Fifty by Fifty – Chicago Turns to Cooperatives to Improve Opportunity

From Fifty by Fifty:

Hoda Katebi, an Iranian-American fashion designer, known for her fashion blog JooJoo Azad, has turned her sights to helping immigrant and refugee women by starting a clothing production cooperative in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Blue Tin Production Co-op, says Katebi, will create jobs for women who have experienced trauma, but it will also give them the power of ownership and decision making. Katebi, who graduated from the University of Chicago, began exploring cooperatives after searching for a production company for her own designs and realizing how exploitative the industry was. “In the fashion industry, it’s really hard to know workers are treated fairly,” she explained to reporter Hannah Steinkopf-Frank. “In fact, most contractors, including in the U.S. or E.U., do not pay their workers even the minimum wage.” For many workers of color, including immigrant women, quality, decent-paying jobs are hard to find. In Chicago, for example, almost one-third of the workforce earns less than $12 per hour. Cities like Chicago see expanding worker cooperatives as a strategy to improve the quality of jobs, mitigate discrimination, and build shared prosperity through businesses anchored in the local community. But creating an ecosystem in which co-ops can thrive takes time and effort. The cooperative movement is “growing and picking up momentum,” says Dr. Stacey Sutton of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, “because there is a belief that through worker ownership you are creating … a more equitable distribution of economic resources.”

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