Charlotte J.: Hi.
Raj: That's awesome. This worked.
Charlotte J.: I'm in.
Raj: That's wonderful. Welcome to a new episode of With Aplomb. I'm your host, Raj, as always. This week, we're doing something somewhat different, as I share with you an interview I did with Charlotte of KLABU. KLABU is an incredible organization, as you'll soon find out, building soccer club houses in refugee camps, and making exquisite apparel along the way, so please listen and enjoy. Okay, awesome, so, let's just begin with telling us who you are and your role at KLABU.
Charlotte J.: Sure, so my name is Charlotte Jongejan. I have been part of KLABU since the beginning. The founder of KLABU is a close friend of mine from back in the day at high school, Jan van Hövell. He started KLABU about two and a half to three years ago, when he quit his job as a lawyer to focus full-time on finding a solution, a structural solution, to bring sports to refugees in the places where they're rebuilding their lives. He and I spoke about it a lot in the beginning, as I was working on a number of refugee projects for a reforestation company I was working for at the time. It was more in an informal capacity that I was part of his decision-making process in kind of the early days of building the concept, and figuring out what it was that we wanted KLABU to be. Then since a year, I have been involved as leading the marketing side of things, running the campaign to launch KLABU. Just two-and-a-half, two months ago we launched.
Charlotte J.: Then more widely, sort of thinking about the marketing strategy and communication strategy around how we build up KLABU to be a sustainable brand that powers sports, so that's my role. But as with any startup, titles and roles are very fluid, and on any one day I can be in charge of making sure that the clothing is all ordered and correct, or I'm in the shop selling clothes, or I'm doing the social media with my team. It changes from day to day. We're all pretty much doing everything at the same time, which is how these things go.
Raj: Yeah, exactly. Me and Nema are very well aware of that.
Charlotte J.: I'm sure.
Raj: That's so incredible, so I guess let's just dive into what KLABU is, and what the company does, and we definitely want to chat about the Kenya Club.
Charlotte J.: Sure. KLABU means club in Swahili, and the reason we chose for a club-based method is because clubs bring people together, and they serve a much wider purpose than just sports. If there's anything that is missing in the life of a refugee, it's anything to do with normalcy. They have been thrown into a completely abnormal situation, they've had to leave their homes. Most times they've left family behind, and always they've left all their belongings behind. They're starting over in a new country with new languages, new religions around them, in a community that has basically been thrown together, and they're having to start all over again.
Charlotte J.: Sport is one of those things that can bring people together without them needing to speak the same language, go to the same church, or even have a similar background, but they can all get on the field and play a game of football, and feel a connection. That's what we see as the power of sports. It also brings great benefits to health, confidence, social building, and there's really, there's life skills involved when you're part of a team. We've seen, firsthand, the type of impact that sports can have in refugee settings. That's what KLABU is about, is about how can we bring sports and sport clubs to as many refugees as we can?
Charlotte J.: To make that possible, we started off with the more traditional way that NG's start, is asking for money. We went to quite a few funds, and luckily in the Netherlands there are a lot of funds available for these types of things, and we got $150K together to be able to build our very first sports club in the north of Kenya near the South Sudan border, which is a place called Kalobeyei. It's where the very first KLABU sports club is up and running as we speak. There are more than 8,000 members playing sports there every day. We have coaches. We have managers running the club. We have cleaners and people paid to repair the clothes and the equipment. There's fields set out, there's tournament's being held. It's a very lively place.
Charlotte J.: In order to be able to build many more KLABUs, we wanted to have a sustainable business model that went beyond donations and funding. We decided to stick with sports, because that's what we know and what we're good at, and create a way that people could wear their support, and really show their support as a badge of honor. We developed this really, yeah, cool sports clothing, and we did it with some designers who really know their stuff. They've all worked at Nike, and Reebok, SX, a bunch of other big brands, and they've donated their time freely, such as almost everyone connected to KLABU does, in order to develop this first line of sports clothing, which we've now launched.
