Published on October, 2010 (from the power of clothes No. 5)
The Grameen Ladies:
Ready for Business
"If profits increase, I want to use the money I earn on education for my two children," said one Grameen Lady. With excitement and hope, bags provided by UNIQLO are carried by the women with merchandise inside them. Among the eight million who have benefited from Grameen Bank microcredit loans are those who have voluntarily expressed their desire to participate in UNIQLO's social business in Bangladesh.
It is not uncommon to see people selling clothing door to door here. Current participants in UNIQLO's social business initiative include sales experts who have already proven they can sell more than 10,000 Bangladeshi taka (US$140, 88 GBP) worth of clothing per month. The average T-shirt sells on the local market for about 50 cents-about 20 to 30 cents lower than the usual price of a UNIQLO product—yet the Grameen Ladies are confident they can sell them. They have come to realize that UNIQLO's products are durable and come in many sizes, agreeing that they also offer a lot of value over the long term.
There is of course more to sales than having good products. The Grameen Ladies must acquire many things such as product knowledge, customer relations skills and business manners.
"It was so difficult in the beginning because we are unable to read and we couldn't balance the books; the UNIQLO people were very patient and kind. When we told them that we had difficulty understanding the product sizes and styles, they started categorizing the products using different colored stickers. Even then we had trouble peeling them off because we had never used stickers before. We quickly figured out the prices though, with the help of the UNIQLO people, who put drawings of our currency on our product price lists."
The Grameen Ladies then began a long-awaited test run of selling UNIQLO products in September 2010.
"As part of the test run we held a fitting event, which was a big success," according to one participant. "Since all who took part were women, the event was quite cheerful. Everyone was interested in the products and seemed to be having a good time. We also learned the importance of properly explaining those products that people aren't familiar with. Few people in the rural areas are accustomed to wearing under wear, for example, but it's probably better to wear it, at least from a hygienic, work-related perspective. UNIQLO's clothing may actually change the way women here live."
As the Grameen Ladies sell clothes that bring smiles to customers, they can afford to put their children in school, and their children can envision new futures for themselves—futures made possible through the power of clothing.