Many people are interested to learn that when Diana and I created the concept for Rebel Nell in 2013, we had never heard of a social enterprise. We just started with a vision to create a company that would teach a woman to fish. It was not the normal company evolution. Most companies are created around a product, where ours started mission first. We started with the idea to employ, educate and empower women with barriers to employment – plain and simple. Despite the unorthodox start, it has served as the perfect guide to this day. Every decision we make is centered around whether it or not it will benefit the women we employ.
For some perspective, most traditional manufacturing businesses are focused on production and the bottom line. On the other hand, nonprofits are focused more on the social impact and often less on the sustainability of their efforts. We have set out to establish that you can do both, but this is not without its challenges. Personally, I believe this is the more challenging business model because everyday we try to balance production and sales with human impact and development – which causes unique challenges.
Here is how we differ:
- The women we serve and employ are not only unskilled at jewelry making but have historically been unable to hold a job for an extended period of time because of the challenges life has presented to them. Most companies look for skilled laborers to make the product which allows for more efficiency. We know there is a steep learning curve but we are here to support them and guide them through the challenges of production and life, every step of the way. Additionally, because of the learning curve and no jewelry training requirement, we often have to hire more people to get the job done whereas a typical company would hire for skill and efficiency.
- Our goal is to empower and assist the women we employ in living a sustainable and self-sufficient lives, they are required to take classes while employed at Rebel Nell. Our Creative Designers are paid for their time while they take classes and participate in workshops and one-on-one work to help equip them with the knowledge they need to overcome their barriers. In more traditional companies, self-improvement is usually done outside of work hours.
- Once the women are trained, most businesses would love to keep the skilled labor. However, we encourage our women to go on to bigger and better jobs that are more in line with their dreams, thus sacrificing our production needs for the greater good. Workforce training and development are at our core and something we feel strongly about in order to impact the cycle of generational poverty.
- Most businesses ask that you separate your personal and professional life, leaving whatever personal matters you may be dealing with at the door when you walk in. At Rebel Nell, we encourage you to share what is happening in your life so we can provide the resources you need to help tackle the issues which have been prohibitive to your success in the past. We do a very deep dive with the women we employ. We are there for every tragedy and triumph during their time at Rebel Nell. This provides a lot of complexity and challenges for the company. We get very involved with the women we employ and our shop feels more like a family than a workplace on many days.
- We pay well above minimum wage. Many women we employ have never had a job that paid above minimum wage but we believe this is important to set them up for future employment. All wage increases are determined not only based on production but other factors are also taken into account like attendance, participation in classes, and self-improvement. I say it all the time, but it would be incredibly easy to outsource all of our production overseas and just sell the jewelry. We would likely be very profitable. However, that is not why I became an entrepreneur.
- We offer interest-free micro-loans to assist when unplanned challenges arise that may have veered them of course in the past. I am pleased to say that we are very close to 100% repayment rate of all of the micro-loans we issue.
All of these differences come at a cost and we are willing to embrace that cost to empower the people we love and support. Now taking into account how different we are from a normal business, we still have to sell product. If we don’t sell then we can’t provide employment and support for the women we employ. It is often challenging to balance both production and education/development but I think we do a pretty damn good job. I am so passionate about the work we do. I see the change, I see the evolution in the women we employ and more importantly, I see the confidence in their eyes telling me that they want to provide a better life, not only for them but for their families.
Cheers to all of the social enterprises out there who are dedicated to employing those with barriers to employment. Thank you for doing what you do.
Lots of love,