04 Aug 2016
“Education should not be a luxury,” say two alumni, founders of the exclusive necktie brand Reddendi. Discover how their profits are helping to put children through school in Africa and India
Reddendi. A Latin verb meaning to give back, return or restore. But Reddendi is also the premium mens accessories brand founded by LBS alumni Neeraj Dalmia and Stefan Humphries (both MBA2016s), which gives a percentage of its proceeds to help fund children’s educations. It was also incubated at LBS.
Why education inequality?
Where you grow up is decided by luck. Whether you get an education or not often comes down to where you live. Good fortune, or rather, the lack of it, is at the heart of Reddendi’s philosophy. Stefan, who is British and was previously a lawyer at Clifford Chance, says: “We believe that education is the key lever to drive sustainable positive change globally. We have benefited from a great education – so if we can help a child to get a better start in life, that’s hugely powerful.”
As a snapshot, the latest results from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics database show that there are 8.7 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, 5.5 million in Pakistan and 1.7 million in India. As of the end of 2013, almost 65 million 12- to 15-year-olds globally were being denied their right to an education. Moreover, the aid sent to help is inconsistent. Take India, where financial relief for basic education fell from US$100 million to $27 million between 2012 and 2013 meaning that children of different ages receive varying levels of education. Neeraj and Stefan believe that inequality creates the perfect conditions for conflict.
Neeraj, who is Indian and holds a chartered accountant degree, says: “Research shows that conflict is twice as likely in countries with high levels of education inequality.” In regions where education improves, salaries rise. There are many social inequalities, including access to services like healthcare and housing, but data suggests that access to education and healthcare matters more than unequal salaries and job opportunities. When disadvantaged groups gain access to education, their professional ambitions change and social cohesion increases.
Giving back and starting up
So where did it all start? In 2015, when Neeraj and Stefan were taking a break from their studies over lunch, their talk turned to ties. They soon realised they shared a passion for luxury clothing, accessories – and contributing to education. “Even though the tie market is shrinking globally, we saw a niche in a somewhat unloved market where we really think Reddendi can thrive,” says Neeraj. A 2015 Euromonitor report on the UK accessories market showed -1.1% annual growth between 2009 and 2014 in the men’s necktie segment.
After a year of refining their business model, designing the patterns, finding a name and visiting various UK-based tie manufacturers, they launched their business. “We started by visiting factories to ensure we produced the best quality printed-silk ties. It has been a very exciting journey but there have been challenges on the road to the launch,” say the founders. Their biggest challenge was in positioning the brand. “The two elements that make up Reddendi – creating sustainable change through education while producing luxury accessories – isn’t the typical fashion ethos. One limb invariably falls by the wayside. We wanted be absolutely clear that there will never be any compromise in the elements that make up our brand.”
Every Reddendi Africa tie purchased supports a child’s education in Africa, specifically South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. The pair chose to partner with the African Education Trust (AET), which has been helping educate children in Africa since 1958. Similarly, every Reddendi India tie sold helps teach a child in India.
The business model centres on a set donation that represents at least 40% of profits per £85 tie, which goes to the company’s partner charities: otherwise known as the lock-step model. While e-commerce is the founders’ area of focus right now, they plan on getting a foothold in high-end department stores in the near future.
How LBS has helped
Neeraj says: “LBS allowed me to explore the world – in a business and social sense – which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. The diversity is phenomenal. Interacting with people from different backgrounds has exposed me to new ideas. I believe I’ve redefined my goals and ambitions because of my time at LBS.”
Stefan says he came to business school to “segue out of a legal career that wasn’t right for me”. He adds: “The School has enabled me to develop a global network that will help our business.”
Without the LBS community, launching Reddendi would have been tough, say the duo. “We’ve had help ranging from focus groups to photography for our website,” explains Stefan.
They also sought expert advice from faculty including Professor Rajesh Chandy, who explored whether innovation among micro-entrepreneurs on the streets of South Africa could teach global corporations a lesson, and Jeff Skinner, who heads up the School’s Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Incubator programme.
In addition, the pair credit MBA classes such as Negotiating and Bargaining, Brand Management, and Social Media and Internet Marketing for providing tangible takeaways.
“Africa and India provide tremendous opportunities both from business and social perspectives. At this stage, our best entrepreneurial tip is to do work with passion and belief. When you do that, we’ve found communities will come together and support you.”
Business as usual has not provided fair educational opportunities to children around the world. That’s why Neeraj and Stefan are proud that Reddendi is in the premium business of anything but usual.
Author: Anna Johnston
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