Business and philanthropy seem to be opposite and contrary forces, more like yin and yang. But, like yin and yang, they complete one another.
Where It All Began
Tamara Wu, also known as Tamara Dewi Gondo Soerijo, was titled 3rd Runner Up Miss Indonesia in 2019. Born August 12th, 1997 in Surabaya, the 23-year-old has always been drawn to social work. In 8th grade, she started an NGO with her friends as a response to the severe flood in Jakarta called Second Chance Initiative.
"That time, the flood was up to the neck. As a middle schooler, what can we do? So, I decided to link arms together with my classmates to start collecting donated goods and distribute them to the people (who needed them most)." said Tamara about the initiative.
Second Chance Initiative then reached out to another social issue: underprivileged youths. They reached out to a community in Ancol and concentrated their actions on empowerment and education for the community. The initiative has grown and reached out to other communities, working alongside the local community leader to build a sustainable community through micro-financing and child sponsorship programs.
"For us as a youth, we really saw that we can be a bridge to bring opportunities and equal access to resources of knowledge, especially to these poor income communities (in Ancol, at the time)," Tamara explained.
This exposure to social issues in middle school raised her awareness. She became passionate, specifically on poverty alleviation and women empowerment. On women, Tamara realized how common it is in many Asian households, they tend to position male relatives over the female counterparts and how the different positions fuel inequality.
Tamara then went to Biola University in California, double majoring in communications and sociology to support her mission: "being a bridge-builder among those who have and those who have not and a voice to the voiceless."
Starting Liberty Society: Where Business and Philantrophy Complement Each Other
For the past few years, the issue of unethical fashion has been on the rise as fast fashion continues to grow. Many big brands have been exposed to the far-from-fancy journey, behind every piece of their clothing: underpaid workers, violations of labor safety, unpaid overtime, and environmental waste issues. Aside from being the second-largest global waste contributor, fast-fashion chains create a new form of modern slavery.
This encourages Tamara to begin a social enterprise fashion line with her two friends, Karen Vendela, and Sharon Chandiramani, that empower refugee women to participate in the fashion supply chain and encourage more mindful and slower fashion philosophy.
Liberty Society was born to deliver a transparent, ethical, and impactful fashion. The hope is that people can be proud of what they wear, knowing that their clothes positively impact others' lives, specifically refugee women.
Tamara and Refugee Empowerment
Tamara has been an activist in the refugee sphere for about one and a half years. One time, she and her team did an offline refugee talent mapping, mapping out 400 refugees in the Jabodetabek area. The survey revealed that many of these refugees have been well-educated and have quintessential skillsets.
Some of them graduated with a bachelor's or even master's degree; some worked at the ministry or any other government positions, while some had a business or factory. However, these backgrounds seemed 'meaningless' once they flee, as most of them wrote down their current occupation as "Jobless".
That's when Tamara saw so many wasted potentials. Waste is always a misplaced asset, she said. Consequently, through Liberty Society, Tamara thrived on connecting the refugees' skills to meaningful work.
Refugees in Indonesia don't have fundamental basic human rights, such as access to education, marriage, basic health care, or even legal protection. This situation has put refugees in a vulnerable position. Many refugee women, especially, fell into human trafficking or prostitution just to put some food on their table. Tamara has a vision, to empower these women and avoid them from exploitation with Liberty Society.
Rather than working on low paid menial jobs, Liberty Society serves as a platform for these refugees to make beautiful crafts from sustainable materials with equal pay wages to its employee, giving them a chance to have financial stability more than ever.
The Impactful Fashion: for Environment and Women Empowerment
Liberty Society commits to design clothes that are made to last, comfortable, as well as being ethically and sustainably crafted. Most of their fabrics are either from Viscose, Tencel, or recycled Polyester that offer sustainable alternatives for clothing materials, compared to virgin polyester or other synthetic textiles that may take between 20 to 200 years to fully biodegrade.
In every purchase of 4 t-shirts produced by Liberty Society, you are able to send a seamstress's child to school for a month. Add that into 8 shirts, and you can help the seamstresses' kids for their transportation and food expenses for the whole month. Thirty percent of their sales would be reinvested for training, which will be beneficial for the women's livelihood in their House of Freedom center.
A Sense of Purpose
Tamara hopes that women refugees who work with Liberty Society can be proud of what they do. They will have enough savings to put their children to school and providing for their children's needs. These ladies certainly have a bigger purpose in this world. This also brings more awareness for people to think about what they are wearing, where they come from, how the clothes are made, and what impact they have on the refugee women in every purchase.