Better Know a B: Yellow Leaf Hammocks Partners with Kiva
Hammocks were once the beds for sailors bunked up on the gun decks of warships. Nowadays most would associate the sight of a hammock with relaxation and “the good life.” Two entrepreneurs and founders of Yellow Leaf Hammocks, Joe Demin and Rachel Connors, take those associations a step further by ensuring all the lives behind the woven product are good.
Yellow Leaf Hammocks, launched at the end of 2011 and based in San Francisco, is a Certified B Corporation dedicated to creating artisan weaving jobs for the bottom one percent. With a motto of “Do Good. Relax,” the company’s vision is for people to make everyday choices that create positive change in the world and a happier lifestyle for themselves. Yellow Leaf Hammocks are 100% handcrafted by hill-tribe artisans in rural Thailand, so each hammock purchased helps empower families and communities by creating healthy, sustainable jobs and eradicating extreme poverty.
Before Yellow Leaf arrived, many families in the Mlabri tribe toiled in slash-and-burn field labor, trapped in an inescapable cycle of debt slavery. The Mlabri, also known as the Yellow Leaf People, are one of the original hammock-weaving communities in the project, which has grown to encompass several regional villages. While conditions have improved immeasurably due to these empowering jobs, it can be difficult for a start-up brand to guarantee consistent, year-round work. During slow seasons, some families were reverting to destructive agricultural practices. In a world where basic financial planning was a mystery and most families had never had a surplus income, it was difficult to establish savings or budgets.
In the winter of 2013, Kiva and Yellow Leaf Hammocks entered into a new partnership to conquer these obstacles. Now, weavers are able to plan their family budgets for 6-12 months and apportion their work and income across that time period. Kiva lenders’ funds help artisans buy the raw materials they use to make hammocks and help Yellow Leaf expand to meet wholesale orders and offer more weaving jobs. This has led to an increase in worldwide hammock sales and the opportunity to weave year-round. Hammock weaving provides a 650% increase in income over slash-and-burn agriculture, enabling each weaver to earn in a week what an entire family would earn from a month of back-breaking field labor. As Rachel Connors puts it: “The power of a good job is absolutely transformative.”
Let’s meet one of Yellow Leaf’s artisans borrowing through Kiva.
Growing up in rural Northern Thailand, Sukanya—a Mlabri woman—is a firsthand witness of the devastating effects that modernization has had on many traditional hunter-gatherer societies. Born in 1967, Sukanya has experienced her tribe’s painful attempts to adapt to the changes of the 20th century. During her youth, many of Sukanya’s peers and seniors died of malnourishment and malaria, leaving the tribe with little more than 300 people. Without land ownership rights, the surviving Mlabri were forced into indentured servitude by neighboring tribes as deforestation and economic development ravaged their land.
Today, hammock weaving is one of the few opportunities for traditional northern Thai communities to achieve a stable middle-class lifestyle. Sukanya went through Yellow Leaf’s financial training program and has earned the independence and stability that was out of reach for so long.
At the end of their second summer, or “hammock season”, Joe and Rachel are now on track to support more than 200 weaving jobs by the end of 2013. “To be at the point of bringing hundreds of families out of poverty is really exciting and makes me feel like we’re on track to bringing lasting change in the region,” said Yellow Leaf co-founder Joe Demin.
When asked what has contributed to their growth, Joe and Rachel instantly saluted two partners: B Lab and Kiva.
“The B Corp movement is all about harnessing the power of business to achieve positive social change,” said Rachel. “The B Corp idea started on the business side, but their upcoming B the Change campaign is expanding to a grassroots movement allowing people to discover these companies that align with their values and advocate for them.”
B Lab and Kiva have begun to work together to showcase the impact of Certified B Corporations that are serving as non-traditional loan partners with Kiva. When Rachel heard of this, she smiled:
“Doing good is good business—we're seeing that capitalism and job creation are the most economically sustainable ways to bring about social change and working within the system to build a world we want to live in. Whether that's a $25 loan through Kiva that can create a long-term income and replace a lifetime of charity or a huge multinational company using B Lab’s impact assessment helping to guide decisions to empower factory workers with better lives, we are all working to find effective, efficient ways to change the world.”
B Lab encourages you to check out Yellow Leaf and the rest of the B Corp family at www.bcorporation.net and stay tuned for the upcoming B the Change campaign in January 2014!
To help fund loans to Yellow Leaf entrepreneurs and other borrowers visit Kiva.org
To support Yellow Leaf directly, visit their online “Hammock Shop” at YellowLeafHammocks.com