“You can give back everyday. You don’t have to establish a start up or a fashion company to do it, you can start at home or with one person.” – Tiffany Cool
Not too long ago, I attended a fashion show with my friend Michelle. The entire night was dedicated to ethical fashion, from the material used all the way through to the way people employed are treated and paid.
That night I feel in love with these amazing scarves. From the weight of the fabric, to the the details of the designs, to the color pallet, everything was complete perfection.
When I met Tiffany Cool, the co-founder of Un Echarpe Un Vie, I fell in love with the scarves even more. Tiffany’s passion for people and doing everything she can to empower others is palpable from the moment you meet her. As this week’s WCW Spotlight, she shares what inspired her to create Un Echarpe Un Vie and how she’s changing the fashion industry, one scarf at a time.
Me: You’ve worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) for many years. For people who are not familiar with WHO can you share a bit about what they do and your specific role with the organization?
Tiffany: The WHO is essentially the global human health agency of the United Nations, so anything and everything having to do with global public health, from chronic diseases like diabetes all the way up to infectious disease like Ebola and Zika, WHO concerns itself with. It basically stands on the premise that optimum health and having decent access to this is a basic human right. In 2002, I started my career at the WHO as a Risk Communications Officer, specializing in complex public health emergencies. I am basically deployed into countries to support WHO and its outbreak and humanitarian disaster response work abroad. My job is to help national governments and support them so they understand what and how to communicate risk, health advice, and protection measures in the fastest way possible to minimize lost lives as well as socio economic disruption that may be brought about by a massive health emergency.
Me: When you travel to a country experiencing a pandemic like SARS or Ebola, what are the specific goals you focus on when it comes to containing the outbreak?
Tiffany: Well, I’ve been deployed to several outbreaks as well as humanitarian disasters wherein disease outbreaks tend to unfold. I am an emergency communications specialist, and I think people are now staring to get that Comms plays a huge part in emergency response. When I am in an emergency , my focus is on the affected people. How are they feeling? What are they thinking?Are they listening to the public health advice they’ve been given in order to protect themselves from this disease? If not, then what do we need to tell them and what is the best mechanism to get them that advice? Is it social media, print media, town hall meetings, SMS? In the first phase of any disease emergency, the fastest most effective way you can minimize damage and save lives is communicating the risks early, and making sure people are empowered with life saving public health information.
Me: Why is your role in Global Risk Communications so essential when it comes to containing global pandemics?
Tiffany: Emergency risk communications is critical during the early stages of any outbreak because, done correctly, it save lives. For example, if there was a highly pathogenic disease that has a really high kill rate, the fastest way to protect people is to empower them with information to protect themselves and their loved ones. But a lot of countries in the developing world assume that to be transparent will cause even more chaos. I’m the person they send in to make sure that that does not happen. And that solid and technically sound evidence based public health messages are then widely and rapidly distributed. How can you advise a city of over ten million people for example? Door to door? No, you need a Comms Specialist to help you devise a strategy that fits in with the rest of the stuff you are doing as a country.
In essence, I work with technical people like epidemiologists, doctors, and scientists to find out why a disease is spreading and they advise me on the best ways for people to protect themselves, like hand washing, boiling water, staying at home, etc. Really practical, doable advice that people can put into practice. If people are not aware of how a disease is transmitted, how can you expect them to protect themselves?
Me: What is it about communications, especially during times of major crisis, that draws you to the World Health Organization?
Tiffany: WHO has the ability and relationships in many countries that most organizations just do not. And it is these relationships and the trust placed in them by countries that allows someone like me to come in and help. I have always said that communications in emergencies is a two way street, I think that holds true for life in general, quite frankly.
It is a dialogue – a back and forth, if you will, that involves just as much listening as it does speaking. If yours is the only voice you hear, you are NOT communicating. You are just taking in precious air.
Me: Has giving back always been a major theme in your life? Or something that came about later in life?
Tiffany: Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to help people, to solve problems. I’m a natural worrier. My grandpa used to call me his little ” worry wart” because I would not just stress out about my problems, I would worry about others as well. I guess you could say that since I was small, I’ve always had dreams bigger than my own – and a lot of them were ones about changing the world for the better. Corny, but absolutely true.
Me: During your tenure with World Health Organization, you have been able to travel to hundreds (if not thousands) of countries and met so many different types of people. Are there any common traits you encounter no matter the country it is you are visiting?
