This is a story about how I started.
None of this ethical fashion stuff was on my radar two years ago. Two years ago my babies were 1 and about to turn 3, and I was working as a freelance marketing director, editor and project manager for universities. So I was working mostly from home with very little childcare, which meant doing job and kids at the same time, plus the home stuff. So yeah, I was “busy.”
At the time I was involved in an online bible study through She Reads Truth, and one day one of the leaders posted about a trip she was going on to Rwanda—it was a storytelling trip with a group of well-known, popular bloggers and photographers. They were going there to meet with people who had survived the genocide to hear and tell their stories. I am obsessed with stories so I thought it was a cool concept, and I noticed it was sponsored by an organization called International Justice Mission and a company called Noonday Collection, so I researched both.
Noonday Collection grabbed me from the moment I discovered it. Within minutes of being on the website an overwhelming sense of urgency came over me. I thought “I have to be involved in this.” And then I saw it: “Host a trunk show,” and I thought, “Oh, crap.”
Noonday Collection is a socially responsible business that uses fashion to create meaningful opportunities around the world.
It started when Jessica Honegger and her husband Joe, who already had two young kids, were in the process of adopting a son from Rwanda. They were temporarily living in Kampala, Uganda, and got to know another American couple that was there starting sustainable businesses. Through that couple they met another couple, Jalia and Daniel, who had two kids they couldn’t afford to house and could barely afford to feed. They were college educated, unemployed, and homeless, but they could make jewelry out of paper beads. Jessica purchased some of the jewelry the local men and women had made and took it home with the intent to sell it to her friends at a trunk show to help raise funds for the adoption.
Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined what the response would be, or what the Lord was preparing her for. Her friends went crazy, and she ordered more jewelry, and more, and more, selling it out of her car, until she ultimately decided to partner with her friend and sustainable business expert Travis Wilson. They started a company, focused on partnering with artisan businesses around the world to create opportunities for dignified work in vulnerable communities. Four years later, I ended up on that company’s website.
Not only did I host a trunk show (something I NEVER thought I’d do), but I became an ambassador—the first one in the entire western half of Pennsylvania.
After many sleepless nights of sensing God was calling me to something impossible given the demands on my time, I gave it to Him and submitted my application at 11:30 p.m., hoping to get some sleep. I had zero interest in anything direct sales, no extra time, and my “background in fashion” consisted of some retail experience and attending fashion shows with my mom, who worked at Saks Fifth Avenue. Like I said earlier, that was two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing or what I was in for, and I’ve never looked back.
I have learned the stories of the people behind the accessories I wear. Stories of people like Renal, who ran his own metalworking workshop and store in Haiti until it was completely wiped out when Hurricane Sandy hit. After months without work and no way to support his wife and young son, he heard about opportunities for good-paying, long-term work for craftsmen through a Noonday business partner. Noonday’s orders were the first he got, and they provided him with enough income to get his business back up and running. Not only that but he was able to repair his broken-down truck, which he now uses to take his son and other neighborhood kids to and from school. Having a working vehicle is a big deal in Renal’s community, and he’s thrilled to be able to give back.This bracelet, called the Briye, which means “shine” in Creole, is produced by the metalworking group in Haiti out of upcycled metal and leather. Latifa was 16 years old when her parents could no longer afford to educate her. She went to the capital of Uganda, Kampala, to look for work and ended up on the streets selling whatever she could find to survive. A man took her in and informally married her, but he also abused her. She got pregnant at 17. By 21, she couldn’t take it anymore and left with her son and young daughter, who was sick. She was alone with no way to support herself, and everyone told her to just give up her kids. She adamantly refused to abandon her children. She met Jalia and Daniel, who now had a thriving business that employed over 100 people. They invited her in and allowed her to do housework. Latifa was so determined and had such a strong work ethic that she quickly rose through the ranks until she was put in charge of quality control for the entire workshop. She now runs her own side business selling charcoal and is able to afford a house and education for her kids.
Today, Noonday Collection partners with 29 artisan businesses in 12 countries, directly impacting more than 4,000 artisans and nearly 20,000 family members.
My work with Noonday and everything I’ve learned about ethical fashion and poverty and issues like human trafficking have had an impact on my family as well.
My girls see me in another role besides mommy who works on her laptop at home. My now 4-year-old understands that people in other countries hand make the pieces I sell and that many of these people are mommies like hers who are working to take care of their kids. She watched me as I participated in a movement called Dressember and wore a dress every day in December to raise money for organizations that fight to end human trafficking. My girls are growing up in a much smaller world than I did thanks to the Internet, and I want to be the first example they have of what it looks like to do for others, even those in other countries. Not only that but they’re starting to love jewelry too.