The entire super chic team at Green Is The New Black have been longtime fans of the fashionable Purnama Outreach, not only because their projects and pieces are geared towards making a meaningful and positive difference in the lives of women and children in Asia, but because they’re absolutely show-stoppingly gorgeous.
From collections that see Muay Thai shorts being turned into money for the education of youths around Asia to initiatives that teach Nepali women skills like cotton picking, cotton dying and preparation, looming the weaving and sewing, all that Purnama Outreach touches helps create jobs in developing countries and provide charitable contributions through their projects while educating on the importance of recycling, upcycling and sustainability. We sat down with the husband and wife team at Purnama Outreach to learn more about their projects and initiatives, and here is what Rae & Charles shared with us:
GITNB : What was the inspiration that made you want to start Purnama Outreach and how has the journey gone?
This problem of poverty and inequality; its sort of an obvious shortcoming that we can all easily see if we just open our eyes and look around. It’s also a huge problem set with so many widely varying ways to approach it. For us, we have long been focused on the one core area that we felt our blessed lives called to us to address – education. My partner and I have both been fortunate to have had the opportunity to access quality education and take that journey where we wanted. We have long been involved with the community in our home state of Texas but our journey to forming Purnama Outreach only started after our relocation to Singapore in 2008. Within a few months in Singapore, we were eager to find ways in “directly” sponsoring the education of children-in-need throughout the region. We asked our Mom in Indonesia to help us find one or two children who really wanted to study but may not be able to afford it. So it began with one or two children the number just increased every year because as we traveled around Asia, we only found more opportunities to support others.
As you can see, we originally scoped our problem quite naturally without overthinking it. We looked at doing our small part in helping alleviate inequality and poverty not in focusing on inequalities of outcome, but on inequalities of opportunity. But were we really?
As our ambitions grew to help with more than just education, we realized that this model of giving wasn’t sustainable. Our impact communities, for the time being, were still dependent on income produced in a distant economic system and we didn’t feel running a charity; if we wanted to use our skills to help reduce inequality, why should we pass down the model of accepting charitable donations? And what would happen if and when our personal situation changed? We identified that our real problem is how to do something about inequality that is sustainable. We wanted to give an opportunity to others and we decided to support those in need to integrate into an increasingly global society. We also didn’t want our hand out if we wished to instill a sustainable livelihood skill-set in our impact communities.
In our travels, we personally enjoyed discovering local artisanal products, and we thought there could be a real global market for designing modern fashion and accessories using traditional methods. We opted to go for a for-profit business with a viable product that stood valuable outside its message & cause; opening global markets for local artisanal communities. We use the proceeds to still directly sponsor the education of children in the region.
Then we ran into problem #2 – outside our commitment to reducing inequality, we held other personal values that we wanted to be upheld in any company that carried our names. How can we have a successful product and business on the global stage while remaining true to our core values of sustainability? We wanted our supply chain to be lean and always use environmentally preferred choices. Here are some of the things we can boast about:
- We work directly with our makers and cut out the middle man
- Our Pokhara skills development program makes handmade products using natural dyes and processes
- We created a collection of accessories hand-cut from upcycled tires that made a perfect leather substitute
- We are a PETA certified vegan brand
- In our Java upcycled collection, we use repurposed and upcycled materials, while teaching and supporting waste sorting management and water conservation in the community
GITNB : We are really inspired at the extent the brand goes to truly make an impact. Can you tell us more about the Fight For Education products and model you have created?
Fight For Education (FFE) is a program by Purnama Outreach. We want to protect the children of the future, starting with those in need by providing basic necessities and education. We have been fortunate enough to support the education of children throughout Asia in the past decade (Indonesia, Thailand, and Nepal). In 2015, we launched the program and it started with a collection we launched in Summer 2015. Within this program, our children received direct funding from the sale of our products. 100% of the profit from the Fight For Education Collection has gone towards their education.
In 2018, we launched a new collection to fund our children and most recently, we proudly saw two students in the program graduate recently. We have just expanded our program to continue helping students follow their dreams. We will be funding our students who graduated from high school with funding for the first year of technical school or first-year university fees.
Now, with our new push under our FFE (Fight for Education) Program, we hope to fully fund our kids for this year, while creating awareness. We are proud to highlight the participation and invaluable help we have received from our partner from the very beginning of FFE.
GITNB : You use a variety of materials to create your products, from batik to plastic bags to tires. This must be a lot of fun but also have its challenges. Can you share a bit more about this process with us?