Charlotte J.: Yeah, you've seen it, I think. [crosstalk 00:06:13]
Raj: Yeah, yeah, and I-
Charlotte J.: You have your shirt.
Raj: Yeah, and I love that. The designs are amazing. Obviously, as you said, you've been using really top people, and the colors, and it's very striking.
Charlotte J.: Yeah, it is. I'm wearing mine today actually, and I'm biking through Amsterdam, and I can see heads turning and people looking like, "Hey, what's she wearing?" It's bright orange, and bright blue, and it's really eye-catching, and then the other shirts... We have a home and we have an away shirt. The away shirt's purple with pink, and it's very now, and the sales...
Raj: Oh, yeah.
Charlotte J.: Yeah. The sales are going really great, and then the nice thing is, of course, that you can tell people, "Hey, you're not only buying a cool shirt, but, and looking great, but you're also putting money towards us being able to power sports with refugees." That just makes it a really unique product, that's... To use a buzzword, it's impact-driven sportswear, but it really is you wearing your support, and that's what we love, and we love seeing people wearing the shirt. We're getting pictures of people wearing it in Tokyo, and in Sydney, and Istanbul, and it's just, it's growing.
Raj: That's amazing.
Charlotte J.: That means that the KLABU Club is getting bigger, and we're getting more and more members who support what we do, so that's really exciting.
Raj: You guys have a shop in Amsterdam.
Charlotte J.: We sure do. I'm sitting about 100 meters away from the shop. [inaudible 00:07:38] Jan, our founder, he lives literally 100 meters from the shop, so I'm sitting in his house at the moment to do this chat, but we're at the shop pretty much every day. It's open seven days a week. We all take turns kind of manning the shop, or womanning the shop, and making sure there's always someone there, so that we can sell. But the shop is more like a clubhouse, really. It's our Amsterdam place, where everyone comes, and constantly there's friends, and family, and people connected to KLABU kind of popping in and out. We have meetings there. We have a little desk. We have a coffee machine. We've got big plants everywhere and coffee, and it's just a really nice place for people to come and hang.
Raj: Yeah. That's awesome.
Charlotte J.: Which is what we wanted. Yeah, you're very welcome to stop by.
Raj: Oh, I'll be there, don't worry.
Charlotte J.: Good. I'm glad.
Raj: We at Eterno, we are in the fashion world, but we like to sort of get the stories, and we're interested in the bigger stories, which is what drew our attention to KLABU. You guys have the Kenya club, so what kind of [inaudible 00:08:47] have you been seeing with the refugees there?
Charlotte J.: We've been seeing some really great results, in terms of numbers, much faster growth than we had expected. The first two months, we had 500 new members every week, which was insane. There are a lot of people living there. There's 36,000 refugees living in Kalobeyei. Of those 36,000, about 70% are younger than 18, and our target group that we really want to create a solution for are young people between sort of the ages of 16 and let's say 25. Because for them there's very little education and sort of entertainment, and pastime activities are really organized for the very young or for the much older.
Charlotte J.: Then there are sort of religiously tinted activities. There's church activities, et cetera, but there's not really anything for the young people. They get very bored. I've been in refugee camps myself a few times, and spent a lot of time in Kalobeyei in January when we were there, and it's the heat, and it's the sense of lethargy, really, that people start to become restless, and that really leads to tension, and the reminder of their situation. Just anything to really break out of that is very welcomed. Sport is such a perfect solution, because like I said, it brings people together, and we have this great clubhouse that forms sort of the hub of the community.
Charlotte J.: We specifically placed it in the middle of a village, where there's also a church very close by. It's very close to the marketplace. It's close to the basketball field, and it is a lovely shady design. It was designed by our friends at Roof for Humanity, a wonderful NGO from the Netherlands, who build community spaces for refugees and people without means, and she does that. Narda Beunders, she's the founder. She came with us to Kenya, and she actually spent three months there working with the local crew of refugees to construct the clubhouse.
