Maturu: Making clothes, making a difference

August 5, 2012

Two things about which Nina Maturu (MPP/MBA '13) is passionate? Economic development and sewing—so much so that she combined them in a social enterprise she's named Maturu. "There doesn't have to be a trade-off between fashion and socially conscious production," Nina observes. And when she discusses the underlying goals of the business—which seeks a sustainable economic model for making fashionable clothes while teaching job skills and providing work for chronically unemployed women—Nina's enthusiasm and commitment are palpable.

"Hopefully, the skills that they're given will allow them to start their own businesses, eventually," she says. "I would want the women who are producing the clothing to be given a living wage, to have an income."

Nina has lived in various countries around the world—Japan, India, Tanzania, and England—working in international development, and she found inspiration in her travels. She routinely explored the markets and studied the traditional crafts of each country. Based on what she had seen in India, she started experimenting with different models of women's sewing collectives. "What's great about clothing is that [the women] could work on it wherever they are, they don't necessarily have to be in a specific, physical space. And so when we're talking about women in the workplace, it's about creating flexibility," Nina says.

"We know that a lot of the reasons women drop out of the workforce are related to child care and the inflexibility of work schedules," she continues. "So what if I could provide a living wage and a flexible working schedule? What am I doing for women's empowerment? Why do they have to choose between work and children—why can't they do both? That was my main takeaway from [Ford School professor] Mary Corcoran's 'Women and Employment Policy' class."

Nina first began to make clothes as a child with her grandmother, a time she remembers fondly. It wasn't until college, however, that she decided to get serious about it and take a sewing class. Since then, she has been making many of her own clothes and selling a steady inventory of pieces to others. She has also been in the process of completing a business plan, seeking out a team of like-minded colleagues, and identifying viable community partners in metro Detroit to produce the designs—all while attending graduate school.

The business had been sidelined while Nina went to New York City to complete an internship in finance. But it has begun to re-emerge in fits and starts, and this year, when she makes a return visit to India, could be the year when the remaining pieces fall into place. This summer, she will revamp her website and sell her existing inventory as part of an effort, including a pop-up shop in fall 2012, to generate capital for this next phase.

"I'm thinking about how I can contribute to these communities or provide a model of what works better for these communities, because it's about giving them a living wage.