Interview with FabricAID
Project's presentation and history
FabricAID is a social enterprise that was born in Lebanon in 2017 and aims to establish a socially and environmentally conscious value-chain for the apparel industry. One way this mission is achieved by offering decent clothing at affordable prices through a circular model that increases the efficiency of second-hand clothes collection, sorting, and distribution.
The need for such an enterprise in the MENA region emanated from the lack of specialization, resources, and capacity in the used clothing collection and re-distribution. In light of the tremendous need for good-quality and affordable second-hand clothing amongst underprivileged communities in the Middle East and Lebanon more specifically, FabricAID has succeeded in creating a model capable of filling this gap.
The process followed by the social enterprise is divided into three main activities: collection, sorting, and re-distribution. The collection of new and gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories happens through a network of more than 100 smart clothing collection bins located across the country. Some other collection means include partnerships with businesses and organizations or buying items from NGOs who receive clothing donations. Additionally, home pick-ups as well as school competitions and ambassador programs have been set-up to increase collection.
The condition and type of clothes determine their re-distribution future. Collected clothes appropriate for reuse are diligently graded, sorted into 46 categories, and cleaned in FabricAID’s warehouse in Mkalles, which has a capacity of processing 1,000 kilograms per day. The majority are sold at micro-prices (500 LBP to 3000 LBP per item) to marginalized communities at our Souk el Khlanj permanent shops located in impoverished areas. Clothes that are too revealing or unusual and do not appeal to the target beneficiaries at Souk el Khlanj, are sold at Second Base, our thrift and vintage shop that caters to a growing community of vintage attire enthusiasts. All FabricAID distribution channels maintain a dignified shopping experience, similar to the one provided by traditional clothes retailers (clothes neatly displayed, price labels, changing rooms, personalized advice).
As for the damaged clothes that are not fit for resale, they are either upcycled or recycled. The upcycling channel on one hand happens through our fashion brand RemAID, a collaboration between local designers, disadvantaged tailors, and international brands, which sells at special fashion exhibitions. Recycling on the other hand transforms damaged clothing into raw materials that can be used in the furniture and construction industries. What is important to note, however, is that multiple channels have been established to prevent clothes collected to end up in landfills and to complete the circle.
How did you become green entrepreneurs?
FabricAID was created when founder Omar Itani accidentally discovered that the clothing his family had been donating to their apartment building’s concierge was going to waste because it didn’t fit his family’s needs. As he looked for answers, he realized that there was no proper system for collecting and redistributing used clothes in Lebanon, so in December 2016 he started a social media experiment, collecting clothes from friends, sorting through them, and giving disadvantaged families exactly the items they needed – incorrect sizes, for relevant members. The response was overwhelming and before long, his house was filled with bags of clothes.
After an investigation, valuable volunteer experience at a second-hand shop, and conversations with people in disadvantaged communities, Omar found out that in Lebanon about 2.5 million people are living in poverty and many of them shop at an estimated 500 second-hand stores, most of which import used clothing from Europe and Africa. Meanwhile, NGOs struggle with donations because it takes effort and money to store and redistribute items.
FabricAID was born out of a need to bridge the huge gap between supply and demand from these two communities. In summer 2017 Omar applied for the UNICEF Impact Accelerator with just an idea, recruited tech wiz Hussam Hannouni and designer Lynn Abi Aad as co-founders – and got accepted. FabricAID was officially registered as a company on October 12, 2017.
By February 2018, Omar hired 8 people from disadvantaged communities, cleaned up an old warehouse near Saida, came up with a categorization system for clothes, and began to hold pop-up markets (Souk el Khlanj) to sell clothes in underdeveloped neighborhoods at micro prices, as well as set up a permanent shop in Wadi al Zayn.
Less than two months after operations started, FabricAID won one of the world’s most prestigious awards in social entrepreneurship – Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC), and since then has been growing in operations, sales, staff, and awards.
Today FabricIAD employs more than 30 individuals.
How do you think green businesses can help Lebanon and its citizens?
- Green businesses ease human suffering by solving daunting problems.
- Team members of social enterprises become beacons of change spreading ripples of hope.
- Green businesses in their nature increase social mobility and reduce wealth inequality.
- Green enterprises' end aim is to generate value and not profit, scores of such enterprises have the power to move the economy from a profit-based one to a value-based one.
- This changes the general public perception of success from one about richness to a one about prosperity and impact.
How do you see the future of your business?
We envision FabricAID to become a corporate social enterprise with thousands of employees and numerous operations that fall under the value chain of the fashion industry to reach a state where no one can’t afford decent clothing and no clothing goes to waste.
Why did you choose to partner with Fondation Diane?
It's abundantly clear that Mrs. Diane Fadel is in the field of Impact investing not for profit and not for the image but impact. Foundation Diane's team ethics, values, and motives are unique in Lebanon. In addition to the ethics and values, the Foundation's crystal-clear reputation was the biggest motive for us.
Do you appreciate Fondation Diane, and why?
Fondation Diane gave FabricAID the freedom to experiment without the hurdle of excessive bureaucracy and unnecessary reporting. We can feel that the foundation really trusts us and will be there for us if we need support. Fondation Diane support is not only financial but is also strategic and logistical. The well-rounded unconditional genuine support of the foundation makes them one of our top and most trusted partners.
Do you have a message for future entrepreneurs?
In times of great uncertainty, people are most eager for change, a change that usually is brought up by new solutions. New solutions are usually brought up by those who take risks and think differently. Capitalize on the uncertainty of our times to build solutions that will most certainly bring greater good for the many, not the few.