Charlotte J.: It's such a vibrant place. We built a stage inside. There's seating. Older people can come there to play games. We have chairs, we've got backgammon, got a few local games. The dance crews come there to rehearse. It's really a special place, and we're seeing reports, and all the visuals that the managers send us sort of weekly. We see that is intensely used, which is exactly what we wanted. We have between eight and 10,000 members now. The only thing that is a point of concern for us is that most of those members are men. It's very popular among young men, but not so much amongst the women, and we want to figure out why that is and we want to make sure that, when we go back to Kalobeyei, hopefully the summer, we can find a solution to attract more women to the club and make sure they feel comfortable and welcome.
Charlotte J.: Perhaps it's to do with clothing, we thought so we are developing a woman's only line of clothing that would be more covered. There'll be leggings and there'll be longer tops, so that the women who, potentially for religious reasons stay away, may feel more, more comfortable to come and play sports. We are very much aware of of that issue, and we are trying to find a solution for it, so that when we go to our next KLABU clubhouse, which likely will be in Bangladesh, we make sure that we have a solution that works for both men and women.
Raj: Yeah, that's great, and I saw on the site it said that the new woman's liners en route.
Charlotte J.: Yes, it is in development. I've seen... The first samples have come in, and we are currently working with our group of designers and producers to figure out what's the best material? How can we make sure it's the most sustainable product that it could be? How much is it all going to cost? How much should we be pricing it at? All those questions. When you get into retail, it's a whole world that's opened up for us. None of us had any background really in fashion at all, and we've had to take a bit of a crash course when it comes to retail, so we're learning quickly.
Raj: Yeah, I'm sure, and you guys, do you produce the pieces in Italy, or where are the pieces getting made?
Charlotte J.: Yeah, we have a wonderful factory that we work with in Italy called Stamperia Alicese. They are based in Milan and they really know their stuff,, and they've been so flexible, with us making sure that we could come in with low amounts to start, because we weren't sure how much we would sell, and they're very flexible and helpful in guiding us sort of throughout this process. We will continue to work with them, because we also like that we work with a European company. It saves us a lot of hassle, but it also means that we can guarantee great work environment, and working conditions, and there's less shipping, which is also effective for us to take into account.
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Raj: For someone like us just starting out, this is invaluable. There are already so many amazing creators and storytellers making phenomenal shows with Anchor, like my friend Phil Toronto and his Tartar Project where he interviews incredible entrepreneurs, and shares their struggles, triumphs, and lessons learned. Anchor empowers you to share your vision and stories with the world. Don't sit back and wait to make your dreams happen. Go download the Anchor app or go to Anchor.fm to get started. You spoke, already spoke about Bangladesh being next. What else are the future goals for KLABU outside of Kenya?
Charlotte J.: At the moment we are organizing something really exciting, and actually this will be, the sneak preview because we haven't gotten any communications out yet, but we are organizing a big football tournament.
Charlotte J.: Yes, and it will be an Amsterdam. It will be during the Kwaku Festival, which is a really popular Amsterdam-based summer festival, very multicultural food, music, sports. It's huge, and it's really quite a phenomenon when it comes to kind of the more colorful version of how a festival can be. They've offered us space to hold a street football tournament, so with 16 teams, and all 16 teams will financially and also socially support a team in Kalobeyei, so we're going to have the tournament running [inaudible 00:16:34] at the same time, so here in Amsterdam and in Kalobeyei, and then the scores of the teams will be combined in order to determine the winner.
Charlotte J.: If the Amsterdam-based team that's connected to the KLABU team in Kalobeyei win, but the Kalobeyei team lose, that will affect their median score, and so that way we're going to have a really interesting result at the end of the day to see who wins. Also, we're going to bring the team captains in touch with each other through WhatsApp and they'll, but they'll both be wearing the same shirt. We're custom designing really great, colorful, new, KLABU design shirts and the teams will get to take those home, and so it should be a really great,, fun day and we'll be raising a lot of money as well.
