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Fighting Poverty with Fashion: Eriko Yamaguchi

After suffering relentless bullying in her childhood, Eriko Yamaguchi was inspired to channel her interest in fashion into a way to help people less fortunate than her. After discovering through a Yahoo search that Bangladesh was the poorest country in Asia, the Tokyo native decided to attend graduate school at Brac University in Dahka. As she watched local people struggling with floods, epidemics and economic problems, Eriko came up with a plan to help bring people out of poverty.

After partnering with a local factory that had been creating sacks for grain and potatoes out of coarse jute fabric, Eriko began teaching workers how to create bags that could be sold for hundreds of dollars. After months of effort, she had enough bags to send as samples to stores in Japan. She notes that, “The quality of bags surprised people who think that when you get something from a poor country it’s going to be low quality and low price. We went for high quality at a middle price and it worked.” Her newly developed company, named Motherhouse, got orders for bags from thirteen stores on the first round of sales visits. Motherhouse has expanded to create seven retail stores in China and Japan and pays its workers double the rate paid by other manufacturers.

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