POPE Francis inspired a business model that’s helping save the environment, support fairer workplaces and promote faith-filled messages.
Servi Store co-founder Ajesh Abraham read the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you”) and took seriously the call to greater care of the environment and its people.
“As we were reaching the final stages of the creation of Servi Store it was providential that Pope Francis released Laudato Si’,” Mr Abraham said.
“The encyclical has been a major inspiration especially the quote from the chapter on Integral Ecology that states: ‘Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature’.
“We try and incorporate this into our business strategy.”
With a mandate to “create products to inspire” the graphic designer and a small team of supporters had already developed a following through clothing with positive messages.
“The whole journey started with T-shirts,” Mr Abraham said.
“(And) in the process of trying to source the T-shirts, we happened to learn about the unfair labour practices in the apparel manufacturing industry.
“We also heard about the damage to the environment by the use of pesticides and other industrial methods in cotton farming.
“We decided to make a difference and source our T-shirts without hurting people and the environment.”
Launched at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide in December 2015, Servi Store is now a “fully Fair Trade-certified supply chain using only organic cotton”.
Operating from Melbourne, the faith-filled designer is supported by his wife Mayrose Abraham who took charge of marketing and promotions.
Together Ajesh and Mayrose have three sons – Luke, 6, Marc, 4, and Matthew, 2.
Co-founder of Servi Store Alvin Kuriakose brings his financial expertise and Brisbane-based engineering student Tony Jojo, his skills as a social media strategist.
They’ve designed products beyond T-shirts too, including tote bags and longer-sleeved options.
Asked if Servi Store was “more than a job” Mr Abraham agreed and said its operations were “based on Catholic social teachings”.
“We strive to sell trendy products made by people treated fairly,” he said.
“We also try to avoid the heavy price tag which is normally associated with organic cotton.
“At the same time we are committed to protecting nature and we use inspirational quotes from Catholic saints as artworks on our products.”
Mother Teresa is one such saint who continues to inspire.
“One of our best-selling T-shirts is inspired by Mother Teresa with her quote, ‘Peace begins with a smile’,” Mr Abraham said.
This design wasn’t part of their “initial plan” however.
“Before we launched the business, we went to Kolkata (India) to visit one of our factories,” Mr Abraham said.
“We visited the Mother House (of the Missionaries of Charity) for a day. It was very intense for me, visiting Mother Teresa’s tomb and room and seeing the work the sisters are doing.
“I prayed deeply on that day for my desire to start Servi Store and about the plans we made so far. Deep within I wanted to resonate Mother Teresa’s life and work.”
Mr Abraham said the “Peace begins with a smile” T-shirt was their “best seller”.
Other adult T-shirt quotes include, “The future starts today, not tomorrow”, from St John Paul II and St Theresa of Avila’s “One who makes no mistakes, makes nothing”.
A popular children’s T-shirt quote has been St Augustine’s “You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones”.
Servi Store was a popular stop at last month’s Ignite Conference in Brisbane, with about 150 T-shirts sold.
“People love the feel of organic cotton, love the designs and are totally inspired by the quotes from the saints,” Mr Abraham said. “It’s a full package, all in one.”
Servi Store founders and their families are active Catholics and part of Jesus Youth, a Catholic lay movement approved by the Holy See.
Mr Abraham is inspired not only by Pope Francis and St (Mother) Teresa but also by the legacy of St John Paul II.
“Pope John Paul II is the biggest inspiration for my creative and entrepreneurial endeavours,” he said.
“The late pope’s life and legacy as an actor, athlete-turned-pope, destroyer of communism, man of intense prayer, founder of World Youth Day, and pope of the family motivates me.”
So too does Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists and the book, The Pope and the CEO, by Andreas Widmer.
“The book is about how working as a Swiss Guard under John Paul II inspired the writer later on in life to be an effective entrepreneur,” Mr Abraham said, “(And) this, in turn, also inspired me.”
The ongoing hope is to “continue to spread inspiration” through Servi Store products with a commitment to “fair-trade merchandise in Catholic circles”.
They intend to continue to donate five per cent of sales to a “specific mission or cause”.
“Currently we support the Marist Blues in Aleppo, Syria, in their mission to provide relief to displaced families and communities,” Mr Abraham said.
Asked which T-shirt he’d choose to send to Pope Francis, Mr Abraham laughed out aloud.
“Of all the questions you have asked this is the one I need to think about the most,” he said.
“I would send Mother Teresa’s ‘Peace begins with a smile’ as Pope Francis approaches anyone with a message of joy and the peace of a smile.”
For more information about Servi Store visit www.servistore.com.au or call Mr Abraham on 0411 167 155.
By Selina Venier