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How this leather goods maker is empowering women in Ethiopia

Parker Clay co-Founder Brittany Bentley joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the luxury handmade leather goods brand, and the company’s mission to help keep women in Ethiopia out of prostitution.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: Parker Clay is a global luxury brand that makes handmade leather goods. But the company is not just all about making a profit. The mission behind the brand is to help keep women in Ethiopia out of prostitution. Founders Ian and Brittany Bentley traveled to Africa in 2014 and quickly realized they wanted to help the women there, but they didn't want to be another nonprofit. The couple saw an opportunity for the country not to be a destination for aid, but a destination for trade.

Joining us now is Brittany Bentley, co-founder of Parker Clay. Brittany, good to see you this morning. Why choose Ethiopia?

BRITTANY BENTLEY: Thank you, Brian. Well, it's a bit of a different story. Ian and I met in high school and got married shortly after college. And then we started our careers in business and design and had two boys and just really wanted to grow our family through adoption. And we chose Ethiopia specifically.

From there, we traveled to Ethiopia. We just fell in love with the vibrant country and fell in love with everything about it. And so that led us to one year later buying one-way tickets as a family to move to Ethiopia, to work with women coming out of prostitution and help with job training. And that led us to where we are today. It is a company of over 150 employees, where we are making an impact through employment.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I think it's a super inspirational story, Brittany, and a risk not many people would be ready for. I mean, tell us-- you're not, obviously, from Ethiopia. Your family isn't, although I know you have adopted a couple of children from there. But what have some of the challenges been like working there locally and dealing with the government locally?

BRITTANY BENTLEY: Yeah. So we are not a-- Ian and I did not set out to become a leather industry. We saw this as an opportunity to create more employment. So it's definitely been trial and error from the beginning. We've had the company for six years.

And it's been growing year after year. And that has just always been amazing. We're so thankful for our community. There's been challenges working in the country and just starting something new, for sure. Any entrepreneur would have challenges starting anywhere outside of their normal country.

But we've had amazing leadership in country. We have a great staff. They are 100% Ethiopian-based in-- with our staff there. And 80% of them are women. 80% of women here on our leadership in the US. And so we're really proud of that.

BRIAN SOZZI: Brittany, what kind of skills do you teach these women?

BRITTANY BENTLEY: Yeah, so we have an amazing basket of goods that just provides for many aspects of life in their community. A lot of the women come out of the Women At Risk Program with no official job training that they've had in their life. So we start them out with a basic skills training. And with our Center of Excellence, they're able to gain further job training skills and receive certifications that they can carry through through not only Parker Clay, but to future career opportunities, just being able to have the skills to do a job that provides them something amazing for their resume.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Brittany, you're a for-profit company. So how are things going? And is your company profitable?

BRITTANY BENTLEY: We're operationally profitable. And we are continuing to find ways to create a strong impact and have that profitability. It is just as important for us to have that impact. People are very important to us. And our employees are extremely important. So we want to be growing at a pace that is sustainable and healthy for all of us.

BRIAN SOZZI: How do you see the company evolving over the next few years?

BRITTANY BENTLEY: Yeah, we hope to grow from over 150 employees to, by the end of the year, 250 employees. So we hope to keep growing in impact as well as profitable growth. We want to continue making amazing leather bags, better bags, better production, and just have a better world by people making conscious choices on what they're purchasing.

BRIAN SOZZI: Well, I'll speak for a lot of folks out there, this is tremendous work and a tremendous business model. Let's leave it there. Brittany Bentley, co-founder of Parker Clay good to see you.

BRITTANY BENTLEY: Thank you, Brian, Alexis.