Aaron Jones graduated from the University of Essex in 2014, having studied International Enterprise and Business Development.
Before studying for his degree, he took the opportunity to go volunteering overseas, and worked at Anjali house - a project supporting underprivileged children.
Aaron was teaching English and leading a photography project sponsored by Cannon. Aaron says the images captured by the children were not great but were filled with truth, a sobering truth that made him question why we weren't doing more. Little did Aaron know that his experience was the start of something big: After seeing one of his absent students begging and collecting rubbish on the street, something broke inside him. Aaron says, “ I was filled with rage that this and much worse was happening to children to Cambodia, and took it upon myself to do something about it”.
So, while still studying for his degree at Essex Business School, Aaron founded Fikay Fashion, using his own adventure-inspired fashion designs and just a £600 student overdraft to get things underway.
Fikay Fashion, as a business and social enterprise, is underpinned by a belief that by empowering parents in third world countries, and providing them with the means of manufacturing production, they can make goods from the Fikay Fashion product range, to help them support their families.
Aaron said: “One day we got talking about the issues there and how the parents needed jobs. If we could get parents earning and children learning we could break the cycle of poverty, one family at a time . We started looking at ways to get sewing machines to local women.”
Fikay’s product range is made from locally recycled water proof cement bags. The collection included small wallets, wash bags, make-up bags, and shoulder and luggage bags – all uniquely crafted, and with no mass production. That means every time someone buys a product it makes a real difference because producers are paid well and a proportion of every sale is donated to the Fikay Foundation, a charity promoting education and schools.
To date, Fikay has helped build a school that’s enabling more than 200 children a year escape the grips of generational poverty.
As such, Fikay Fashion has won a plethora of awards. These include the Great British Entrepreneurship Awards, Silver award for the International Social Enterprise of the Year, Ernst and Young’s Future 50 and Aaron was named MTV’s youth Voice of Change in 2015.
In June 2016, Aaron also received a British Empire Medal for his services to ethical fashion.
Aaron has since gone on to found See Fashion an award-winning AI company that leverages computer vision and machine learning to help retailers deliver personalized shopping experiences at scale. The company’s vision is to use data to transform the way we manufacture and merchandise fashion. We want to be the number one provider of seamless customer experiences across any platform whether instore or online at any point of their customer journey.”
See Fashion’s proprietary technology and dataset is helping retailers solve a multi billion problem and has attracted a lot of media attention from The Independent to The Evening Standard and noteworthy investors include Farfetch and Publicis Group, the company's trajectory is definitely one to watch.
When I was in Cambodia I saw something I that moved me. My initial reaction was to look outward and ask why isn’t anyone doing anything about this but I chose to look inward. What can I do about this…?
If you want to be a changemaker and do something meaningful I dare you to ask yourself the same question, “ what can I do” and act on your answer. You won’t always get it right but I promise you that if be courageous, and can find the words to inspire those around you, you will go far.
Secondly don’t protect your ideas, share them with everyone and more (and even) better ideas will come your way. Sharing your ideas with others will build a tribe around you, which will be essential during the hard times. Remember it’s not the best ideas that win, its the best teams.
I also want to take a moment to thank the university for their support and pay special thanks to Professor Jay Mitra for believing in my mustard seed idea when no one else did and for helping me see you could make money and make the world a better place.
Chancellor we present our Alumni of the Year, Aaron Jones.