Through our involvement with waste-sorting education programs, we also became aware of upcycled materials as a sustainable source that also supports local artisans. With our travel across the Asia region and by visiting small villages, we have seen some great handicrafts that are unique, traditional, useful, and sustainable items.
Then we had a light bulb moment: an approach to bring this into the market, through their handicrafts, we can provide them with a livelihood. We launched our Pokhara Collection supporting skill development of Women in Nepal.
At the same time, we saw a massive waste of activities around Asia and we had to do our part. The next problem surfaced as we wondered how to bring our products to market with the responsibility being on us to educate our makers on environmentally friendly approaches, natural dyes, reusing and repurposing of products, keeping raw materials sustainable and local as well as all delivering quality products.
Plant The Future
Another light bulb(s): We partnered with and designed our upcycled accessories with local artisans who believed the in the same ideas as us in educating on environmental activities such as waste sorting programs, cleaning the river activities and building an eco-village while crafting beautiful accessories and bringing skills in the community.
Products of Purnama
The priorities and transition from a previous collection to earth-friendly sustainable fashion is not a difficult one, however, it does require constant communication and looking into its raw materials, the dyes used, the % of chemicals used, if any, and understanding all of this fully before transforming the design into a prototype.
We have also just expanded our upcycling project to include a community that is building their livelihood through new skills development which promotes a cleaner environment. Waste handling is of great concern, and eyes are turned to upcycling excess materials including single-use plastics and plastic bags after staggering research has turned up some alarming numbers like how a person only uses a plastic bag as a carrier for an average for 12 minutes, and only one plastic bag in every 200 used is recycled.
And so, this November 2018, we partnered with a community that is located nearby a big textile factory. The project is to minimize the harm from plastic and other discarded materials by transforming them into sustainable fashion. We work closely with the women (“Ibu-Ibu”) in a village in Central Java, providing them skills and work in weaving. We are proud of our upcycled, hand-made environmentally-conscious products. Sustainable and ethical bags are transformed, using repurposed discarded single-use plastic bags, and beautifully hand-woven with organic cotton thread.
GITNB : On that note, what are some upcoming collections from Purnama Outreach? Can you give us a sneak peek into future collaborations?
We will soon be working with our longtime partners at Singapore Fashion Runway (SFR) to lead a program aimed at equipping our SFR special needs youths with entrepreneurial skills and mindsets. We will share with them about the traits of an entrepreneur like being creative, open-minded and learning to problem solve, through activities-based learning. We hope they can also learn to turn scraps and waste materials into something useful. We also aim to work with students, homemakers, caregivers, even people who might have the desire to start their own business but don’t know how and when to start. Also look out for totally new and unique products coming soon that utilize our newest upcycled plastic materials from our new Judy line as well as some surprising uses of recovered tents, parachutes, batik scraps, and foam.
GITNB : Further to supporting communities and converting trash to treasure, you also have a Straw War Campaign. How did this get started and how can people get involved?
The team at Purnama Outreach has been aware and concerned about single-use plastics for some time now, but the impetus to finally formalize our concerns into a campaign was quite personal. Although we are avid nature enthusiasts, it was our foray into scuba diving that brought our broad concerns to a defining moment. We officially launched our No Plastic Straws Campaign as Straw Wars Singapore on this past Earth Day, April 22, 2018.
We are big believers in Green is the New Black’s idea of #LittleGreenSteps, and that is the approach we take with our Straw Wars campaign. We understand that not everyone, both individuals and businesses, are ready to completely eliminate plastic straws in one fell swoop. Our aim is to start with creating awareness surrounding the problem of plastics straws and other single-use plastics.
Our initiative aims to persuade the public to reduce and eventually stop their need for plastic straws when they visit businesses to help minimize plastic pollution, especially those who really don’t want or need to be automatically served a plastic straw. For those who enjoy using straws, we would love to change hearts and minds to look to the many and increasingly available substitutes to single-use plastic. We encourage individuals that share our concern to take our No Straws Pledge. For businesses, we simply want to start with a 30-day pledge to only offer plastic straws upon request. We hope this will start the dialogue and set the path for organic change.
We have been pleased to be met with open minds and great response. The feedback from our booths at various pop-ups and festivals has been encouraging. The youth of Singapore especially seem attuned and excited about the prospect of change in the use of plastic straws. We are very proud to already have several F&B and other businesses join the pledge, even offering various substitutes to the plastic straw.