Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
April 15, 2022
Amrita Thadani | Neococo
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Amrita Thadani and I am the founder of Neococo, a social impact apparel company that started in 2017. We’ve evolved into a lifestyle company focused on creating employment opportunities for women refugees resettling in the United States through the art of hand embroidery and handicrafts.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
When I lived in India I worked on films and advertising as a costume designer. It was incredible to work with small-scale cottage industries and local artisans to create fabrics and use techniques found in specific areas. I had a lot of work experience under my belt. I got married and moved to the United States as an immigrant 13 years ago. I studied at Parsons School of Design in New York and landed internships with larger companies as a technical designer. I wasn’t involved in the design process as much as the technical design aspect, which is what I missed. I wanted to get back into creating and using my hands to dye fabrics and use different techniques.
I moved to Los Angeles and worked as an assistant stylist, but on weekends I volunteered with small groups of refugee women. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we started hand embroidering. I realized that was something that all women had in common in the sense that we grew up culturally watching our grandmothers doing it. We would meet once a week, but not all the women weren’t consistently able to attend. They were looking for jobs and didn’t have the time to attend a social event if it wasn’t going to get them anything. With my background in fashion, I had the idea to create a couple of products, put them online, and see what the response might be. We were talking about women coming from a suppressed culture, so I wanted to create artwork that was representative of women and that would be a conversation starter. After we made the first three designs we started making other products and we are now moving into the home goods space. Even though we are working with women, we do have a lot of families where men also need work so we’re trying to work with different people to see if we can create products besides apparel.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I came from a culture where women were not really encouraged to work, in particular the generation before me. Everyone grew up taking care of the kids at home. I feel that somewhere in them, they wanted to do something but their main role was always taking care of the kids. They just weren’t given that little encouragement, that little nudge, or the feeling that “You can do it.” I think that was very important. These women have never worked because they have limited choices, they don’t feel independent, they don’t think they have a voice, and they don’t feel like they can make the right decisions. I believe that once economic empowerment comes in and plays a role in their everyday life, we’ve seen women making better choices for their kids. They’re able to stand up for themselves and just be happy.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
It has to be a fair wage under this Neococo umbrella. When people talk about fair wages we want that wage to mean something to them where it’s not just an incentive to work but it feels normal. At Neococo, no matter where you’re working we offer the same wages that we are offering the people working on the U.S. team. In that way, I feel that we are different from other brands. That’s how we are changing women’s lives, giving them a better lifestyle. One woman from Iran was living with her two sons in a small studio apartment. After working with us for seven months she was able to rent an apartment next door so that she and her boys would have their own space. That’s how we are measuring our impact, by seeing that these women are improving their lifestyle with the work that they’re doing with Neococo.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
The inspiration definitely comes from me being a South Asian woman, growing up in a family where the women just weren’t encouraged to work. I remember growing up, my mom was very different from the other women in my family. She always worked and I think that planted the seed in me. I saw how different she was from the other women. She was more outgoing, she was the first one to learn how to drive a car. When I look back they’re really small things, but for me growing up, I always wanted to make sure that I would be working as well. Now when I see the women in my team, their stories are deep-rooted. I meet with them one-on-one on a weekly basis and learn and see their progress. That’s inspiring and allows me to push myself and remember I’m doing the right thing, we just have to keep going.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We want to have a program in every resettlement organization all over the world. We do this by using skills these women or men already have. We started reaching out to organizations like the International Rescue Committee, The Program for Torture Victims, Choose Love in the United Kingdom, local churches, Downtown Women’s Center, and anyone who is willing to work with and join our team. Hopefully next month, we will be starting a similar program with an organization at the U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico. We would like to expand through these organizations and into resettlement organizations where people are going through a transition, and to try and create job opportunities for them.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
Funding. The logistics of what we are trying to do is definitely crazy, but it is a similar model to any of these nonprofit organizations. We are not a nonprofit, we are an LLC, we have a team of incredible people working with us, some of whom are students and interns. We’re trying to use that model and create a platform to start sending teams to different resettlement organizations and start working there.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
I think what’s important is definitely the fair wage aspect. If it takes someone an hour to hand-embroider a t-shirt, what they are paid on an hourly basis is how much they make working with Neococo, regardless of where they are based. We are not a company where part of the proceeds is going to a cause. Our women are being paid fair wages. These products are directly impacting the lives of women on our team. Some women on our team have been with us since the start of NECOCO. One hundred percent of the revenue goes back into the company to expand the team, figure out logistics, handle manufacturing, etc.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
Question yourself. I think that’s the most important thing. I feel a lot of times, especially in this day and age, there’s so much happening around us that we tend to follow trends if they’re all headed in one direction. I think it’s important to take a moment to stand back and consider if it’s the right thing. Remember your values and what you stand for. For me, the biggest thing is not to doubt yourself, but to question yourself.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Shop Neococo products at neococo.com. Follow us online, ask us questions, be a part of our community, and subscribe to our monthly newsletters. We share stories of the work that we’re doing and the women on our team in our newsletters. We want to have conversations with people, we want people to follow us on Instagram and support our team by buying our products.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can maximize their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to email@example.com.