My story

by Rosa Villalobos August 10, 2016

My story:

8th May 2016

It all started driving back from Austria. It was the first year that we went skying twice during the same season, and we finally managed to have my two step kids coming with us for the full week.; they normally only come for a few days.

As we were driving back from Austria, for the second time that year, I was carrying two copies of the Harvard Business Review magazine, which I didn’t have the time to go through in February during our first drive to Austria a few weeks earlier. To be honest, I barely have time to read them except unless we are driving somewhere for more than one hour.

I start to flip through and I see the story of TOMS shoes, a read the article where he explained about his company, and how he came out with his story. I did know the brand, but I asked my step daughter, and she answered: “Yes of course, my cousins in the USA are crazy about them, and they have a few pairs of those shoes....”

The conversion continued with a question to me: “why you don’t do something similar? Like with flip flops?.... The story was very inspiring, but I couldn’t imagine the flip-flop type of shoe as a real option, especially taking into account that we live in Luxembourg. the weather there is very similar to central Europe, which means we barely get more than a month or real summer. We can’t almost ware flip flops except when we go on holidays. So I shared that thought with her.

She continued pushing me and telling me: You always say that you want to have your own business but finally you have never done it yet.

She was so right! I have never been an entrepreneur, but I have had a lot of previous ideas which I discussed with my family.  I even got started in writing the business plan and organizing meetings, arranged to have a mentor..... but it never ended in anything.

But as I continued thinking about the one for one model, my head was already going 200% speed thinking about options. We kept talking about a few ideas but I asked myself a question: What I am passionate about? The answer was clear to me: Fashion and education. Fashion because I just love it, and as I user I bought a lot of clothes which helped to identify myself, to maintain my persona and show others how I am.  Education because I started to be a board member in my son’s school the International School of Luxembourg, and I got fascinated about that world.  The more I learned and the more I read, the more that I enjoyed.

So the all way until we reached home, my brain was just thinking how I could find the way to combine both of my passions, as if I was going start something that was a must.

I started to think that I could start my own brand which will only be selling sustainable fashion, as part of the profits will be allocated to  NGOs working  towards improving quality of education in textile production countries.

My husband was a little bit sceptical, the idea didn’t really get to him, but I was fully convinced that whatever will be my decision, to go for it, and try, he would support me as he has always done. I always remember when I was studying my second master and our son was just born a few months before graduation, my husband would bring our son to the university during break periods that I could breast feed him.

Going back to work the Monday and telling my seven employees that I had around 500 email to go through, even though I had been checking some during the holidays. I can’t never forget my colleague, asking me, didn’t you have time to read them in the way back from Austria? You spent a lot of hours in the car. My answered to him was, “I was reading other stuff.”

After going through the 500 emails, which it took me a while, as I couldn’t really concentrate as I was thinking so many thoughts about this new idea. For example, the team that I could put together, and that came really easily together in my head.  My cousin is an independent designer of sustainable clothing for men and my sister has been working the last 15 years in fair trade organizations like Oxfam and NGOs, like Nurses without Borders.

On Monday I gave them a call, and explained the idea. They were very excited and enthusiastic about it. A few days later my cousin started to enquire what education has to do with the fashion. He really didn’t to see a clear link, and that’s when my sister explained that it is very clear.  The fashion industry is very well known for using child labour in their supply and production chain, and there are NGOs which focus on improving that in the textile industry. Meaning to say, taking children out of labour and enabling them to go to school. Then the link was clear to him.

A few days later, my sister asked me why I wanted to start with basic products: with the logo, and try to sell them. Her point was that if you don’t know if the people that are most committed about ethical/eco clothing will buy those basic products, you will be wasting valuable time and resources.  She maintained that you need to do market research to understand if this public target will buy the basic product.

My answer to her question was very clear, we are not just becoming a new brand of sustainable clothing, we are selling a story, which is as important, maybe even more important that the product  itself. We will be a social entrepreneur, which wants to get a quality product to the public, and we want them to feel to be part of a solution, as we will be a brand with a purpose.  to start with: “solving the problem that fashion industry has created in the production process, child labour, and they work, they don’t go to school. But we perfectly understand that we can just give a donation, we really need to partner with the right NGO that understands the problem and is trying to solve it. It can’t just be taking the kid out of labour and bringing him to school, there is a lot more to it. For example: why they go to work? They feel if they don’t go to work,  where the family will get the money to support the family with food and shelter? Based on the work performed by Hand in Hand India, their child labour elimination strategy is woven around four inter-linked themes: Awareness creation, Retention in school & preventing dropouts, community empowerment.

I also realized one day while I was running that it needed to be more than just trying to solve one problem.  We needed to have bigger impact, and that’s when I thought we need to find a one- stop-shop solution for our customer based on the circular economy.  Coincidently, that day I received an email from my cousin about circular economy, exactly with the same thought, without having discussed it with him before.  We decided we need to have our business model based on a circular economy.

I started to work on the business plan a few weeks after Easter, and at the beginning of May started to talk to people about the idea and asked their opinion. It all came out the day that we were celebrating our son’s birthday, with 16 kids.  All the parents were coming to drop the kids off and later return to pick them up.  It was a great opportunity to have people’s attention for a few minutes. I wanted to start researching informally, without spending a lot of time talking about it. The idea needs to be simple, and easy to understand very quickly, it is key to help to spread the word, and keep people talking.

Through reading of a lot of other stories about how others came up with a similar idea, I realized that frequently, it was people travelling to some developing countries that cause them to realize that there is a lot to do, and get inspired by seeing what is occurring just in front of you.

I didn’t have that opportunity, as I am a full-time employee, mother, wife, geographically distant from my husband’s family and mine. We spend most of the holidays, except the skying ones, visiting the family in Spain and in the USA, which leaves no holidays left to do anything else. Except, in a very rare occasions.

So I realized that my business plan needed to be based in the following principles: social business, circular economy, and making people part of the solution.  Our main objective was going to do so, by selling a story, which itself will be a solution, and by selling quality product. We will need to be transparent, and we will aim to offer visibility through the all processes.

Exactly today I had the idea that our label would include information about the product. A t-shirt where you could see the cost of each process/step, and the amount that we are contributing to a particular NGO.  We would also include the impact of that amount, which will vary depending on the price of the particular item. And on the other side, will have the circle and will mark where the customer is in the cycle.


Rosa Villalobos
Rosa Villalobos