The Orenda Tribe
What if the t-shirt you buy could inspire hope into less fortunate communities?
The Orenda Tribe has to be one of the most heartwarming initiatives I’ve ever had the pleasure of featuring. The whole premise behind it is to create a space where children in less fortunate communities have a place to express themselves through art.
The word Orenda means ‘a mystical force present in all people that empowers them to affect the world or to effect change in their own lives’, and this is in a nutshell exactly what The Orenda Tribe does.
They take art supplies into less fortunate communities and refugee camps and then uses the artwork the children make to print on 100% Organic cotton t-shirts. The money from the t-shirts is then used to further this project, creating not only a larger impact but an incredible story one can tell others about the story behind the shirt they are wearing.
It idea began when the founder Zaid Souqi realised that one doesn’t have to choose between doing good and earning a living. The Orenda Tribe is a for-profit company, which means that for every item sold they donate a percentage of the revenue to further funding art-related projects in the same communities that the art was initially created in. Initially the goal was to give around 10%, however, this number has been greatly exceeded.
There are a few different avenues in which The Orenda Tribe goes down when it comes to giving back to less fortunate communities. The first is by providing art workshops to children living in distressed communities such as refugee camps or poor local areas. The aim with this is to empower, educate and introduce children to the power of art.
The second avenue is in product development, where they work with the assistance of designers to curate selected drawings children create onto 100% organic cotton t-shirts. The third is through giving back, going full circle and funding more art-related activities in distressed communities.
Behind the Brand:
An interview with Zaid Souqi, the founder of The Orenda Tribe.
What made you start The Orenda Tribe?
I am going to tell the short story because the long one needs a lot of pages.
The Orenda Tribe is the result of a number of coincidental experiences that took place in my life during the past 4 years.
In 2014 I was bored from my daily routine and I needed change, something that can push my boundaries and this is when I came across the MBA program at IE Business School in Madrid.
I joined the MBA in April 2014 where I was constantly exposed to the idea of social entrepreneurship, which strongly grabbed my attention.
Then in term three I took part in this amazing leadership program called Emzingo.
Emzingo took me to Johannesburg and linked me with an inspiring foundation, called the Lonely Road Foundation at that time (Aluwani now), that took care of orphaned and vulnerable children in rural communities. I consulted the foundation and created a framework for an incubator for the rural communities all while interacting with the people of the communities, exploring South Africa and exploring myself at the same time.
My life changing experience in South Africa combined with the Entrepreneurial spirit of IE Business School and the circumstances facing my native country, Jordan, stirred the idea of The Orenda Tribe in my head. A company that can give my life purpose while making an impact in the world. I pitched the idea at IE business school and my colleagues loved it.
I came back to Jordan after the MBA, was offered the position of the General Manager with the same company that I used to work with before the MBA. It was a great offer, I took the job and worked for 8 months and that is when I realised that my heart was not in it. I needed a purpose in my life. I quit and decided to pursue my dream job of starting The Orenda Tribe.
I hope to inspire hope into less fortunate children’s lives, raise awareness about less fortunate communities, bridge the gap between communities and make a real difference one day using The Orenda Tribe.
What is something other's wouldn't know about refugee camps that you think they should?
Well in my case, I had the image of a grey place where people are depressed the whole time and living in bad conditions before my first visit to the refugee camp.
From my experience to date I discovered that people adapt and that there is a lot of hope and untapped talent and skill in the camps. I met many super talented people, like Ehsan who is an artist in Jerash Refugee Camp in Jordan and the kids that we work within our art workshops.
I also came across so much kindness and generosity at the camps. It is a humbling experience when a Man from the camp who is living in poor conditions kindly offers you to have lunch at his house or brings you a soda while you are painting and working next to him.
My visits also serve as a constant reminder of the many things that we take for granted in life that can be luxuries for people living in underprivileged communities.
People there do live in bad condition but a small help in whatever form we can afford to channel their energies and their skills in the right direction can hopefully change their lives into better ones.
Orenda is a mystical force present in all people that empowers them to affect the world or to effect change in their own lives. This mystical force is what we need to find in ourselves and inspire others to tap into.
What has been the most challenging thing you have uncovered since beginning The Orenda Tribe?
The biggest milestone from the business side was entering premium department stores with no track record. Our products sell in Level Kids in Dubai and Tryano in Abu Dhabi two of the best department stores in the region, next to the best brands in the world and we achieved that within 8 months from operating.
