In this neighborhood on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador, there are few named streets and fewer numbered houses. Instead of addresses, people drop pins on digital maps to direct visitors to their doors. That’s how these five Kellogg MBAs found themselves just slightly lost, walking along a muddy road in between lush backyard gardens.
Camila Sanchez, a one-year MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, would have to ask for directions. Born in Colombia, Sanchez moved to the United States when she was three and learned Spanish from her family, though she doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to practice. Regardless, she is the de facto translator for her MBA team.
A woman steps out her back door, and Sanchez asks whether she knows Raquel Llumiquinga.
“Raquel? Yes, she lives in the two-story house,” the woman answers in Spanish, pointing around the corner of a corn patch towering at least seven feet high.
Indeed, Raquel’s home is something of a landmark in this neighborhood of modest, mostly single-story family homes. The top story, yet to be painted, is pale gray, the color of the cement it was made from. The original story is a bright, vibrant coral.
Raquel was able to add a second story from money she raised working as a seamstress for Remu, a sustainable fashion brand for men. It sells handcrafted apparel ethically made entirely in Ecuador, like its Build Your Own Upcycled Denim Jacket made from recycled jeans or its Peguche jacket made from traditional indigenous blankets and handcrafted Tagua seed buttons. The second story is the living space for Raquel, her husband, her 15–year-old son, and her 10-year-old daughter.
The team of MBAs came to see the impact Remu’s relationship with local seamstresses has on actual workers. Is there a better example than seeing, with their own two eyes, Raquel’s two-toned house?
“You know, you can hear stories, but to actually visit someone’s home, to be invited inside to directly see the impact it’s having? It makes you realize that much more how important the work is,” says Sanchez, a consultant at Bain & Company in Chicago where she will go back to work after her program.
MEASURING IMPACT IN LAT-AM VENTURES
Sanchez and her four Kellogg teammates traveled to Ecuador and Costa Rica over their spring break for the fact-finding portion of their elective course Global Initiatives in Management (GIM): Impact and Sustainable Ventures. The class, taught by Kellogg’s director of social impact Megan Kashner, spent the winter months studying the measurement, management, and reporting of a venture’s sustainability and social efforts. It’s one thing to post sustainability or social philosophies on a company website or in a corporate report, it’s another to be able to prove those impacts with viable frameworks and actual data.
The class was divided into six teams, each studying a different sustainability or social impact sector – ecotourism, women’s empowerment, sustainable farming, ect. Each was charged with identifying a current venture working in the space, studying their operations while in-country, and then completing a project with measurement recommendations.
In March, Poets&Quants was invited to join Kashner’s class on the Ecuador portion of the trip. In that story, we followed the entire class of MBAs to a host of plenary meetings, including visits to Paccari Chocolate, the National Assembly, and Nestle’s Ecuador subsidiary. You can read that story here.
In this story, we follow one team studying sustainable fashion on their project-specific meetings and fact-finding excursions students must set up and navigate themselves.
Fashion, the group discovered, is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for 5 to 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The World Economic Forum ranked the industry as the third largest polluter in 2021.
Meanwhile, fashion employs some 75 million people around the world, and Latin America accounts for about 10% of the global footprint. This makes it ripe for human rights issues as well. Large textile factories, primarily staffed by women laborers, are often located in developing countries, where workers rights and conditions are far behind established economies.
For Manny Adediran, a one-year MBA concentrating on economic policy and social impact, his aha moment for impact measurement came on the very first day of class. They listened to a podcast on how one’s strengths and expertise can better be used to effect positive change.
Take Adediran as an example. He studied finance at Bentley University and worked as an M&A advisory manager at PwC prior to his MBA. He is passionate about financial literacy. If he volunteered at, say, a women’s shelter, would his time be better spent repainting the shelter – which may be needed and may feel good for him – or would it be more impactful to use his finance and business skills to help the shelter operate more efficiently? Or to advise women on managing budgets?
“There are plenty of different ways to try to have an impact, but personally, going forward, I’ll think more about how much of an impact what I’m doing is really having. Every little thing helps, but how can I try to intentionally have the most impact?” he says.
SULA SUSTAINABLE BEACHWEAR
Sula nebouxii is the scientific name of the blue-footed booby, the marine bird with the bright turquoise feet you’ve almost certainly seen in National Geographic or nature documentaries. It is one of the most iconic animals of the Galapagos Islands, helping to attract more than 200,000 tourists per year to the fragile ecosystem.
It’s also the namesake of Sula Beachwear, the first recycled beachwear company in Ecuador, and the sustainable venture the Kellogg team chose as the focus of its presentation. Founded by sisters Valentina and Macarena Morillo along with their father, Mauricio, Sula makes swimsuits, bikinis, and towels out of plastic bottles that find their way to the Galapagos, either from the ocean currents or from those 200,000 tourists.
The company seems almost tailor made for a study in sustainable fashion.
First of all, the Morillos founded the company to help protect their beloved Galapagos, Macarena tells the Kellogg team in their first in-person meeting in Quito, Ecuador. It’s recycled 60,000 bottles since its founding in 2021, is working to be certified as carbon neutral by the end of the year, and aspires to remove all plastic bottles from the Galapagos to turn into its beach apparel. Twenty percent of company profits go to the Galapagos Science Center, and it partners with groups like National Geographic to produce sustainable education campaigns for ethical consumers.
Sula is also a social impact company. Every step in its manufacturing chain is located in Ecuador: From the waste pickers who collect plastic bottles to the companies that turn the bottles into Sula’s recycled fabric to the local seamstress who make the garments. It works to improve the lives of Ecuadorian people, primarily women, 32.2% of whom live in poverty.
For Sula, sustainability and impact are its differentiators. It can’t compete on price. Fabric for one of its basic one-piece suits, for example, costs $7 to manufacture while fabric for a similar suit made in China would cost closer to $1, Macarena says. In a world of fast fashion, where the pressure to follow changing trends sends thousands of tons of clothing to landfills every year, Sula sticks to simple, classic designs that can be worn season after season. Apparel colors reflect the environment that inspires them: Booby Blue, Flamingo Pink, and Sand White.
“When people buy the product, they feel like they are doing something good,” Macarena says. “And they have a story to tell. They are proud when they go back home, and they may talk about the brand with their friends and family.”
NEXT PAGE: A personal link to sustainable fashion + ‘Tailored by: Raquel Llumiquinga’
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