COVID, coup and altruism – a Yarn story
The pandemic, followed by a coup. Myanmar couldn’t have it any harder. Amidst the chaos and woes, one of the rays of hope was what could be described as “Burmese altruism”.
It features business owners opening up extremely affordable food centers in Yangon, entrepreneurs coming up with business models to help sustain the charity efforts, and Mr. and Mrs. Z’s platform, called Yarn Masters, which is a shop selling handicrafts made by people suffering hardship.
“We have been helping people and families with low incomes on a regular basis. We provide food, such as rice, oil, and several other non-perishable items. We also gave away a lot of hand sanitizer to places that needed it, such as hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and so on in rural areas,” said Mr. Z.
As time went on, Z said that the number of families seeking their assistance climbed to over 150 households and, since the number will keep growing due to the current economic and political climate, the couple had to come up with a plan to make their charitable efforts sustainable.
“The basis of the business model is simply to find a market for those that can produce handmade products and give them the money from sales made,” Z explained.
From toys, keychains, and blankets to coats and anything in between, including custom orders, Yarn Masters take crochet items and sell them, mainly online, to people interested in supporting local businesses as well as supporting a charity.
“For those who have the skills, but lack materials to make crochet products, we supply them with thread, yarn balls, needles, and, sometimes, the patterns, so that they can easily craft their products,” said Z.
According to him, before taking a short break during the third wave of COVID-19 in June, Yarn Masters was supporting over 80 freelancers across 20 different cities and towns. Some had even managed to take off on their own.
“In September, we resumed the business, “Yarn Masters”, and many existing and new partners from low-to-no income families joined us. There were, however, still a lot more families with no source of income and they do not have crochet skills,” lamented Z.
That was when the couple came up with their sister businesses “Zazzy” and “Locale”. Both follow a similar model to Yarn Masters. Zazzy was created for small-scale jewel crafters and jade and gem scavengers, and Locale is all about food, from the individual freelancer’s hometown or region. These three businesses are currently providing jobs for over 200 families.
They said they wish to expand the scope of the existing platforms, as more have requested to partner up with them, but there simply is not yet enough spending power in the country.
“We’re not making premium products, as a result, we can not target the high-income families who still have a lot of spending power. For the businesses, making premium products would mean investing more money in sourcing better quality raw materials, which would result in us not being able to partner with as many people.”
For now, Yarn Masters and its sister businesses are slowly but steadily making a name for themselves and, most importantly, are able to help nearly 400 lower-income families through direct donations and business partnerships.