Marketplace Feature: Krochet Kids intl.

June 25th, 2014 by TOMS

The original idea was to make enough money to pay for a hot-air balloon ride to impress their prom dates. Utilizing a skill unique to most high school boys, Kohl Crecelius, Stewart Ramsey, and Travis Hartanov started taking orders for knit items from classmates.

Today, what spawned from a few creative minds and a timeless skill has developed into a full blown non-profit with programming in both Nothern Uganda and Peru. Employing more than 180 women to make hats, clothing and accessories, Krochet Kids intl. works to lift those individuals and their families out of poverty through a fair, consistent income, skills training and mentorship. Here, we get to know the KKi story a little better – how they’ve grown since their humble beginnings, the ins and outs of their empowerment model, and their wonderful obsession with all things impact.

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When Krochet Kids intl. started, what was it that you wanted to achieve back then? Has that vision changed/ evolved as you have grown?

When Krochet Kids started years ago, the founders just wanted to have enough money to take their dates to a great prom! All joking aside, since becoming a non-profit in Uganda and Peru, the vision has stayed the same: to empower our beneficiaries through sustained impact and a holistic approach to breaking the cycle of poverty. Our programs and production have definitely grown and evolved, as we’ve learned more and adapted to new need, but that’s what you have to do when you’re working with people, be nimble to their needs and adaptable to the changes that can come along. We’ve evolved beyond beanies to making a wider range of products, like tees and travel bags. We’ve expanded to include an empowerment project in Lima, Peru.

From the start, Krochet Kids intl. has been driven by your passionate fans who believe in your empowering work. Can you tell me about the projects that been brought to life with the help of your incredible supporters? 

We absolutely would not be able to do what we do without our amazing supporters and friends. It’s because of them that we’re able to provide our beneficiaries with employment, education, and mentorship. They have brought KKi to what we are today, a global organization helping and empowering 185 women in two countries to rise above poverty. Because of them, we’re able to invest in our beneficiaries and promote a sustained impact.

One specific example of how amazing they are… in 2011 our community helped us launch our empowerment project in Peru through a Kickstarter campaign.  Through their generosity and involvement they helped surpass our goal by over 500%.

How did the idea for hand-signed labels reflecting the beneficiaries signature come to be?

It came from the realization that it is important for us, as consumers, to be aware of the person making the products we use every day. We wanted to give our customers the ability to interact with, get to know, and thank the women that made their specific products. The signature is unique and tangible evidence of the impact that product and their purchase is making.

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Krochet Kids intl. works to empower women with the assets, skills and knowledge to create a sustainable future to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.  How does the relationship between Krochet Kids intl. and a beneficiary begin?

The relationship between KKi and our beneficiaries begins through our network of local (Ugandan and Peruvian) partners. These partners include churches, community groups, local government offices, and NGO’s. When we are ready to hire women, we reach out to these groups and ask them to use their local expertise to find women who are most in need and those that they think will be an excellent fit for the program. Before accepting these women into the program, we do an internal vulnerability assessment to ensure that they fit our vulnerability requirements, which includes home visits. The ones we select are paired with a mentor and a trainer, and start off on their journey with Krochet Kids intl.

You have incredible programs in both Northern Uganda and Peru. Can you tell us a little about each of them and how they differ from one another?

In both locations, we offer the three core elements of our program: jobs, education and mentorship. However, each of these initiatives has been contextualized to the location with the goal of remaining as relevant as possible. We are constantly adjusting our program because we know that our social impact is directly connected with the relevance of our program. What works in Uganda doesn’t necessarily work in Peru.

In Gulu, Uganda, we work in a post-conflict community that is currently rehabilitating from a 25-year rebel war. Most of our beneficiaries were abducted by the rebels and/or are child mothers (meaning they had children before the age of 18). Our program in Uganda is definitely more entrepreneurial at heart, with the majority of the women who graduate moving on to start agriculture and sales businesses.

