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Interview with Sebastian Stjern, founder of The Fair Tailor

Author: Mariam Ansari
Published Date: 13 July 2012

Sebastian Stjern is a project manager at the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Stockholm and the founder of The Fair Tailor, a Swedish company that sells Fair Trade tailored shirts. Starting his initiative, Sebastian intended to fill a gap in the Swedish clothing market with socially responsible garments. Through its partnership with Nepali charity Watabaran, The Fair Tailor is able to sell Fair Trade and tailor made shirts, whose profits go into financing the charity and giving fair wages and working conditions to its employees. As of 2012, The Fair Tailor has handed over business operations to Watabaran, which is now selling the shirts directly to customers.

1) What was your primary motivation for starting The Fair Tailor?

It is hard to reduce it to one single thing. But if I must I will say curiosity. Was it possible to start a business like this? Could I get it to work? If so, it would mean that we would break new ground.

2) What makes The Fair Tailor a socially responsible company?

We have fair salaries and working conditions for everyone in the production, but I don't think that is enough. The main thing for me was that we set up the production together with a charity, in order to make them self sustainable. We have lent them money and taught them how to make high quality shirts. And the quality factor is the key, if the shirts weren’t good enough, people would be buying them for the wrong reason. Then it would just be a charity, not a social business.

3) How did your partnership with Watabaran start? How has it influenced your mission and practices?

We searched world wide for a charity that wanted to make its own money, to become self sustainable. But there was none to be found. After a long period of searching we found a Swedish entrepreneur living in Nepal who put us in contact with the founder of Watabaran. So I guess we would not have been able to do this without them.

4) What were some of the big challenges of running the business? Were there any challenges unique to running a socially responsible business?

There were a lot of challenges. We started a shirt company without knowing anything about clothes. We started a business in Nepal, without having been in the country. The problem for many socially responsible entrepreneurs is that you think that if you do good things in the world, people will buy your product or service. We also fell for that a few times. Everyone loves us, but that doesn't mean that everyone is buying from us.

5) Did you find it was a challenge to make profit and do good at the same time?

Not really.

6) How has The Fair Tailor primarily been financed?

Mainly through customers, but also from our private savings and a venture investment.

7) How have you created demand for Fair Tailor products?

We were quite good at creating hype around the brand and we have worked a lot with PR. For example did we have a raffle where people had the chance to buy one of our first 20 shirts.

8) What were some major risks you undertook starting and running the business?

Setting up a production facility in Nepal. Violent strikes, riots that threaten your trade routes, rolling blackouts...

9) What is your vision for The Fair Tailor? Any plans to scale the business?

My primary goal is that Watabaran shall become self sustainable. Then I of course hope they will be able to continue to grow, but also that the business model becomes copied all over the world.

10) What are some major lessons you have taken away from this experience and what advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to start a socially responsible business?

1. Sell your product/service. If you can get a revenue stream flowing fast you will succeed. 2. Listen to advice, then chose your own path. 3. Tell everyone what you do. You never know how might be able to help you.