Imagine Goods began in 2006 as a non-profit with the goal to empower survivors of trafficking in Cambodia. Founders Aiyana Ehrman and Michelle Kime are self-proclaimed “accidental entrepreneurs,” in that their true intent was simply to bring hope and a sense of purpose to survivors by giving them the opportunity to work. As Imagine Goods has grown into a business it is still run based on the belief that people are much more important than the bottom line. The phrase, “Sustainable Supply Co.” communicates our belief that the cost of a product should be able to sustain each maker involved and provide a living wage.
Michelle and Aiyana travel to Cambodia three times a year to purchase fabric for products in the local markets, and to visit the workshops where products are made. This creates a unique and important relational connection between the different aspects of the business. Last year, Imagine Goods production partners shared the story of six new artisans and how they arrived at the employment center where goods are made. They had all been tricked into traveling to China under the guise of “finding good factory jobs,” but were then sold as brides. After finding each other, these women, three of whom were pregnant, bravely went to the Cambodian consulate to seek help, but were turned away by the guard because they did not have their passports. A non-government organization worker was leaving the consulate and heard the women’s stories, so she pledged to help. She was able to get them on a plane back to Cambodia that night, and contacted an Imagine Goods production partners in Phnom Penh. Within hours of that phone call, the partner met the women at the airport and took them to a safe home. Social workers asked the women if they felt comfortable going back to their homes, or if they wanted to be trained and work in the employment center where Imagine Goods products are made. They all asked to be trained, and the next time Michelle and Aiyana visited, these women were working in the center while their babies were cared for in the free nursery. Seeing the smiling faces of women who are making our products, and hearing the stories of freedom that they have battled through, makes any work we do so worthwhile.
While there are so many facets of the business to share, one of the most important is this: Imagine Goods is nothing without its customers. While every business has this line in some form or another, for us it is different. We can work as hard as we want to make fabulous products. We scour markets for fun fabrics, and watch for fashionable patterns and styles. We put in every effort to see that our artisans are cared for in more ways than just the basic employee, but also through offering childcare, healthcare, free lunch, and social services. We make every endeavor to grow our business so that more survivors of trafficking have the opportunity to earn a living wage and break the cycle of extreme poverty. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have customers who understand that they have the power to make a difference through their shopping habits, and who love our goods enough to not only come back, but spread the word, we won’t survive. We try to do a lot on a limited budget with narrow profit margins because we pay our artisans the highest wages possible. Due to this, our marketing budget is small and we really do rely on word of mouth and social media to spread the word about Imagine Goods. We cannot imagine where we would be without amazing customers posting photos, hashtagging #ImagineGoods and sharing about our business whenever they have the chance!
If you would like to learn more about Imagine Goods, and view products, and follow along with our journey visit www.imaginegoods.com. There you can sign up for our newsletter, check out our Tumblr, find us on Twitter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram! We would love to have you be a part of the process, and support empowerment through employment.