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When Clothing Is More Than Fashion

By Anthony Kuipers Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Style Her Empowered's" goal is to hire seamstresses and provide supplies to teach girls in Africa how to sew their own school uniforms. The nonprofit also aims to provide tuition assistance.

Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

A few University of Idaho graduates are taking their young business idea and tackling the age-old problem of oppression against girls around the world.

Their main target: getting young girls educated.

Payton McGriff came up with the idea of her nonprofit, Style Her Empowered, when she was attending school in Moscow.

She had read the book called "Half the Sky" that reported on the struggle of girls in Africa, including with slavery and sex trafficking, as well as barriers to getting an education. It inspired her to act.

In March, while she was enrolled in an entrepreneurial class at the UI, McGriff developed the business idea with the focus of solving a seemingly small, but important obstacle African girls face.

They need to have school uniforms, which are required by the majority of schools in Africa, McGriff said.

Among other expenses like tuition and textbooks, uniforms are the costliest. Many can cost between $12 and $25, which is a lot to ask of a family living on a salary of only hundreds of dollars a year, she said.

"If a girl does not have a uniform, she is turned away by the school," she said.

Style Her Empowered's goal is to hire seamstresses and provide supplies to teach girls how to sew their own uniforms. The nonprofit also aims to provide tuition assistance.

McGriff said the uniforms and the ability to go to school will, in the long term, provide them a better chance to earn a basic wage.

McGriff entered her business plan in multiple student entrepreneur competitions in April, including the biannual Idaho Pitch and Business Plan competitions at the UI. Her team took first place in both competitions and won more than $6,000.

Since then, Style Her Empowered became an incorporated nonprofit in May and laid the groundwork to launch a facility in Togo, Africa, next month.

The facility is where girls will be taught to sew their uniforms. Style Her Empowered has already hired its first seamstress to work in the facility.

McGriff had done research in Togo -- which is nestled between Ghana and Benin on the Gulf of Guinea -- this past spring and she found it was the perfect fit for her business model, largely because the government is already encouraging girls to attend schools with incentives like reduced tuition fees. She said that signified to her the government "is serious about getting girls in schools."

But there's still much progress to be made.

"It's still a huge struggle to get girls educated," McGriff said.

The public can donate to Style Her Empowered, located in Boise. The donations can be used to fund the startup costs such as providing more sewing machines and hiring more seamstresses for the Togo facility. People can also sponsor a student and provide the money to buy the girl a sewing kit and tuition assistance.

Style Her Empowered plans to earn more funds by partnering with private schools in the United States to provide American girls with uniforms, though that side of the business is still in its infancy, McGriff said.

Other long-term plans include expanding into Ghana and other countries.

Style her empowered has six employees, including UI graduates Dylan Raymond, Allison Mattson and Christine Gillaspie.

McGriff said she is proud of how fast the company has evolved from an ambitious idea to an nonprofit in a few months.

"I am really encouraged by the amount of engagement and activation we've been able to get on our short journey," she said.

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