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Clothes With a Cause

Profits from Treana Peake’s design label have paid for hundreds of water wells and schools in South Sudan and Cameroon. How she does it--and why.

What happens when the answer to, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” is "To be a fashion designer--and to save the world?"

If you're Treana Peake, you figure out how to do both.

Four years ago Peake, 40, decided to use the profits from her successful Vancouver-based fashion label, Obakki, to fund the Obakki Foundation, which works to bring water, food and education to people in developing countries. One hundred percent of her company's net profits now go into the foundation. To date, it has raised $2.67 million from donors and Obakki Designs--enough to drill 400 wells in South Sudan and build 12 schools in Cameroon, with more to come. 

Daily Worth: Which passion came first for you – fashion or philanthropy?

Treana Peake: I’ve actually been doing philanthropy ever since I was in grade school. I was always coming up with ways to fundraise. I would assume the role of a promoter, and I’d throw a concert or I would write a script and audition kids to join this play, and then I would [give away] the proceeds from the show. 

Where did that passion for philanthropy come from?

I was really drawn to other cultures in different parts of the world and always thought, if there’s a way for me to help, I should. I honestly don’t know where I got that from, but I remember having those feelings at a very young age.

What gave you the notion that you could merge philanthropy with business?

My goal from the beginning in 2005 was to build up this company and then use the money that I made to fund my philanthropic efforts. But I didn’t vocalize that publicly because I didn’t think they would believe me. 

What changed?

I was at this crossroads where people were paying less and less attention to the philanthropic work I was doing. I realized in order to have people hear my story on the philanthropy side, I needed to apply some more creativity to it and give it another bit of a spin. [The fashion] was also a superficial product, and I thought, “I want to give my fashion a purpose.” So it seemed like a natural merge of the two.

If your goal is to do good in the world, why not just donate to an existing organization?

A lot of us write checks for various organizations and, while they’re very worthy organizations and have great reputations and are doing a lot of really good work, you never really know where your money’s going. 

Obakki Designs itself covers all the administrative fees of the foundation so that, if somebody gives $100, $100 actually gets to the project. It was really important to me to do it that way.

Keep reading to find out how she’s measured success.

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