Ebonie Mukasa – The Challenges and Triumphs of Being a Miami Social Entrepreneur
Words & Images: Ilana Berman
Social entrepreneurs are the new philanthropists. They are individuals who, through innovative business practices, find solutions to the problems that vex our communities, states, and countries. Founder of CLOAK INC, Ebonie Mukasa, is a social entrepreneur committed to putting the mission before the money. Her journey has been one punctuated by challenges and change. But Mukasa’s faith in the transformative power of fashion has helped her overcome those roadblocks, to become one of Miami’s bright new stars of business.
“What I wanted to see, was in the fashion industry, clothing that represented more social responsibility,” says Mukasa, “I saw a lot of consumerism, images that represented brands were always discouraging to young women in the sense of acceptance, self-image.”
So she created CLOAK INC, a clothing brand driven by social initiative. CLOAK, by Mukasa’s definition, means to cover, or protect. In wearing the clothing, you are literally covering yourself, but also helping to cover those in need. With each purchase, CLOAK allocates 20% of the profit to a worthy cause.
The business model is not a new one. Consider the enduring (Red) and Breast Cancer Awareness initiatives. They partner with brands to raise awareness for select charities. But what is unique about CLOAK is their method of actualization. Mukasa releases her clothes in “Campaign Collections.” CLOAK supports not one charity or cause but shifts its focus as new needs in the community arise—From rebuilding Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, or curbing the rise of sex trafficking in South Florida.
The pool of causes CLOAK supports might be flexible, but its mission to cover those in need is undoubtedly firm. This is what gives Mukasa the strength to be an entrepreneur. “I am very shy, even though it doesn’t seem like it. I would prefer to be in the back. I’m someone who is often times insecure in even my ideas and creativity. But I on the other hand am this very tenacious, outspoken, innovative, committed person.” What is it that allows her to be that tenacious advocate for change? “It’s my purpose. You’re empowered when you decide to do something bigger with your talents and ideas, and that it helps others.”
Mukasa didn’t grow up thinking she would be a steadfast social entrepreneur. In fact, she wanted to be a veterinarian. There was a special moment when she knew she had to be a businesswoman. She was strapped in boots and overalls, trudging through the mud in a vast field thick with black cattle. Her animal science teacher at Tuskegee University warned her, “Watch out for the calves!” But Mukasa couldn’t see the small calf that felt she was a bit too close. With a swift kick, it knocked her to the ground. Mukasa lay there, in the muck, looking up at the sky and realized veterinary science wasn’t for her.
So she returned to her hometown of Miami and became what her grandmother always thought she’d be: a businesswoman. Like Miami, Mukasa has reinvented herself time and again, and finds the community as a safety net for her self-exploration. “When you’re a small outfit like mine, you’re gonna have some hiccups. And what I find is the community, is where you’re forgiven of that. They’re like, ‘Get up and try again.’”
In 2013, her resolve was tested when members of her creative team left to create their own business. Mukasa restructured the company, brought in new talent, and weathered the storm. What she learned from the experience was to have faith in her own abilities and vision. “I’m not comparing myself to people, which is one of the best things that I could have done last year was say, ok, don’t compare yourself to what you see out there. Just do what you envision.”
One of her most innovative visions has been the “Virtual March.” In 2011, some community members contacted Mukasa for help in organizing a march to commemorate the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. The logistics turned out to be too complex. So instead, Mukasa led a “Virtual March” on twitter. It involved moderators posting content about Haiti’s need for aid, every few minutes. Others were encouraged to post follow-ups, creating this wave of digital interaction that mimicked a physical march.
It is ideas like these that help address critical issues. Mukasa wants to encourage more such community development: “I hope more social entrepreneurs will step out and find the courage to follow their dreams. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It takes creativity, collaboration, asking and humility, because when you’re trying to do something bigger than yourself, it’s not about you.”
Mukasa’s mission-driven determination has set a precedent for budding social entrepreneurs in Miami, and there are no signs of her slowing down.
- Social entrepreneurship can activate positive change on large and small scales
- The creative community has a responsibility to address social issues
- To learn more about CLOAK INC, visit their website: www.cloakinc.com