AION Founder Michael Massie
Company Helps Local Craftsmen Grow Businesses Across the Globe: AION Founder Michael Massie
Written by Kelli Gillespie
AION, (pronounced eye-on) consists of a group of designers focusing on adventure and nature to create a community across the globe for fair-trade clothing. Founder Michael Massie emphasizes that the company collaborates with local craftsmen in various cities worldwide to help them grow their businesses. AION is currently working people in Bali, Indonesia to produce T-shirts, hats and beanies with proceeds helping to support a local orphanage.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: How did the idea for AION develop?
Michael Massie: Basically, I was reading a book and the author was talking about the meaning of aion being heaven now, and elevating people up, and I was really inspired by that way of thinking instead of just waiting. As a Christian, you die and go to Heaven, but why not do something now that produces something good.
Risen Magazine: AION has a tagline: We put people before profits…What does this mean?
Michael Massie: When we were over in Indonesia, or when we first started in Nepal, it was more about giving somebody an opportunity; an opportunity to feel productive, an opportunity to grow their business and to give them a way out [of their dire situation.] At first we were working with women from the sex trade industry and it was to give them a job. Now we are working with little manufacturers on the island of Bali and it gives them a chance to create orders and grow their business. We’ve also helped them with machinery like sewing machines and such as they don’t have the capital to grow their business with the machines they have.
Risen Magazine: How did you decide what type of products to produce?
Michael Massie: My background is graphic design. I worked for Ocean Pacific, and other clothing and apparel companies and I’ve designed for them. Everything from their T-shirt designs, to their website, marketing and collateral. So that’s taking my gifting to create something positive now.
Risen Magazine: How do you find/select the Indonesian people that are actually making the clothing?
Michael Massie: Some of them already have little shops. Like our beanie guy has a shop where he is selling beanies, sweaters and knits; but to him, it’s a struggle trying to sell that stuff in Indonesia because the weather is pretty warm. But Indonesian people ride scooters a lot, and even though it’s warm outside, they still cover-up with jackets and beanies because of the wind. So finding someone like that and coming alongside to provide them more sales channels allows them to produce more business. I find people like that through friends. I initially found that guy through a friend that has lived in Bali for 30 years and she helped me find the first few people. Now every time I go back there, I meet more people. Every time I leave the island, I leave with more friends; they are very friendly people.
Risen Magazine: Being there, what is culture like? How can making these items literally change the life of the workers in Bali?
Michael Massie: What is really neat about working with the people of Indonesia is that as an owner, I get to work directly with them. When I go over there, I’m hands-on when they are screening shirts, I’m going over the neck label with the seamstress, I’m making sure the fabric and the trim are right depending on the style, so there is a relationship that a lot of manufacturers, especially in China, can’t share. There is a real sense of transparency and it makes the workers feel like they are part of a family and not just a part of some giant corporation.
It’s not about throwing money at people; it’s about [building] a relationship and giving them sustainability. People want to know where their clothes are being made. I think American Apparel has set a standard for that by making sweat shop-free clothing in the United States. And on a boutique scale, we are doing that in Indonesia.
Risen Magazine: Tell me about how your personal faith has led to proceeds supporting a local Christian orphanage.
Michael Massie: The lady, Susan, who had introduced me to some of these people, is an American who has lived in Bali for 30 years. She supported a Christian orphanage and got me involved with that. It was important to me because Christianity is the minority religion there. On the island of Bali there are three religions: Hinduism, primary Balinese religion, then there are Muslims, and that is followed by Christianity. It’s pretty interesting. So it was really great to be able to support them. We have given nearly 500 kids T-shirts, money and supported them with necessities, and that has really just begun. We are trying to set it up to where it’s an ongoing thing.
Exclusive interview originally published in Risen Magazine, Winter 2013
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