In 2012, Anna Robertson asked herself a question that many young people working in international development ask, “Who benefits from these programs?” She was working in Ghana on behalf of the Australian Government and was seeing a lot of money move from Government to Government. She was seeing a lot of “box ticking”. But at the end of the day, the money was not trickling down to the people who needed the support. For one thing, they needed jobs. Single mothers, especially, were living hand-to-mouth. Anna Robertson then did something that most of the same young people asking themselves that same question do not. She started a company.
Now take a minute. Close your eyes and picture what kind of company you think she started. Did you picture rural women holding hungry looking babies? Did you picture them weaving baskets or making some other handicraft? Did you imagine a brand centered around messages of how many women your purchase employs? If so, you pictured wrong. This is Yevu.
Yevu is a “socially responsible label, made in Ghana” but their website proudly proclaims, “Not charity, just work.” Robertson explained, “Your purpose is important, but if you don’t have a product that people want, then forget about it. It’s product or service first. The purpose has to come secondary.”
Yevu’s products do not need a social-impact story to sell. While it may be common to see a person wearing African-print on the streets of New York or Paris, it was rare to see it in Robertson’s native Australia. According to a parliamentary report, there are around 250,000 African-born people living in Australia out of a country of nearly 25 million people. Without a large African diaspora, the trend never really took off in Australia the way it has elsewhere. Nevertheless, Robertson thought that the prints would translate well because Australians are also “sunny, outdoors, colorful kind of people.” She was right.
Her first collection was a unisex collection. She made some samples and shot a campaign with a couple of friends. The images “represented a feeling of being in Accra. They were cool.” She ran a pop up in Sydney and sold it all. People reacted to the brand because to the Australian consumer, it was new. They liked the feeling of discovery. Yevu was no longer an idea. It was a business.