1. What exactly is Unify?
Unify is a Streetwear brand from Bregenz that originated from the idea of combining Streetwear and charity. This concept led to the creation of the first Streetwear label in Austria with its own NGO. We see ourselves as a large community that one automatically joins by purchasing one of our clothing items. Since its inception, our community has been steadily growing.
2. What unique features make Unify special?
With every sale, a portion of the proceeds automatically goes to our NGO, "Help2Unify," where the money is used directly and transparently for charitable and sustainable purposes in Gambia. Additionally, we take pride in the excellent quality of our products, produced under fair conditions in Europe. We always strive to capture the spirit of the times, offering current styles, cuts, and designs combined with the unique Unify signature.
3. What inspiring experiences in Gambia led you to establish Unify?
When I first traveled to Gambia in October 2019, I became acutely aware of the immense poverty and suffering that people there face daily. One impactful experience was witnessing children fighting over a water bottle and observing five children squeezed onto a small school bench, considering something as ordinary as a pencil a luxury item. The hospitality extended in this country also left a positive impression on me. The desire to make a positive impact was immediate, and meeting Lamin there was almost a twist of fate. After my departure, we stayed in contact almost daily, and he has remained our on-site right hand, handling donations. Simultaneously, the idea of combining fundraising with my passion for Streetwear took shape, leading to the concept of using a portion of clothing sales for donations—thus, "Help2Unify" was born.
4. How did you go from a simple box of football shoes to substantial five-figure donations?
Several factors contributed to this success. We are blessed with a committed, active, and growing community, thanks to social media, opens many doors and attracts people willing to support us financially. We are also grateful for the support of the city of Bregenz and our collaboration with H&M. However, we also enjoy devising new and unconventional concepts to drive the project forward. Last year, for example, we organized a "RaveNDonate" event, combining celebration and charity. We also participate in flea markets, engage in "Praterpumpen," and organize contests, such as the recent one with Timur from Studio Fasching.
5. Could you tell us more about the specific projects that Unify conducts in collaboration with Lamin Colley's team?
All our projects are initiated by "Help2Unify," supported by Unify. We are extremely proud to have built 17 wells, providing access to water. At a school in Tanji, we transformed an aged water point intended for 3000 students into a fully functional washing station with six taps. We also expanded and upgraded the school's garden, providing local workers with tools and seeds to improve and increase harvests. Currently, we are renovating the school cafeteria and providing it with electricity. We take pride in this as it eliminates the need for open fires, allowing food to be prepared differently and making it last longer due to refrigeration. We also supported the construction of a chicken farm, connecting children to agriculture and enabling the sale of produce.
True to our motto, "Helping through Self-Help."
6. What developments led to the partnership with H&M?
A close friend of Unify brought our work and mission to the attention of H&M. When H&M decided to support us, our joy was immense—a definite milestone in the history of Unify and Help2Unify. It's still surreal to go to the H&M store in Dornbirn, see Unify clothing, and have the opportunity to purchase it. We are incredibly grateful to collaborate with such a strong partner and make Unify accessible to an even broader audience.
7. Are there specific clothing items you'd still like to release with Unify?
We adhere to the motto "Less is more" to maintain our high quality and focus on clothing items that genuinely matter to us. Pieces currently in the planning include caps, jackets, shorts, and swimwear with the typical Unify streetwear touch. Additionally, we will release accessories in collaboration with La Pearl, a brand owned by a close friend of ours. Despite our growth, we want to ensure that every Unify garment remains meaningful. We are not profit-oriented but aim to continue doing good with our earnings.
8. What future plans and visions do you have for Unify?
Today's fashion world is fast-paced, with trends changing frequently, and "Fast Fashion" has not portrayed the clothing industry in a favorable light. We want to show that it is possible to acquire affordable, ethically produced, and high-quality clothing while also donating a portion. Our clear goal is for "Help2Unify" to be less dependent on private donations and the city of Bregenz, primarily relying on Unify's earnings to do good. We aim for healthy growth, leading to more collaborations and projects. As mentioned earlier, Unify is a community that aims to grow, unite, and change the world for the better—a movement that grows, unites, and transforms together! Unify the world!
Besides the interview, we seized the chance to inquire about the situation in Gambia from Lamin.
What are the root causes of poverty in Gambia?
Several factors contribute to poverty in Gambia, including inadequate access to land and water, mismanagement of available resources, irregular rains causing frequent crop losses, malfunctioning input and output markets, and food insecurity due to insufficient farming income.
Primarily, poverty in Gambia emanates from limited economic diversity. Over half the population relies on agriculture for sustenance and income, but unpredictable weather conditions make farming precarious. During peak rainfall, Gambia grapples with a 'hunger season.'
Ongoing contributors to poverty in The Gambia include:
- Depleting soil fertility
- Poor agricultural and labor productivity
- Limited access to land and water, coupled with inefficient resource management
- Frequent crop losses due to erratic rains
- Dysfunctional input and output markets
- Food insecurity from inadequate farming income
- A high proportion of unemployed or underemployed youth in rural areas
- Significant migration rates
Progress was marked by the approval of The Gambia’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy (ANRP) at its inaugural national farmers’ conference. This policy aims to bolster nutrition security, enhance agriculture’s competitiveness and efficiency, fortify relief-providing institutions, and improve natural resource management.
What is the literacy rate in Gambia?
The literacy rate stands at 58.06%.
This rate indicates the percentage of individuals aged 15 and above who can read and comprehend a simple statement about their daily life. In 2021, Gambia's literacy rate was 58.06%, a notable increase of 7.28% from 2015.
What characterizes education in Gambia?
Gambia's formal education system operates on a 6-3-3-4 structure. It spans six years of primary (lower basic) and three years of upper basic education, totaling nine years. Typically, Gambian children commence schooling at age seven.