Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Tiffany Cool at an ethical fashion show, where she was selling her beautiful scarves. Photos don't come close to doing them justice. I fell in love immediately and wanted to know every detail behind the brand.
Tiffany is one half of the dynamic female team behind Une Echarpe Une Vie. Her inspiration and motivation to create a luxury fashion brand that empowers women in impoverished countries is
inspirational. As this month's featured entrepreneur doing good in heels, Tiffany shares why she's on a mission to disrupt the fashion world by paying women fair wages and making high quality, ethical luxury fashion.
Brooke: You've worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) for many years. For people who are not familiar with WHO can you share a bit about what they do and your specific role with the organization?
Tiffany: The WHO is essentially the global human health agency of the United Nations, so anything and everything having to do with global public health, from chronic diseases like diabetes all the way up to infectious disease like Ebola and Zika, WHO concerns itself with. It basically stands on the premise that optimum health and having decent access to this is a basic human right. In 2002, I started my career at the WHO as a Risk Communications Officer, specializing in complex public health emergencies. I am basically deployed into countries to support WHO and its outbreak and humanitarian disaster response work abroad. My job is to help national governments and support them so they understand what and how to communicate risk, health advice, and protection measures in the fastest way possible to minimize lost lives as well as socio economic disruption that may be brought about by a massive health emergency.
Brooke: Why is your role in Global Risk Communications so essential when it comes to containing global pandemics?
Tiffany: Emergency risk communications is critical during the early stages of any outbreak because, done correctly, it save lives. For example, if there was a highly pathogenic disease that has a really high kill rate, the fastest way to protect people is to empower them with information to protect themselves and their loved ones. But a lot of countries in the developing world assume that to be transparent will cause even more chaos. I’m the person they send in to make sure that that does not happen. And that solid and technically sound evidence based public health messages are then widely and rapidly distributed. How can you advise a city of over ten million people for example? Door to door? No, you need a Comms Specialist to help you devise a strategy that fits in with the rest of the stuff you are doing as a country.
In essence, I work with technical people like epidemiologists, doctors, and scientists to find out why a disease is spreading and they advise me on the best ways for people to protect themselves, like hand washing, boiling water, staying at home, etc. Really practical, doable advice that people can put into practice. If people are not aware of how a disease is transmitted, how can you expect them to protect themselves?
Brooke: What is it about communications, especially during times of major crisis, that draws you to the World Health Organization?
Tiffany: WHO has the ability and relationships in many countries that most organizations just do not. And it is these relationships and the trust placed in them by countries that allows someone like me to come in and help. I have always said that communications in emergencies is a two way street, I think that holds true for life in general, quite frankly.
It is a dialogue – a back and forth, if you will, that involves just as much listening as it does speaking. If yours is the only voice you hear, you are NOT communicating. You are just taking in precious air.
Brooke: During your tenure with World Health Organization, you have been able to travel to hundreds (if not thousands) of countries and met so many different types of people. Are there any common traits you encounter no matter the country it is you are visiting?
Tiffany: My line of work has given me the privilege to have traveled the world. I have been to countries where most people wouldn’t think to go, and I was sent there because of an emergency. Primarily because major outbreaks and humanitarian disasters that require outside (international) assistance happen in places where resources are few and the health system just is not as strong -and where people really, really need you. The common thread I’ve seen in the almost 15 years I’ve been doing this is truly the resilience of the human spirit. I’ve met people who had lost everything, yet still manage to smile. When you see the beauty of the human spirit, able to express happiness in the midst of profound loss, that changes things for you. You learn to appreciate what you have, who you have, and you learn to embrace and value life in a way you never did.
Brooke: How did your work with the World Health Organization contribute to your desire to create Une Echarpe Une Vie?
Tiffany: I think I’ve always been a humanitarian at heart. And working in the United Nations/WHO had always been a dream of mine, with the added bonus that working for the WHO afforded me the opportunity to help people. So, yes, that has definitely influenced the raison d’être of the company, way back in 2014 when my best friend Rajni and I first started kicking the idea around of establishing a scarf company. In our minds the company needed to be fueled my more than just profit margins – we needed it to be this change agent that would help and give voice to people that needed it most.
