Clothing Brand Le Dessein Turns Fashion Into An Education Opportunity For Girls In The Developing World

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If you have been a long-time reader of GTHQ, you will know that whenever we post articles about fashion, it usually has an extra element of female empowerment of social cause added to it. For those of you who may be new to our site, you should know that while we love fashion, there are so many other sites out there posting everything you need to know about trends etc, and we want to be the site that lets you know about the stuff that unfortunately doesn’t always get as much media attention.

We like to talk about the brands and designers making a difference, pushing the boundaries, and changing the way people live. We’ve featured a number of labels that use their brand influence as a source of social activism, working t help out a number of causes.

And now we’d like to add another one to our growing list – Le Dessein. It is a label based out of Los Angeles, but has roots in Senegal, Africa and France.

The name is a french word meaning “project” and its synonym Le Dessin (both words pronounced ‘luh deh – saN’) means design. Together it means a project about design. But this is a brand designing more than just beautiful clothing, they are helping “fashion an education” for girls in the developing world.

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The brand’s founder, Eric Coly, is originally from Senegal and was exposed to a life that was considered very taboo 30 years ago in Africa. His grandmother was the first midwife in the city of Rufique, just outside of Dakar, in the 1930s when being a woman in the public workforce was not common. Eric’s mother was the youngest of nine children, and she grew up with the knowledge that having an education and a skill was an irrevocable right as a human. She studied pharmacy in France, and drummed into Eric and his siblings the importance of being educated.

His family credit their ability to pursue an education and a career to their mother back in Senegal all those years ago. But Eric and his sisters and brother are the exception, not the rule, even today.

Statistics from UNESCO say that although there is a distinct emphasis on gender parity at primary school level for boys and girls, as they grow older and hit high school and college age, the percentage of women significantly drops. This is due to a number of factors, which primarily affects women. The literacy rate is much lower for women in Senegal and this in turn affects the opportunities they are able to have both from an economic and career standpoint.

UNESCO say social pressures determine whether a girl will have the chance at going on to higher education, but in areas where poverty is rife (especially common in rural areas) the burden for earning money falls on the girl. Pregnancy is also another common factor which prevents girls from going to school.

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The Clinton Global Initiative estimates there are 130 million out of school youth today, and 70% of them are girls. For every additional year a girl is educated beyond primary level, her potential to earn money increases 10-20%. When she has an education, she is more likely to learn about health, finance, the importance of literacy, and are less likely to marry young, enabling her to pursue a career with the skills she has learned.

So how does Le Dessein aim to be part of empowering a generation of girls in the developing world to reaching their full potential? By not only sending a portion of proceeds to an organization in Africa dedicated to helping girls get educated, but also involving the girls in the creative process.

Le Dessein has teamed up with the More Than Me Academy in Liberia which is the first tuition-free all-girls academy in the country. The girls who attend this school come from the West Point Slum which is considered one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in West Africa, meaning girls’ education isn’t exactly high on the priority list. More Than Me is changing that. Le Dessein has committed to donate 25% of all their profits to the academy.

The girls also have their fingerprint on the Le Dessein brand, as they are asked to draw portraits of people who inspire them, which are then embroidered onto the garments in the collection. At the moment Le Dessein is working with More Than Me, but their larger goal is to help educate 10,000 girls within 10 years through profits from their sales. The next country they have their sights set on is Haiti.

In a sense the label is designing more than just clothes, they are designing dreams, and making them happen. If women in the developing world completed secondary education, 3 million children under the age of 5 would be saved every year. That’s a fact worth doing anything just to contribute to this cause.

Fashion isn’t just an industry based on aesthetic. What Eric and his team and Le Dessein are doing is proving that it can be a powerful platform to connect the worlds of art and social activism. To find out more about Le Dessein and purchase their clothing with unique designs drawn by girls in Liberia, click here.

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