In Lima, Peru we work in an urban setting with women who migrated from the rural highlands. Most came to Lima in search of jobs, but couldn’t find employment opportunities. They were forced to find work in the informal economy as house cleaners, laundry maids and street peddlers. Labor abuses and unfair wages are the norm in the informal economy. In Peru, we are leveraging the robust textile economy to connect women with good jobs after the program.

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What is the Cut & Sew Initiative? 

The Cut & Sew Initiative is a process of furthering empowerment by expanding our product categories. All of our products, from graphic t-shirts and sweatshirts to travel bags, are made entirely by our beneficiaries. The materials at our Cut & Sew program in Peru are local to the nation. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to provide our customers and supporters with a wide assortment of high-quality products, while at the same time, expanding the empowerment. 

What is the creative process like when designing new products? 

We create mood boards of different silhouettes, colors, and patterns to use for each season. Visiting our project locations and seeing the local craftsmanship is always really inspiring. It’s great to be able to work through new ideas with our teams in each country. We then go through a couple of sampling rounds to get our products styling and the fits dialed before things are finalized. Our head designer is incredibly talented!

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You are very committed to impact. How do you define impact? How do you measure impact?

We are obsessed with impact. It’s what drives us. We define social impact as the proven change that occurs in a person’s life that is the result of the services we provide. Providing jobs, education and mentorship is not our social impact. Our social impact is the life-change that occurs in the women’s life as a result of participating in our program.

We go to great depths to ensure our model actually results in empowerment. To give us insight into the social impact that results from our work we developed a robust system for tracking empowerment that includes all areas of the individual. The key to our system is that it breaks down the complexity of poverty into a set of indicators that are measurable. Each of these indicators gives us insight into a specific area of someone’s wellbeing. When we look at these indicators together we get a holistic perspective of a person’s overall wellbeing. Think of the system like a painting. A painting is made up of many individual brush strokes that make up a beautiful image. In the same way our indicators are a set of individuals life-circumstances that when viewed together paint a vibrant picture of someone’s overall wellbeing. We track these indicators for every person in the program, every month. The result is real-time data on where each woman is currently at in the empowerment process.

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After a number of years women can graduate from your programs. How do you know that a woman is ready? What happens next for these graduates? 

Come. Grow. And go. That’s how we impact the developing world. Our vision is that women come to KKi in a state of vulnerability, grow to be empowered and go as thriving women full of capacity to change their community. A key component to accomplishing this vision is the going part, which we call graduation.

Women are ready to graduate from the program when they reach a level of wellbeing that sets them up to thrive over the long-term. We set a target level of wellbeing for each woman and monitor her progress towards it through our monitoring and evaluation system (explained above). When they reach the target level we know they are ready to graduate. After studying life-change for the last six years, we’ve learned that this process takes roughly three years for most women.

What happens after graduation depends on the person. Our program is set up to support women on the journey toward multiple career paths. In the end, it comes down to their personal passions and interests. We have women leaving the program as teachers, businesswomen, skilled laborers and a whole host of other occupations.  We commit to following up with each graduate for a year to make sure she has the support she needs to make the journey towards independence.

How do you measure your success? (personally and/or as a team, company)

For us, success is seeing the change on the ground, seeing the impact, and as a team, we’re really grateful that we can quantify that impact. Sure, you can see if someone is becoming more confident and capable, but it’s great that we have an in-depth system in place to give us accurate updates on our beneficiaries, to quantify the improvement and change. It allows us to make changes where needed and address any issues, as well as prove that things are working.

What’s next for Krochet Kids intl.? Where do you see the company in 5 years?

If it’s anything like the previous 5 years, there are sure to be plenty of big surprises!  The one thing we can say for sure is that in the future our impact, our product, and the ways people can interact with our organization will continue to get better and better.  Follow along on the journey with us to find out!

To shop Krochet Kids intl. products on TOMS Marketplace click here.