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    Carmina Campus in Cameroon


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2009

    © Carmina Campus

    How a fashion brand with no experience in development changed the lives of a group of marginalized women in rural Cameroon.

    At the July 2009 G8 Summit in Italy, the First Ladies in attendance, including Michelle Obama, were presented with a "message bag". Co-produced in Cameroon, these unique handbags are made by one of the most innovative ethical fashion accessory labels in Italy, Carmina Campus. With significant sales in Japan, the United States and Europe, the label is steadily growing in popularity and business success. It is also an example of a sustainable global partnership that is yielding results for the creative industries in developing countries.

    The founder of Carmina Campus, Ilaria Venturini Fendi, believes the success of her brand is not just a response to a trend. "Ethical business practices are not just a phase in the world of fashion. Other sectors including hospitality, energy, agriculture and food production are also focusing on ethical and sustainable production," she says.
    As the progeny of the prestigious fashion empire Fendi, Ms Venturini Fendi has an impressive business pedigree. But she has always had a strong desire to live in harmony with nature. That yearning was fulfilled in 2001 when she left the glamour of the fashion world to become an organic farmer near Rome.

    A few years later, Ms Venturini Fendi found herself back on the fashion scene but under her own label and in very different circumstances. In 2006 she launched Carmina Campus and built a company philosophy based on the principles of environmental consideration and social development. Using scraps of discarded fabrics, the label started producing high-quality handcrafted accessories. All components of the marketing, packaging and shipping were geared towards environmental sustainability. In addition to its ecological commitment, the label is dedicated to increasing its social enterprise.

    The Cameroon collection

    In Cameroon, Carmina Campus employs a group of rural women, who work on one of the label's key collections. Ms Venturini Fendi met these women when she was invited to participate in a project for improving the skills - not of craftswomen, but of beekeepers. Through the project, she visited the small town of Dschang in western Cameroon, where she met a group of marginalized women who were excellent knitters and produced various accessories including crochet hats.

    Ms Venturini Fendi saw an opportunity to apply her vision of creating high-end fashion from recycled materials while providing an income-generating activity for the disadvantaged. She began working with the women, who now produce handbags from the traditionally knitted headgear combined with embroidered squares made from discarded fabric sourced in Italy, which are later assembled in Italy by expert artisans from the industry. Labelled the Cameroon collection, the handbags quickly became one of the brand's most popular lines.

    The project in Africa continues to evolve. With the support of ITC's Ethical Fashion Programme, aspects of the project are being restructured, notably to ensure a smoother production line for quality and time-keeping checks - two factors essential to the fashion industry. Following the commercial and social success of the project, Ms Venturini Fendi is also considering a wider involvement in Africa, although she insists on continuing to work closely with the Dschang community.

    ITC's involvement

    Following two field missions in Dschang with ITC's Ethical Fashion team, Carmina Campus now supports the creation of income-generating activities for the community. In 2009, with the support of ITC, technical assistance started to improve the efficiency of the production line.

    In this initiative to ensure fair labour conditions , ITC has assisted in defining the organizational structure, determining a proper pricing and costing methodology and identifying changes to improve the working environment. In Dschang, this partnership means that the community is not only assured of immediate financial benefits, but also of being able to produce high-quality fashion goods in the long term. ITC has also supplied advice in outlining a training and production programme to be implemented by Carmina Campus and the community.

    Ms Venturini Fendi's business enterprise and the project in Cameroon are an example of a global partnership that is in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals: poverty reduction through job creation; empowering women; and sustainable environmental practices through the use of recycled materials. The project has significantly improved the standard of living within the community. The women involved are now autonomous and have developed skills that meet the standards of high-end fashion.

    Carmina Campus has shown that a company with no expertise in development can have a great impact on disadvantaged communities. The key objective of ITC's Ethical Fashion Programme is to set up a new hub in West Africa to engage more communities in this segment of the market.