Aruna Project brings freedom to enslaved women, and MLA is proud to help. Founded by Ryan and April Berg, Aruna is an impact driven athleisure brand bringing and sustaining freedom to sex trafficking victims through employment marked by holistic care.
Through Aruna’s products and events, women the world over can bring lifelong freedom to victims of human trafficking while celebrating freedom in their own adventure.
“Aruna” means “bright morning sun” in Hindi. Becoming part of Aruna is the dawning of a bright new day for the women they free. They accomplish this mission by combining a US non-profit with Indian for-profit and non-profit entities. 70 women are now earning a living wage from Aruna having been freed from sex trafficking.
“We were very excited about our growth going into 2020 because it meant we could free more women,” says Aruna co-founder, Ryan Berg. “But then COVID-19 hit, and for the safety of the Artisans we had to close our production unit which meant production dropped to zero.”
India was hit hard by the pandemic, and in March the government ordered a nationwide lockdown. This closed all non-essential businesses including Aruna’s production facility. The Aruna team in India made the case that they could provide a safe environment for their workers and sometime later were given permission to operate at 10% capacity.
At the same time, Aruna in the US was experiencing the impact of the lockdown on sales. “We had to cancel our fundraising and awareness events, which were a big driver for our products,” Ryan says. “But we began to develop our online presence and saw a jump in online sales.”
Aruna had to work hard to get 10% of their workforce back into production. Public transportation is still not working, and many of the women are immuno-compromised because of their previous abuse. “I’m so proud of the women that are working during COVID,” Ryan said. “They are committed to the mission to help others and in turn are really working hard to meet production goals.” Now the question became how to best utilize the artisans they had.
A Challenge and An Opportunity
This presented a new opportunity for Aruna. Could they match their limited production capacity to the products that were selling well online? And how could they evaluate margins and update profitability to respond to changing demand and unforeseen challenges in production?
Ryan began looking for help, and was connected to MLA came through a mutual friend. MLA has expertise in finance which includes costing analysis, and also provides productivity and inventory control solutions. “We knew we could help Ryan,” stated Gary Wilkins, a Principal at MLA. “And Aruna’s mission is a great fit for our approach of Business Redeemed.”
Gary introduced Ryan to Bob Lynch, a Financial Advisory Principal and Outsourced CFO with extensive costing experience. Bob evaluated Aruna’s product cost calculations and confirmed to Ryan that they were solid. “Given all the variables within the unit structurals, it was a weight of my shoulders to know that we weren’t missing something obvious” Ryan said after talking to Bob. But that still didn’t provide the answer to Aruna’s challenge.
Gary next introduced Ryan to Ken Colvin, a Solutions Principal with expertise in applying Voice of the Customer data to production. In a meeting call with Ryan, Ken was able to help him think through how Aruna could change their current model. The outcome would allow them to better predict demand and design a process that would allow sales data to help set production.
The Right Solution
The solution MLA provided not only addressed Aruna’s short term challenge but offered a benefit for the long term. This new approach to production could create a greater sense of connection between Aruna’s customers and our artisans.
This resonated powerfully with Ryan, as that connection is what ultimately sustains Aruna. “We have started thinking about our products in terms of the of days of freedom they create,” he commented. “We want our customers to know their purchases are changing lives.”
MLA was able to help define a solution that fit with Aruna’s non-profit/for-profit approach. This has allowed Ryan and his team to respond to the challenge of COVID-19 while still building Aruna for the future.
“Financial stability is paramount to sustain lifelong freedom for those set free and to reduce the risk of trafficking young women in these impoverished areas,” Ryan states. “It may be tracking pennies, but the result is generations of wealth.”