Ruby J Murray on Chid Liberty
Against the stark, industrial emptiness of his new offices in San Francisco, vacant desks and white walls, Chid Liberty is a whirlwind of activity—fast-talking, finger-snapping, immaculately dressed, and full of that magic mixture Silicon Valley runs on: a dash of sparkle, half a pint of madness, and feet that are planted firmly in the future.
He has a very simple idea, an idea with huge repercussions: trade can be fair. It’s an idea that doesn’t only change the way we think about how things are made, but how we think about our consumer lives as well.
Chid was born in Liberia, but raised as a ‘third culture kid,’ in Germany and then in the USA. From 1980 onwards, Liberia was torn by coups and civil wars that killed 250,000 people and displaced a million more. In 2003, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace saw thousands of women flooding the streets and the markets, singing and praying for peace, forcing the fighting to end. Liberia went on to elect Africa’s first female president, the fierce Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Things were getting better, but it was going to be a huge fight.
The 32-year-old was already the wunderkind veteran of a string of successful high-growth technology start-ups in California’s Bay Area when he looked back, across the ocean, to Liberia, and began to wonder what he could do for his country of birth. Since 2008, Chid and a partner have successfully raised three million dollars to start Liberia’s first garment manufacturing factory.
He’s clear on the fact that it’s not charity, what they’re doing. It’s the real deal. It’s work, and prAna and Hagar are among the companies who have signed up to import their finished garments into the USA. Chid’s USA-based company Liberty and Justice owns 51 per cent of the factory and the women themselves own the other 49 per cent. Chid takes no profits; the excess funds go back into the community through the not-for-profit, Made in: Liberia, set up to work in conjunction with the for-profit company. The decisions about where the money should go—into improving schools, health care access, training—are voted on by the women workers themselves.
In his stark offices on the edge of the freezing Pacific, Chid talks a million miles a minute, laughing, waving his hands in the air. Outside, cars zoom by on the flyover. When I ask him how he can be so confident in the power of trade when the world seems to be going down the gurgler, he throws up his hands and says he doesn’t know, he can’t help it, he was born this way: ridiculously optimistic. Maybe they hit me, he says, I think I have this weird dent in my head, in the back of my head, maybe that’s where the skeptical part of my brain was hanging out.
It’s true. Chid Liberty isn’t the sort to listen to naysayers. How things were in the past might be important to him, but only so he can tell how fast we’re moving forward.