Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme

Young women blending entrepreneurship, philanthropy

Posted in Uncategorized by BGCOP Staff on April 1, 2011

Five young women from Oxnard are learning how to make money while empowering victims of sexual exploitation in Thailand as part of Compassion Fashion, a program overseen by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme.

“Not only are we running a women’s accessory business, where we can make a mark in the fashion world, we’re giving women who’ve been sexually exploited a chance to make good lives,” said founder and CEO Shomari Patterson, 18, a senior at Vista Real Charter High School in Oxnard.

Patterson heads up a group that consists of four other girls, who make up the company, under the guidance of Kara Brown. Brown is the club’s coordinator for Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship/College Bound, which sponsors the program.

“I’m their adviser in an entrepreneurial program of high school seniors that offers the structure for the girls to carry out a business plan and get and meet various benchmarks,” Brown said.

Young women blending entrepreneurship, philanthropy

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Compassion Fashion is based on a business model where for each item purchased, a kit to make that same item is sent to Thailand, where it will be given to a young woman who has been exploited in the notorious Thai sex trade. That young woman learns to make the item, which can be a piece of jewelry, scarf or headband. She then can keep it or sell it and keep 100 percent of the profits.

Brown said she met the director of a home for girls in Pattaya, Thailand, when she worked as a volunteer in 2006.

“The staff accepts the packages that we send directly to their center and distributes them to the young ladies, where they learn to make the jewelry in their rehabilitation classes,” she said.

The business plan calls for sending boxes of 130 kits at a time. So far, despite a promising beginning, the girls haven’t sold enough to make sending the packages cost-efficient, Brown said.

Other employees of Compassion Fashion are Elizabeth Guzman, Genesis Mena, Taylor Penny and Paloma Guzman. The teens meet twice a week to make the fashion accessories they sell.

Patterson said she had worked at a jewelry supply shop, where she learned to string beads and create necklaces. In addition, the group makes and sells scarves designed by Mena.

“I love making scarves and headbands. I love the cause and I wanted to gain the experience. I would love to go into marketing and merchandising fashion. I also like being able to help these girls. It’s a great cause,” said Mena, 16, a junior at Pacifica High School.

For the past few months, Patterson has been doing the many tasks required to get a company up and running, as well as participating in various entrepreneurial competitions. Compassion Fashion competed in the Project ECHO event in February, sponsored by UCLA.

“They were selected the most inspirational business out of 28 competing,” Brown said.

In addition, the students are participating in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship program. They also hope to participate in the SAGEGlobal: Students for Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship program 2011 competition in May in Chicago.

“The students are being judged for their social impact at the SAGE competition more than their economic viability, which was the case at the UCLA event,” Brown said.

Patterson said she and the Compassion Fashion team have been working hard to meet the various benchmarks required for the contest, which include establishing a business advisory board with mentors, publishing an annual report, having a formal tax identification number and registering as a business at various selling events.

In addition to trying for a spot in the SAGE competition, Compassion Fashion will also be featured at the SCORE Ventura 40th Anniversary Celebration of Partnerships Expo and Free Seminar Series May 25 at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. SCORE is a nationwide group dedicated to small businesses nationwide.

Patterson hopes to continue Compassion Fashion after she graduates from high school and continues on to college.

“This is my baby,” she said.

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