Tiffany: My line of work has given me the privilege to have traveled the world. I have been to countries where most people wouldn’t think to go, and I was sent there because of an emergency. Primarily because major outbreaks and humanitarian disasters that require outside (international) assistance happen in places where resources are few and the health system just is not as strong -and where people really, really need you. The common thread I’ve seen in the almost 15 years I’ve been doing this is truly the resilience of the human spirit. I’ve met people who had lost everything, yet still manage to smile. When you see the beauty of the human spirit, able to express happiness in the midst of profound loss, that changes things for you. You learn to appreciate what you have, who you have, and you learn to embrace and value life in a way you never did.
Me: How did your work with the World Health Organization contribute to your desire to create Une Echarpe Une Vie?
Tiffany: I think I’ve always been a humanitarian at heart. And working in the United Nations/WHO had always been a dream of mine, with the added bonus that working for the WHO afforded me the opportunity to help people. So, yes, that has definitely influenced the raison d’être of the company, way back in 2014 when my best friend Rajni and I first started kicking the idea around of establishing a scarf company. In our minds the company needed to be fueled my more than just profit margins – we needed it to be this change agent that would help and give voice to people that needed it most.
Me: As you mentioned, you decided to build Une Echarpe Une Vie with your best friend, Rajni Singh Carney. How has working with a friend, and fellow humanitarian, shaped the way you built the company?
Tiffany: Working with friends can have ups and downs, because you will not always agree on the same things. The key and the question that I always ask is, “does this person have the same values and heart as I do?” and with Raj, the answer is yes, we do share that. We can disagree on styles, colors, or the next collection, but at the end of the day I know that her heart is for empowering people and improving lives, so we focus on that. Plus, both of us bust our asses to work and build the brand. If business were a war, a great friend is whom you want in the trenches with you.
Me: Through Une Echarpe Une Vie, both you and Rajni have made the specific choice to employ women and paying them a fair wage. Why choose to focus on employing and supporting women as your mission?
Tiffany: We partner with local fair trade organizations in the countries we work with who have an already established history for championing women’s rights to fair wages through empowerment. Like I said previously, it is all about a person or an organization’s values system, that’s how we know whom to work with, because they share our passion for empowering women. We focus on women primarily because, in most developing countries, they are the bread winners; if they don’t bring home the provision, their families starve. My 12 years as a single mom also greatly factored into our focus on women. I know what it is like to struggle to provide, how much more that female rice farmer who is taking care of her kids? The weaving provides them with with a supplement income or added income, and gives them a hand up.
Q: What has been the most surprising part of your adventures through Une Echarpe Une Vie? What about the most inspiring part?
Tiffany: The most surprising part in my view is the paradigm shift we have had when it comes to working with our partners and weavers. We realized that what we were doing was not charity, it was empowerment. And what we were doing was not fighting poverty, but addressing it, not through charity but through integrity of work. Our weavers do not expect a hand out, they pride themselves on their craft and rightly so. What they look to us for is the opportunity to give them a hand up, by exchanging funds for work done well.
Me: One of the things I love about you and your vision for UneEscharpe Une Vie is that you believe in leading by example. You (and Rajni) have taken the current fashion business model of fast fashion imitating luxury fashion and added the twist of social responsibility from start to finish when it comes to making your products. What do you hope will change thanks to the example you are setting?
Tiffany: Great question. We always describe ourselves as a sustainable luxury brand primarily because the scarves we sell are unique, exquisite, and extremely well made. And the reason we are carried in luxury stores and boutiques is because we target them. Fast fashion stands on the shoulders of high fashion or luxury fashion, so why not try to affect change from within? Raise awareness and show the capacity for ethical/ sustainable brands that can deliver pieces that are luxurious as well as socially conscious.
Me: What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps of using their own unique talents and life experiences to give back?
Tiffany: This is such a thought provoking question…well, for starters I would say do your research and ask yourself what are you good at? What are your strengths? What are you passionate about? Once you have got that figured out, then you play to that. And honestly, you can give back everyday. You don’t have to establish a start up or a fashion company to do it, you can start at home or with one person. Your question to yourself should be, “what can I do to make someone’s day better? ” and then that focus from self to others will soon turn into “what can I do to change the world for the better? Baby steps. But you have to take the first damn step.
Keep up with Tiffany and worldwide adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.