Breaking The Poverty Cycle Through Social Capitalism: Kohl Crecelius, CEO & Co-Founder of Krochet Kids Intl.

Written by Kassia Binkowski, Contributing Editor to The Good Trade

Meet Kohl of Krochet Kids Intl. 

Not many of us had the gumption in high school to build a successful business out of what used to be just a hobby. As it turns out Kohl Crecelius, isn’t really like the rest of us. A wanderlust teen with a crocheting habit, Kohl and his friends worked hard to leverage their skill set and passion for adventure to create a sustainable fashion line. Today, Krochet Kids intl. (KK intl.) connects global consumers to artisans in Uganda and Peru, leveraging the production of beautiful handcrafted products to break the cycle of poverty for a generation of women. We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Kohl to learn a little bit more about his story.

The story of Krochet Kids intl. has to be one of the most interesting in the industry - from high school friends to successful business partners, from American suburbs to African countryside. Tell us more about the inspiration behind the brand? Is this where you saw your life ending up?

None of us have any idea of where life will end up, but in its best form I believe we all take a crooked path to arrive at a place that is better than what we would have planned for ourselves.  That was our experience.  While in college, my close friends and I did a lot of traveling during breaks from school.  During these travels we became aware of the vast number of people on our planet who live in extreme poverty, and we had a desire to help.

What served as the true inspiration for our work and the foundation of our non-profit, however, was the desire of people throughout developing countries we visited to dream and hope for a better future.  They didn’t want more handouts.  They were looking for opportunities to take control of their own lives.  This resilience and passion was something we could get behind.

Living sustainably and taking responsibility for our actions and our impact, always requires some amount of risk.  When did you decide to take the risk and transition from casual hobby to social business venture? What motivated you to make the leap?

We founded our non-profit lifestyle brand while we were still in college.  We had met women in Northern Uganda who wanted to work.  They wanted to provide for their families and be responsible for their own futures.  My friends and I had formally created a small headwear brand – called “Krochet Kids” because we were the ones hand-making every hat.

Then, in 2007. we traveled to Uganda in order to train women how to crochet and to take the first step in equipping them with the tools to be empowered and to break the cycle of poverty.

That cycle of poverty can be so difficult to break out of, perpetuating from one generation to the next. In communities that have been oppressed by violence, poverty, and prejudice for generations, tell us about the impact that a fair wage can have on the lives of your artisan partners.

A fair wage is an important first step, and one of the key things we ensure is that the wage we provide is not only fair but it is also consistent.  However, when working within communities experiencing extreme poverty it is important to understand the complexities of the environment. Economic development isn’t the only type of service that is necessary. 

To that end, we start by providing a job, but we have also built out other aspects of our program that focus on the holistic wellbeing of the people we serve.  We have a 3-year education curriculum that women participate in and we also provide each beneficiary with a local social worker who is on our staff and serves as a mentor.  The combination of all these elements empowers a woman to understand how she can build toward an independent future.

You’re absolutely right that building social capital is a complex process, and one most of us take for granted. The communities in which you work are a world apart from the way most of your customers live. What has been the greatest lesson that you’ve learned from the people and partnerships you’ve worked with in Uganda & Peru?

We are all more similar than we are different.  All of us.  There exists a big misconception that people living in the United States or in developed countries are different than those living in poverty.  The reality is that we share so much in our humanity.

The sooner we can embrace this idea the sooner our mentality will change in addressing the needs of our world.  It changes our approach from trying to solve all of the issues to partnering with others to accomplish our collective goals.  And I believe this makes ALL the difference.

Even as ethical consumerism becomes more mainstream, making the right choice - the socially or environmentally responsible choice - isn’t always easy. But that doesn’t seem to be a challenge for you. From a crocheting kid in high school to a social entrepreneur, how has your willingness to be different benefited the growth of your business?

It’s everything.  As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken.”  The more we try to fit in and follow the existing examples of people / companies / organizations the less we are evolving as a society.  We need to continue to question things and improve upon what’s currently happening.  That’s how we get better as people, as a society.

And there’s no shortage of progress that still needs to be made! The fashion industry, in particular, is filled with choices that can overwhelm even the most educated consumer. What do you look for in the brands you buy from?

The biggest thing I look for in brands I choose to purchase from is authenticity.  That can come across as a very cliché word in this day and age.  However, I believe it’s clear when a brand is authentically pursuing a mission and when they are leveraging a cause marketing campaign to grow their sales.  A fundamental way to look at this is by finding its core purpose and asking the question, “Would they be creating impact regardless, or do they only take an impact when they are getting a benefit from it?”  Try it out and let me know what you think.

Thanks for the tip. That’s a great perspective to work from. So, what’s next on your list for Krochet Kids intl.? Where do you want to go from here?

We are on a journey to create the world’s most human brand.  The goal is to connect people through really great products.  To help people realize the impact their purchases have, and to start ensuring that this impact is a positive one.  We still have a lot of work to do here.  A lot of people still don’t realize that their clothing is made by real people.  

Kassia Binkowski is a Contributing Editor at The Good Trade and the Founder of One Thousand Design. She grew up in Madison, WI and traveled her way around the world to Boulder, CO which she now calls home. Nestled against the Rocky Mountains, Kassia supports innovative organizations from Colorado to Kathmandu tell their stories of social change through writing, photography, and design. Kassia is an eternal optimist and forever a backroad wanderer.