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ONES spreads joy all over the globe

ONES wants to give children a chance to make a difference through fun.Credits: : Kate Saurman

Wherever you happen to be in the world, children are natural-born artists. Whilst their creativity flows free, Finnish company ONES makes the resulting art benefit entire communities.

If your business idea is based on children living in slums working for you, someone might accuse you of using child labour. Finnish ONES has a pretty good comeback, though: their product should, if anything, help children avoid such fate.

“Kids love to draw,” co-founder Susanne Seppälä says. “Seeing their drawings worn on the other side of the globe is empowering and brings pride and a sense of self-respect to them, and often to the entire family.”

ONES uses drawings by children living in hardship for designing prints for clothing and accessories. The first artists, such as eight-year-old football-loving Matheus and 10-year-old Chrisangela, live in a slum in Brazil.

ONES wants to give children a chance to make a difference through fun. Image: Kate Saurman

Each purchase supports the young designers’ families and communities. For example, the roof of the family home of slightly disabled eight-year-old Vanessa has been fixed with the income generated by selling a shirt with a print designed by her.

“Initially her family didn’t believe she could learn to read or write,” Seppälä says. “Now the whole family is incredibly proud of her, and she feels she has been able to make a difference.”

Entrepreneurs on a social mission

For Susanne Seppälä and her partner Jarno Seppälä, entrepreneurship was a dream in the making. The idea for ONES came out of an episode of Dragons’ Den, a TV show in which entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to investors in the hope of financing.

“We saw one of the entrepreneurs present a similar idea and immediately figured it could be something for us, too,” Susanne Seppälä recalls.

Both had had regular day jobs, but they didn’t really feel right.

Vanessa’s design won a drawing competition, and is now able to contribute to her family’s income. Image: Kate Saurman

“We appreciate the liberty you get by being your own boss,” Jarno Seppälä says. “At the same time, we’ve had an urge to help, but we haven’t been sure who and how.”

Suddenly it all fell into place: the couple happened to have a few friends in Brazil, including one who was already working with children in slums.

She agreed to help with local connections and ensure the money, a slice of the proceeds of each item and half of overall profits, goes where it’s supposed to.

“We knew human trafficking is a serious issue in Brazil. Many boys end up in gangs and girls are at risk of prostitution,” Susanne Seppälä notes. “That’s why our mission is to change to world, one shirt at a time.”

It’s not only the youth of Brazil who reap the benefits of ONES. The products are manufactured in India in accordance with Fair Wear Foundation’s ethical terms, such as living wages and no child labour, and they’re made of organic cotton. The printing is done in Ulvila, Finland by the founding couple.

Not just charity

However, despite the sometimes-grim circumstances surrounding its creations, ONES is deeply rooted in joy. The Seppäläs wish that their shirts can bring happiness to people across the supply chain.

“From the cotton fields to slums to seamstresses and us here printing the shirts, all the way to the people wearing them, we hope they make everyone smile,” Susanne Seppälä tells.

ONES hopes to make everyone smile. Image: Kate Saurman

The end users can buy a shirt knowing who has created the print and exactly where it was made. The Seppäläs also emphasise the very high quality of the products: buying a ONES isn’t just a charitable act, as the products are also durable and comfortable – not to mention nice-looking – pieces of clothing.

So nice that when the founders last visited the US, people were stopping them to ask where their shirts are from.

ONES is now mapping foreign markets to expand the production and to help more children. Other kinds of expansion plans are in the pipeline, too. ONES is neither restricted to just Brazil nor only children.

“We’re currently looking for contacts elsewhere in the world, such as Romania and Bulgaria, where ONES could help underprivileged children and communities,” Susanne Seppälä explains. “Maybe one day, ONES will have its own factory, employing people who would otherwise struggle finding employment.”

For Susanne and Jarno Seppälä, entrepreneurship is a dream come true. Image: Kate Saurman
By: Anne Salomäki