Socially Responsible Chinese Business
Socially Responsible Chinese Business
Socially responsible entrepreneurs, Carol Chyau and Marie So, have founded a business in China that makes a positive contribution on many levels.
We hear a lot of suspicions of Chinese-made products these days. The fears are understandable since they concern deep impact matters of child and pet safety – those dependents/innocents who need our protection and toward whom we need peace of mind. The headlines of recalls or product poisonings have all too often related to Chinese-made products.
The fears of everything Chinese, though, are irrational. We should avoid stereotyping such a large and diverse country as though it were a monolith of manufacturing carelessness. China is incredibly diverse ethnically, geographically, and yes, even in social responsibility and on green issues.
ElegantRoots.com is proud to be associated with a story of social responsibility expressed through an entrepreneurial spirit of doing good – all, as they say, with Chinese characteristics.
Shokay International is the brainchild and heartsong of some very special entrepreneurs, Marie So and Carol Chyau. As they say, Shokay represents luxury with a story and style with a touch of humanity.
Here’s the story: Traditional Tibetan yak herders living in the western Chinese province of Qinghai are minorities living at a dangerously low subsistence level. For centuries Tibetan herders have gathered raw yak fiber by combing out the yak's undercoat, thus making yak down -- a natural, sustainable, renewable and humane resource. Though yak down matches or exceeds alpaca and cashmere in luxurious softness and durability and is washable and lovely in its natural color, yak down has never had a reliable market for the herders to serve.
Meanwhile, Carol and Marie, one from Taiwan and the other from Hong Kong, were studying at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and The Wharton School. They were inspired to create a new business based on two core principles—the business had to be profit-making but not profit-maximizing and it had to have a positive social impact.
Carol and Marie discovered the marvels of yak down and the charms of the Tibetan herding culture. Intrigued by the exotic and lovely yak and the potential to help increase the sustainable income for one of China's minority populations, Carol and Marie leaped into action. They created a business plan and won a $10,000 prize in the Harvard Business School Plan Contest. And, Shokay, (which is Tibetan for “yak down”), had its launch money.
Shokay started by building a fiber cooperative of 2600 Tibetans from the Hei Ma He Village. Unlike most customers, Shokay directly pays herders a fair price for yak down fiber, thus immediately and reliably putting money into herders’ hands. Shokay then created other markets for the Hei Ma He villagers to help increase demand. Shokay reinvests a portion of its profits into a development fund to serve the Tibetan community’s greatest needs, such as healthcare and education.
Shokay now has two stores in Shanghai and an office in Qinghai Province. Its sales to 130 stores, mostly in Europe and Japan, have created a dependable international market for yak down that helps to support and preserve the traditional Tibetan nomadic culture and way of life. Elegant Roots is proud to be one in the US. It’s a great way to make a positive economic, social and environmental difference.
Shokay also supports another marginalized Chinese community by providing fairly paid work to the artisans of Chong Ming Island. These talented hand-knitters choose their own schedules and work location, including working from home that allows simultaneous care for their families.
Carol and Marie believe that introducing yak down to the world as a luxury fiber will increase market demand, increasing the value of the raw fiber and the price the herders receive. Carol and Marie started with their wonderful men's and women's yak accessories line, then introduced their amazing baby clothes in consult with Shanghai-based American designer Angie Wu: “I took Shokay’s mission as inspiration when designing the Tibetan-inspired [Hoodie] Baby Set.
On August 8, 2009, Shokay launched its Yak Around the World Campaign by sending a hand-knit baby yak to 24 people creating positive social change. When these changemakers receive their yak, they will help kick off the campaign by answering the question, “What are you doing to change the world today?” They will then take a picture with their yak, write a description of their cause or organization, and submit it to Shokay. Then it is then their turn to send the yak to another changemaker, spreading the campaign around the globe. The progress of each baby yak will be trackable on the website Dont Just Yak . Follow @DontJustYak on Twitter.
Shokay is also sponsoring the Knit a Yak Program 2009 (Hong Kong), to raise public awareness on the issue of single elderly in Hong Kong’s East District through a community knitting campaign.
We congratulate Carol and Marie for designing a company with audacious and far-reaching positive goals for people and planet, thus illustrating the best of socially responsible commerce – with Chinese characteristics.