From the giving back side the challenge was to do as many giving back projects as possible with small funds. Although we didn’t sell many t-shirts during year one we still managed to complete 14 giving back projects in 4 different communities.
Many emails and persistence helped in the business side and reaching out to volunteers helped in the giving back side. Determination, hard-work and learning to work with whatever assets you have is key at the beginning of any startup’s life and these things are easier to find when you have purpose.
Within the ethical fashion community, there's a big question that we ask which is 'who made my clothes?', In the scope of The Orenda Tribe, who made your clothing? Can you tell us a bit about them?
As a startup and with zero experience in the field I looked for a professional who can help me get on my feet and I found one in Turkey.
We currently manufacture with a company in Istanbul Turkey who’s been very helpful with me especially that I had zero experience in the fashion world before starting. They advised me on the t-shirt cuts and helped me find 100% organic cotton and organic dyes for the t-shirt to keep the t-shirt fully organic.
Nevertheless, our plan is to hopefully shift manufacturing into an underprivileged community in the hopes of creating jobs and empowering women. I already started the research and I am in contact with 3 different communities. We plan to start with one product, work on the supply chain and quality and then expand it gradually to make sure that our consumer gets top quality product.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Best advice I’ve ever had. If you are in doubt about something then ask, research or try. Today we have many tools laying under our hands to verify almost any assumption we have.
One tip you'd give to others who are wanting to start their own business?
Jump right in or you might change your mind about swimming.
Don’t waste a lot of time imagining and writing business plans. If you honestly think it is a good idea and have positive feedback from people then try it on a very small scale if possible to prove your concept.
I’ve seen people who have great ideas but never start.
Where do you envision The Orenda Tribe in the future?
There are two sides that go hand in hand together for this question.
From the business side I see The Orenda Tribe community expanding, people proudly using our lifestyle products and displaying the children’s art. I also hope to one day open a flagship store that celebrates art. A store that promotes artists’ work, offers art workshops, creates events where musicians and poets can perform and artists can talk about art and how it breaks boundaries between people. And sell our lifestyle products in the same place.
For the giving back side, I see a structured art curriculum that combines art for therapy, art education and art skills at the same time. A program that we can fund from the t-shirt sales and that builds confidence and skills in children that promote their creativity and hopefully help them in their life. Something that we can implement in different countries especially since art is a common language.
I also love the community beautification projects and want to do more and more of those. When volunteers and community residents work hand in hand together, you see people coming closer together and you see empowerment.
What or who inspires you to do what you do on a daily basis?
Every person I know inspires me in a way.
We are all unique in our own way and if you look at the good in people you will always find something that inspires you. People are either working towards personal goals, going through struggles, helping other people, embracing life and more.
The more I meet new people and the more I know my existing friends and family the more inspired I am.
Do you have a morning routine? If so what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I like to set general tasks for the week ahead every Saturday and then I write down the tasks that I intend to accomplish every night for the next day. This usually makes my day more efficient. I also reflect on my day while writing down my tasks and try to think of lessons learned and what I did wrong or right that day.
My ideal morning starts with what is called, the morning pages, which in summary is immediately writing as soon as you wake up. I just write around two pages of what I am feeling and what is on my mind without overthinking, this exercise clears the mind, promotes creativity and makes me less anxious. I either do that or meditate for a couple of minutes.
Then I have a small snack and do some exercise to get the blood flowing and energise myself. After that, I have my breakfast and I start working.
The earlier I wake up the better. My average wake up time is 7am but I prefer it to be at around 5.30am.
One book everyone should read? Why?
Ego is the Enemy.
Ego blinds people and it can hinder their growth. When you understand your Ego and realise that you are no better than anyone and that no one is better than you, you become more aware of your behaviors, more comfortable in your own skin and more confident.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen Ego play with the mind of managers and supposed to be leaders in the community where that negatively affects them and their whole community.
You have to constantly remind yourself that Ego is your Enemy.
Are there any other Movers & Shakers out there in your world that you think people should know about?
Fadi Ghandour, one of the most successful businessmen in the middle east who is channeling his resources into the right direction in the region.
He believes in the youth, invests in entrepreneurs and humbly assists people on a personal level. He also helped a big number of social initiatives in the Middle East and still does so.