Southeast Asian fashion start-up Zilingo on Wednesday said it is launching a program in Indonesia, where it will provide microloans, vocational training and resources for women to run their own garment manufacturing businesses.
Those micro-businesses would receive and fulfill small-scale apparel orders from fashion brands on Zilingo's network. For its part, Zilingo will make money by taking a cut from every transaction.
Zilingo was founded in 2015 as an online marketplace where independent fashion and lifestyle retailers can sell directly to customers. Those retailers get access to suppliers from places like Bangladesh to procure their products, and Zilingo helps them with cross-border shipping, inventory management and customer service. Zilingo charges retailers commissions between 10% to 20%.
The program, called SheWorkz, is aimed at providing women with the resources and flexibility to return to the workforce, according to Zilingo CEO and co-founder Ankiti Bose.
"One of the biggest problems that we have, it's not only a social challenge but an economic challenge in Asia, is just how many women are not in the workforce," Bose told CNBC.
"And, there are several reasons for it — some are economic, but many are social. They've gotten married, they've had kids, they've fallen off the workforce."
Women made up about 38.9% of Indonesia's total labor force in 2018, while their participation rate was 52% compared to 82% for men, according to World Bank data.
Various studies have said having more women in the workforce can boost countries in their economic ambitions and help companies drive better profits.
The program is supported by Indonesia's ministry of economic affairs and state-owned lenders Bank Mandiri and Bank Negara Indonesia. For the pilot project, Bose said Zilingo will start with about 300 women who used to work for the start-up's manufacturing partners, but who eventually left the workforce. New participants will be sought out after that.
"What we're doing is going and extending them an option to work from their homes with all the facilities provided by us," Bose said. The goal is to increase the program's capacity to about 5,000 women in Indonesia over the next 12 to 18 months, she added.
If the program is successful in Indonesia, then Zilingo intends to bring it to other countries like India, which has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world.
Zilingo, which launched in the United States this month, has raised more than $308 million in funds and is backed by well-known names such as Sequoia Capital and Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings.