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You had me at Amazeballs!

When Celina Comninos and I struck up a conversation via email I couldn’t help but check out her lovely label Loup & Co. As soon as I saw her wonderful designs (hello Cacti necklace) the customisable give cards  (the ‘You are amazeballs’ one is my fave) and her incredible business model I knew I had to find out more. Statistics compiled by UNICEF about Kenyan children indicate that during childhood:

  •  32% of females and 18% of males experience sexual violence.
  • 66% of females and 73% of males experienced physical violence.
  • 26% of females and 32% of males experience any violence as a child.
  • 13% of females and 9% of males experienced all three types of violence during childhood.

The most common perpetrators of sexual violence for females and males were found to be boyfriends/girlfriends/ romantic partners comprising 47% and 43% respectively followed by neighbours, 27% and 21% respectively. Which is why the work that brands like Loup & Co. do is so important! A huge thank you to the Celina for sharing some of her insights on running her one for one socially conscious label that helps provides shelter for victims of sexual abuse in Kenya.

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For those readers out there that are being introduced to you for the first time would you kindly shed some light on the woman and the mission behind Loup & Co. and what it is that inspires you to create?

Loup & Co. is a social enterprise that his hoping to change the way people shop; we sell ethically sourced jewellery and scarves that give back. Each item you buy from my online store provides one week of shelter, security & support to a young girl who has been sexually abused in Kenya.

I’ve always had a love of jewellery and accessories and I even had a brand before Loup & Co. designing and making my own jewellery. But my enthusiasm soon wore off. Around the same time I decided to do a months volunteering in East Africa in an orphanage in quite a underprivileged rural area. I returned home, changed, and insisted that I would do something to help. If it was only in my power to help a few children, it was better than none I figured. It seemed only logical that I merge by two passions together and create a brand that could both raise awareness and funds for such vulnerable children. People want to buy accessories, people need to buy gifts; so why not channel these profits into something good.

So Loup & Co. operates on a 1 for 1 basis. Can you explain a little more about this and how it affects the children of your partner charity?

Every item you buy from Loup & Co. equates to the amount needed to sponsor a child for 1 week, who are cared for by our partner charity ‘Rafiki Mwema’. It means we donate $12 (AUD) for every item sold. This donation covers the housing, food, education, medical attention, therapy and legal support that is required care for these girls who have all been sexually abused. The environment that Rafiki Mwema provides is one of love, nurture and play – where they can learn how to be children again. It is a lifeline for them.

If Rafiki Mwema did not exist, many of these children probably would not make it through childhood. Those that do, will have deep psychological scarring, which without treatment may result in them perhaps moving into a life of prostitution and perhaps even perpetuating the same domestic violence that was carried out on them .

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Was it difficult to set up a 1:1 business model? Would you please share the process of how you found the charity you work with and how the 1:1 process is approached on a sale-by-sale basis?

Yes it was difficult. Haha! I haven’t paid myself a wage yet but when I do it will be the sweetest payday I’ve ever had! I currently give my donations to Rafiki Mwema on a quarterly basis. So I calculate how many sales I’ve made over the three months and send the money over. (The rest of the money goes into advertising, website and buying new stock!).

I started following Rafiki Mwema about 3 years ago on facebook as my friend knew the founder of the charity. They are Australian based (Lennox heads), and the lady who runs it is quite simply a legend. Her enthusiasm and passion is second to none, and she will do whatever it takes to help the 32 girls currently in their care. The cause is so worthy, and so her drive is so contagious, that it seemed obvious this was the charity for me to work with!

What was your most memorable experience working in the orphanage?

Every day at the orphanage they would receive 3 meals a day, but they weren’t very varied and kind of just looked like mush (albeit healthy mush). One day we threw them a little party with balloons and fruit and music. They had such a good time and it was just nice for them to know people cared for them, loved them and wanted to see them happy.

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What is your personal favourite item in the Loup & Co. collection?

Ooo my cream wooly snood, it goes with everything and it’s so chunky you can just hide away from the world! And also the cactus necklace which I haven’t taken off since they came in stock!

I was really intrigued by the ‘personalise your gift’ idea with the option to select a design for the gift card and add a heartfelt message . How did this brainwave come about?

Haha, well actually my friend received a necklace in the US from Loup & Co. – she naturally assumed it was from me, but it was in fact from her mother in law (imagine if she hadn’t had said thank you!? Awkward.). I thought that it would be awesome if you could write a little note to the recipient, especially since this would mean you could send your gift straight out (avoiding the extra delivery cost for the customer). And I figured well flower deliveries do it, so why can’t I!? So I did. And it’s free!

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Your scarves have a pretty amazing back-story. Can you please share the manufacturing process with Sustainability in Style readers?

The woolen scarves are handmade in Tanzania by a group of women affected by HIV (pictured above). 2 years ago I went over and personally taught them how to arm-knit, using only a ball of wool and a lot of patience!

The tie dye scarves also have an interesting story; They are made by a company called ‘Heshima kenya’ by a group of women who have fled to Kenya as refugees. They teach them the necessary skills to create these awesome pieces in exchange for a fair wage and support.

How do you approach the design process with your jewellery, scarves and bags? 

I usually find something I like or want to create and then I go on a mission to find companies already making it. From there I can go on to add any additions or alterations as I need. The manufacturing process is complicated, especially when you don’t have the funds to fly to these far off places on a regular basis to keep an eye on progress. I feel that is best to work with companies that have been doing it for years, who have men on the ground, speaking the language and know what they are doing inside out.

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Has there been any trying times dealing with offshore manufacturers and NGO’s? If so how have you overcome them?

Yes, there have been many. But the best advice I ever took is to give yourself plenty of time. If something goes wrong, it could take an extra two weeks longer than you expected, so just be ready for that.

What would be your top tips for those who want to create a close working relationship with offshore manufacturers?

  • Go visit them if you can, as soon as they put a face to the email address they will be much more eager to help with any queries.
  • Be polite. Always. Even if they mess up, mistakes happen, problems will be solved, these events can’t always be avoided.
  • Be 100% clear with what you are asking for. And ask all your questions in ONE email, and make sure they haven’t already answered these questions on their website. They will take you more seriously if you have taken the time to thoroughly look through their services and what they offer.

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What is your futures vision for the Loup & Co. brand?

Oh don’t get me started! I would love for all my products to be made by communities needing a hand-up. From all over the world. So that as a customer you will know where your purchase has come from, who it has helped, as well as knowing the profits are going on to help the young girls in Kenya.

I also am itching to start a Loup baby range… with cute little onesies (made ethically of course!). The thought that you can buy your baby clothes, whilst helping out another baby on the other side of the world just sounds fantastic to me!!

The final fun question! If you could have three influential people (alive or otherwise) design an item for the Loup and Co. range whom would they be and why?

Well one of those I have already achieved. My logo (and canvas bag) was designed by my favorite artists of all time Sandra Dieckmann. I discovered her art in a coffee shop in the UK years ago, and have been a fan ever since. One of my goals was to have her art on my stuff and so it had to happen!

Not so much to design a product, but I would love to work with both TOMS and Thankyou. I feel that these brands are so on point with what we do here at Loup & Co. and combined together we could create something even more awesome!

A big thank you Celina for taking time out from her schedule to talk to us. Are you inspired by her story? Do you have (or have dreams of owning) your own social enterprise?

Let us know your thoughts below.