Sat | Nov 25, 2017

Caring makes good business sense for Bresheh - Company aims to be major employer of Jamaicans with disabilities

Published:Tuesday | May 2, 2017 | 12:12 AM
Shaquille Stephens (left) and Randy McLaren, Managing Director of Bresheh Enterprises discuss one of the bag designs.
Jennifer Williams carefully stitches one of the bags as Randy MacLaren watches.
Davian McLaren of Bresheh Enterprises prepares to take measurements for one of the bag panels.
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Bresheh Enterprises will become a major employer of Jamaicans with disabilities, if brothers Randy and Davian McLaren continue to pursue the right development strategies to fulfil their dream.

If you have seen any of these stunning bags -knapsacks, tote bags, laptop sleeves or pencil pouches - you will remember Bresheh Enterprises for its beautiful products. However, what makes the small East Kingston company truly stand out, is the fact that their eight-member staff, includes two persons with disabilities.

"We believe that for our country's economy to grow, more persons in marginalised communities, such as inner-city youth and persons living with disabilities must be empowered. And, 'decent work' is one of the ways for them to be empowered," Randy McLaren said. "That is why we have established our business to be a source of empowerment for marginalised persons."

Randy and Davian founded Bresheh in 2015 on the veranda of their home off Windward Road. They wanted to offer high-quality local alternatives to imported bags and to provide jobs for residents in their community.

 

Increased demand

 

Within a year, the brothers relocated to a larger location at the Alpha Institute on South Camp Road, in East Kingston, based on increased demand for their bags.

"The opportunity emerged because they understood our vision as a social enterprise. It was centrally located and they were willing to accommodate us," McLaren stated.

In addition to their own efforts, they employed staff members through the HEART Trust/NTA and disabilities' organisations. "We grew up in Whitehall, St Thomas, and understood what it felt like not to have opportunities," noted McLaren. "Therefore, in expanding our operation, we provided opportunities to persons who would not be traditionally considered for employment," he added.

New employee, Georgia Williams, who is hearing-impaired, said she previously worked in the craft industry, but found it difficult to acquire a permanent job.

"Frequently, when I seek employment, I am told that it would be difficult for other persons to communicate with me," Williams said, via a written response. "This usually meant that I did not get the job. Now, I have been with Bresheh Enterprises for the past three months, and I am hoping to grow with the company."

Learning sign language to better facilitate employees with disability

Randy McLaren noted that the two employees with disabilities were hearing-impaired, while the other workers were from "at risk" and rural communities.

"The communication barrier for the hearing-impaired staff was eliminated by getting them to write their requests," McLaren explained. "At the same time, we are learning sign language to make this process smoother."

He noted that this will ensure that quality standards can be maintained by the entire team. "We receive orders from around the globe, as far away as Scotland and Switzerland, in addition to our local customers," he added.

Recently, Bresheh Enterprises placed second in the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI) Pitch for Purpose Competition. The contest allowed five social enterprises to pitch their business concepts and highlight their purpose and the company's potential to use the development funds, to a panel of judges.

As part of their prize, JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL) will provide coaching, assistance in strengthening their business plan and strategy, as well as identify financing options.

"In addition to the Bresheh pitch in the competition, we were also impressed with the quality of their bags; and their focus on employing persons with disabilities," explained Thelma Yong, deputy general manager, JNSBL.

"The feedback about the quality of their bags has been excellent, and more persons, particularly teens and young adults, are gravitating towards the trendy items. We are pleased with the quality work they have achieved and look forward to working with them to become a household name," explained Yong.

Bresheh Enterprises purchases all the raw material needed for their bags from local companies, who import the textiles. Their dream is to use only items that are locally produced. "We are currently researching how to make organic cloth, and, in the future, we will be expanding into that area; as well as, making all new types of bags," Randy McLaren said, declaring, "I feel good about the future."