An Interview with Martin Weiss of Moral Fibers

Today I have an interview with Martin Weiss of Moral Fibers, an organisation and fashion brand that is changing lives with amazing wearable art but first I wanted to share some of their creative t-shirts.


What prompted or inspired you to start Moral Fibers?

Moral Fibers began feeling like a real venture early the spring of 2011 when we entered the Dobson Cup competition. This business plan competition is hosted by the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies, and first place netted us $15,000, press, and a handful of amazing contacts. Most importantly, it gave us the feeling of legitimacy to pursue our idea and make it a reality.

I think the most influential person to our business has been Helge Seetzen, serial entrepreneur and Dobson Cup judge. Helge currently runs TandemLaunch, a company that bridges the technology transfer gap by providing university inventors with funding, staff and industry connections. He is an expert in corporate governance, especially in start-ups with young founders like us. Through Helge we’ve enjoyed connections to Dominique Anglade (Chairman of the Board for KANPE), Régine Chassagne (Co-founder and leader of Arcade Fire), and Frantz Saintellemy (Co-founder of Nu.I Fashion and Angel Investor).

However, the true infrastructure for this business didn’t come from the Dobson Cup, but from Haiti. Matt and I found for ourselves a critical human interest. This passion for equality and change is what drives us. We get messages from Erick and our artists every day that sustains our obsession with this work.

Tell me more about how moral fibers is helping to change lives both for the individual artists and the charity that you support.

When I was talking on the phone with my local manager recently, he said that he wanted to tell me about “Bradley, one of the street kids.” Bradley is a 16-year-old boy who watched his home collapse on his family. Erick found him wandering the streets in Carrefour a few weeks after the earthquake, and set him up under a tin roof in his yard.

In a country where less than 30% of students reach 6th grade, Bradley is going to school. In a country with more than a 40% unemployment rate, Bradley has a job. In a country where gangs fight block by block, Bradley volunteers for his community. And through all of this Bradley gets to learn to paint, to express himself, and to create our fashion line.

To quote our local manager “Do you really believe that Moral Fibers has brought happiness to my heart? You know man, sometimes I ask myself if I am not dreaming… it feels just like my life has just begun”.

The charity that we support is called the Fondation por l’Avenir des Enfants Demunis (FAED). We donate 10% of our profits it, and recently donated 4 computers. The non-profit is designed as an after-school program for neighborhood kids in Carrefour, Haiti. During the afternoons, they learn French, dance, music, and soccer. Now, through Moral Fibers, they also have free access to computers. Much of the time these computers are open to the public as an internet café that generates revenue for Erick and Patrick, an employee teaches customers and kids how to use the computers.

The T-shirts have such fantastic and vibrant colors and designs, how are they manufactured?
Moral Fibers T-shirts are printed, cut, and sewn in a factory in Montreal. The process called dye-sublimation allows us to translate the vibrant works of our artists into equally bright and detailed clothing.

You are currently working with artists from Port au Prince on t shirt designs for men and women. How do you see the range or the business developing in the future?

This spring we are producing button-downs, dresses, and a light jacket. We’re pushing into boutiques, and are launching into at least seven in Canada and the US this spring. Within the next year we hope to start working with artists from other developing countries. We’re really excited to see the different styles of art that different nationalities will produce, and in turn the different kinds of fashion that will result.

How do you go about finding artists to work with Moral Fibers?

Moral Fibers finds artists in developing countries, with experience ranging from novice teenagers up to painters with 20 years of experience. We currently are focusing on a community of 15 artists in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Matt Brightman flew to Port-au-Prince to assist with relief work. On that trip Matt made contact with Erick Frazier, who became Moral Fibers’ local manager. Erick Frazier helped us identify our first eight artists both in his community in Carrefour, Haiti, and in the surrounding tent camps. Over the course of the next year we expanded our artist base to include 15 artists. Since then they have one by one moved out of their tents and into houses in the same block of Carrefour.

Moral Fibers employs all 15 artists full-time. They enjoy 5 times Haiti’s average national income, plus benefits like subsidies equivalent to education for one child, healthcare subsidies, home subsidies, and entrepreneurship funds. In exchange, each artist delivers 12 pieces of art, attends an educational institution, and volunteers for community service. We think that Moral Fibers’ model for international development has changed the lives of 15 families and a community; we’re backed up in that belief by the daily assurances from our local manager and video interviews with our artists.

To what extent do you think profit and ethics can go hand in hand for business?

I think that every business has to balance their profit and ethics. Regulation is the government’s control, to police business that lose that balance. Corporate structure does put an unfair pressure on companies to cut costs and increase profits, so much that they end up sacrificing their ethics entirely. Ironically, these companies are made by people to serve people, but they act short-sighted and greedy. I think that people are going to start catching on to the long-term vision of socially conscious business. The concept of effective ethical business is definitely still in its infancy, but we’ll see it evolve all the more rapidly because of that.

Finally many of the readers of my blog are in the UK, so you shop internationally?

Yep! We sell through our website to North America and the UK. Take a look at our website to learn more about our human capital developing model, and artists. Like for updates, photos, videos, contests, discounts, and new products!

Have a fantastic weekend. I have lots of exciting stuff going on this weekend, will report back next week!

With warmest wishes

Ceri x

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