Raj: You guys would love to do some collaborations? That would be awesome, actually.
Charlotte J.: I know it would be. Yeah, the sky's the limit, of course, when you allow your fantasy to run loose. But it just, it does make sense for us at one point to really focus on what we're actually good at, and where our passion lies, which is powering sports with refugees, and that's where we have the edge, i think, over a lot of other organizations. We have experience now. We have great contacts, but the clothing side of things does take up a lot of our time, and if we could partner with the company who loved doing that, and who have the network, and the production value chain in place it'd be wonderful to be able to collaborate, so we're hoping that will happen.
Raj: I saw you guys do something with Blood In Blood Out?
Charlotte J.: Yeah, we do. We have a corner of our store, which we're dedicating to collaborations. We love working with other brands that are creative, and young, and Amsterdam-based, so we've kind of started Blood In Blood Out, cause we had a relationship with them. They've created a remix of the KLABU shirt. They're really clever. They take these shirts that have symbolic connections, and then they remix them into each other, so it's kind of hard to explain without showing, but I would say go to the Blood In Blood Out website or check out our social media, because we have some really great photos on there. For instance, they'll take the Morocco team shirt, and they'll remix it with the Dutch shirt, because there are a lot of Moroccan players who play for Holland or vice versa, and we see that they're so popular. People walk past the store, and they spot these remix shirts, and they all come in and they want to ask questions and hear about the, the symbolism behind the shirt. It's a great collaboration. We're going to be doing that for another month.
Raj: Heading back to Kenya anytime soon?
Charlotte J.: We hope to go to Kenya. The ideal thing would be to go at the end of this summer. There's a delegation of the World Economic Forum, and a great scientists or academic called Alexander Betts, who has done a lot of research into the effect and the impact of power of sports on refugees, or with refugees. They're heading out there at the end of July, and we'd love to be part of that delegation because there's going to be a lot of interesting people there, who really know and have proven the impact of sports. We could use that input for our own campaigns, and we'd love to be part of it, but it really all depends on sales. This is a good bridge for me to do a wee plug. For us to be able to power sports with refugees, we need to sell shirts and we're looking for help and support.
Charlotte J.: If you want to wear an amazingly vibrant, eye-catching, cool sports shirt, and support refugees through sports, then please go to klabu.org and get your KLABU today. Yeah, we're hoping to expand the club, so the Manhattan should be next. I know we have a few fans walking around Manhattan, so who knows. You might spot one one of these days.
Raj: Oh, yeah. I'll stop them on the street. Don't worry. I will.
Charlotte J.: You should, and take a picture, please. I would love to see it.
Raj: Is there anything last second you want to throw out there?
Charlotte J.: Anything last second. If you are a company, or a group of friends, or a club, and you're in the Netherlands or even in Europe ,and you want to be part of a really fun football tournament and summer festival on July 28, please come, and sign up, and be part of the first KLABU Kwaku football tournament. It's five against five. It's going to be super fun. Keep an eye on our website, and sign up, and please do follow us on all the social medias, and yeah. Website is up and running, and you come by our store. We're in Amsterdam on the Zeedijk. You're very welcome to be part of the club.
Raj: I love it. And that's that. We hear at Eterno want to thank KLABU for taking the time to speak with us. Thank you, Charlotte. We will be keeping track of them in earnest, and we'll sit down and chat with them again soon, I am sure. We hope to visit them in Amsterdam as well, of course. Please be sure to follow KLABU on Instagram @theklabu, T-H-E-K-L-A-B-U, and check out their wonderful site club, klabu.org, to donate or order your merch, and you can keep up with their goings on over there. Thanks as always to you for tuning in. We'll see you next time. Peace.