im­por­tantly, af­ter our train­ing, women see the value of ed­u­ca­tion and in­vest­ing in the ed­u­ca­tion of their daugh­ters by reen­rolling them back in school or pay­ing for ad­di­tional tu­tor­ing ser­vices as the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Bi­har is not good.

Through our ap­proach, we be­lieve that we can re­duce traf­fick­ing fig­ures — es­ti­mated 46 mil­lion slaves world­wide — in the next few years. By pro­vid­ing train­ing, op­por­tu­ni­ties, and work for sur­vivors and the most vul­ner­a­ble women, they will be able to fi­nan­cially pro­vide for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. Thus, vic­tims have an al­ter­na­tive means to fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, fam­i­lies are not forced to sell their chil­dren into the sex in­dus­try, the women have a new sense of per­sonal value and po­ten­tial, and fam­i­lies are able to af­ford to send their chil­dren to school.

At the in­di­vid­ual and com­mu­nity level, over time, the per­cep­tions of the value and worth of women and chil­dren in the com­mu­nity will change, the re­gion no longer be­comes a des­ti­na­tion for traf­fick­ers, and as their chil­dren suc­ceed, they will also help to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies; there­fore, break­ing the cy­cle of poverty. At the in­dus­try level, we also cre­ate high qual­ity, ad­vo­ca­cy­fo­cused prod­ucts, a net­work of part­ners de­vel­ops to cre­ate a sus­tain­able mar­ket in the re­gion, and the prod­ucts them­selves bring aware­ness to the is­sue of sex traf­fick­ing. In the long term, a com­mu­nity with a trained work­force will at­tract more in­dus­try, in­creas­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­duc­ing poverty, and also aware­ness will re­duce the de­mand for traf­fick­ing.

Stu­dents work­ing on a project at Nomi’s In­ter­na­tional Fash­ion Train­ing (NIFT) as they learn about spec sheets. Photo cour­tesy of Nomi Net­work.

WWD: What is the process to cer­tify that Nomi Net­work’s la­bor force is trans­par­ent for re­tail­ers and other part­ners?

D.M.: Each part­ner site that em­ploys women from Nomi has been vet­ted to make sure they align with our vi­sion and be­lief in gen­der equal­ity. We con­duct in­ter­views for all part­ners and an ini­tial site visit to vet part­ners. They meet strict stan­dards in terms of eco­nomic stand­ing with the govern­ment, and af­ter meet­ing all our re­quire­ments, have a for­mal agree­ment with us. We also have staff [mem­bers] that fre­quently visit th­ese sites.

WWD: What are some of the “so­cially con­scious” re­tail­ers that Nomi Net­work works with?

D.M.: Many of our items and col­lec­tions are sold di­rectly on the Nomi web site, but a few of the most no­table names we have worked with are Sephora (sourc­ing prod­ucts), Patag­o­nia, GAP, H&M, Ama­zon, Macy’s and Fos­sil, which have pro­vided tal­ent and sup­port to our fash­ion school and in­cu­ba­tor in Cam­bo­dia. Fos­sil hosted a del­e­gate of trainees at their of­fice in Hong Kong for an ex­po­sure trip and ex­change with ex­ec­u­tives in their dif­fer­ent de­part­ments. Some of our trainees had never left Cam­bo­dia prior to the trip.

WWD: Why are non­prof­its and so­cial en­ter­prises key or­ga­ni­za­tions for Nomi Net­work’s vo­ca­tional train­ing?

D.M.: Hu­man traf­fick­ing is a $150 bil­lion in­dus­try. While lit­tle ef­fort has been made by govern­ments to pre­vent and pros­e­cute traf­fick­ing, for sur­vivors, the eman­ci­pa­tion process is chal­leng­ing as they lack in­come and vi­able job op­por­tu­ni­ties; many end up re-traf­ficked. De­spite laws against traf­fick­ing, women liv­ing in ex­treme poverty are highly vul­ner­a­ble to sex­ual ex­ploita­tion due to a lack of, and bar­ri­ers to eth­i­cal and sus­tained em­ploy­ment.

The pri­vate sec­tor does not have a man­date to help those who are traf­ficked or lift those who are vul­ner­a­ble out of poverty. How­ever, they do have a prob­lem and that is the po­ten­tial child or forced la­bor in their fac­to­ries. Nomi has cre­ated a cost­ef­fi­cient train­ing model lift­ing sur­vivors and women out of ex­treme poverty and into mean­ing­ful sus­tain­able work in gar­ment man­u­fac­tur­ing and ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing. Brands like Sephora and Wal­mart have al­ready part­nered with us to cre­ate job op­por­tu­ni­ties for vul­ner­a­ble women. It is a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship as brands and fac­to­ries seek eth­i­cal prod­ucts and greater mar­ket share from Mil­len­ni­als, while Nomi pro­vides the train­ing and up­ward mo­bil­ity op­por­tu­ni­ties women need to se­cure bet­ter jobs. For ex­am­ple, our trainees who could not even sign their name have been pro­moted to be­come pat­tern-mak­ers, qual­ity con­trol man­agers, and line man­agers.

Nomi Net­work staff and pro­gram par­tic­i­pants visit Fos­sil’s head­quar­ters in Hong Kong.

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