Fashioning real change for women in poverty
COULD Myer's slumping fortunes be reversed if women were running the show?
It's a question Jeremy Meltzer would probably relish when he leads the forum Fashion as a Force for Good, at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival tomorrow.
As Mr Meltzer has said: "We know 85 per cent of brand purchase decisions are made by women, so doesn't it make sense to have women at the board and executive level who are representing the customers they are selling their products and services to?"
He made that observation in 2012, at a TED Talk where he called violence against women "the greatest moral challenge of our time" and exhorted men to combat thescourge that was shattering countless lives and costing the Australian economy about $14 billion a year.
In 2013, the Melbourne-based social entrepreneur founded i=Change, a social enterprise tech startup that makes it simple for online retailers to donate $1 from every sale to aid impoverished women and girls across the globe.
Mr Meltzer, 42, is grimly familiar with their plight.
"I've just got back from Bangladesh where more than a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are living in an endless sea of makeshift tents and shelters," he says.
"Helping to keep Rohingya women and children safe is one of our projects.
"When customers buy from a company participating in i=Change, they can choose where their money goes and track its impact in real time."
So far, more than 40 fashion companies including top names such as Romance Was Born, Camilla and Pandora Jewellery have joined i=Change. Almost $600,000 has been raised for causes ranging from ending sex trafficking in Southeast Asia to keeping girls in school in Uganda.
The fashion festival is likely to boost participation in i=Change, though Mr Meltzer has a far more ambitious target.
By the end of the year, he notes, Australians will have spent $32 billion online, so imagine the impact of $1 donated from each of those purchases.
First to embrace i=Change was Yarra Valley premium olive oil producer, Yellingbo Gold, founded in 2005 by Mr Meltzer's father, Howard, a lawyer-turned-farmer.
Father and son - the latter widely travelled and a marketing graduate from Monash University - proved to be a hot team.
By 2008, Yellingbo Gold had become the first Australian olive oil brand to export commercially to the US and Jeremy was being feted by celebrity chefs including Martha Stewart.
Yellingbo Gold has also become synonymous with philanthropy, first by donating 5 per cent of profits to the Jasmine Foundation to assist children orphaned by the devastating 2004 tsunami, and now through i=Change.
"My wake up call happened when I was 21 and living in Havana, where I had a local girlfriend," Mr Meltzer says.
"Like most Cubans, she accepted the massive amount of male violence towards women in her country as 'normal', but I was utterly shocked."
Empowering women and girls was the answer, the young Melburnian decided.
Two decades on, he's convinced female power is on the rise and will create a safer, saner world along with more equitable wealth distribution.
Fashion as a Force for Good is a free event, at the Builders Arms Hotel, 211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, tomorrow, March 7, at 5.30pm.