Brooke: You decided to build Une Echarpe Une Vie with your best friend, and fellow humanitarian, Rajni Sing Carney. How did the two of you go about splitting the workload and responsibilities?
Tiffany: Working with friends can have ups and downs, because you will not always agree on the same things. The key and the question that I always ask is, “does this person have the same values and heart as I do?” and with Raj, the answer is yes, we do share that. We can disagree on styles, colors, or the next collection, but at the end of the day I know that her heart is for empowering people and improving lives, so we focus on that. Plus, both of us bust our asses to work and build the brand. If business were a war, a great friend is whom you want in the trenches with you.
Brooke: Through Une Echarpe Une Vie, both you and Rajni make it a priority to ensure every aspect of the process is follows Fair Trade guidelines and that everyone is paid a fair wage. What are some of the processes you have implemented to ensure everyone you work with is treated humanely?
Tiffany: We work with local partners who are fair trade both locally and internationally. A lot of companies in the West have that fair trade seal on their stores and websites, yet have zero idea whom they are working with. In our case it's the opposite, we research and vet all the partners that work with us to develop our collections, we talk to them, build relationships and then visit with them. The added value to this approach is that you are aligned with groups or organizations that share your same values and passion for empowering people. For example, our partners are not just supervising a weaving project, they are instead part of a broader program of empowerment where they ensure that the women they are protecting and supporting have a choice to become empowered, that they have a choice to earn money without compromising their integrity. Another real performance and happiness indicator are our scarves, one look at them and you will see that happy, inspired and hopeful people crafted these scarves!!
Brooke: What has been the most surprising change from where you started to where you are now?
Tiffany: That people are starting to notice our brand and our story. We launched in March of this year (where no one knew who we were or what we were doing), and in just a few month’s time we are carried in several stores (online and brick and mortar) in Europe and the US.
Brooke: Through Une Echarpe Une Vie, in addition to ensuring everyone you employ is paid a fair and liveable wage you and Rajni made the specific choice to focus on employing and supporting women. Why choose to focus on women as your mission?
Tiffany: We partner with local fair trade organizations in the countries we work with who have an already established history for championing women’s rights to fair wages through empowerment. Like I said previously, it is all about a person or an organization’s values system, that’s how we know whom to work with, because they share our passion for empowering women. We focus on women primarily because, in most developing countries, they are the bread winners; if they don’t bring home the provision, their families starve. My 12 years as a single mom also greatly factored into our focus on women. I know what it is like to struggle to provide, how much more that female rice farmer who is taking care of her kids? The weaving provides them with a supplement income or added income, and gives them a hand up.
Brooke: What are some of the creative ways you have been able to share the story behind Une Echarpe Une Vie and the partners you work with, while getting your products out to market?
Tiffany: Well, one of the ways, of course, is social media. We try our best to really tell the story of the brand through all our social media channels. We've also been fortunate enough to have been written about by press which is always really cool, both sustainable magazines as well as the more mainstream fashion mags like GQ. We want the brand to resonate with everyone, even if you don't necessarily understand what sustainable or ethical fashion is. Also, when we speak to stores and boutiques we tell our story and I honestly think that this truly makes an impact because buyers are so floored by the fact that our scarves are so well made and unique.
Brooke: One of the things I love about you and your vision for UneEscharpe Une Vie is that you believe in leading by example. You (and Rajni) have taken the current fashion business model of fast fashion imitating luxury fashion and added the twist of social responsibility from start to finish when it comes to making your products. What do you hope will change thanks to the example you are setting?
Tiffany: We hope that we are able to really raise awareness about the ethics and sustainability behind fashion and that it is possible that a brand is both, but also extremely relevant and on trend within the context of the current fashion climate. People always assume that ethical fashion equals crunchy, we seek to change that break mold and prove that sustainable luxury is a real thing and it's here to stay.
Brooke: What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone looking to follow in your footsteps and adding a socially responsible initiative to their entrepreneurial endeavors?
Tiffany: Research. It has to make sense for them and what they envision for their business. Also, they should not be hindered or daunted by the challenges this may present; they should see it as an opportunity to rise to the occasion. They just need to get educated and do their homework, develop a strategy, and figure out how to implement it....but most of all they need to believe in the project, there has to be a passion behind that vision.