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Everyday Advocacy

Get Involved in October: Expo 2016

What does ‘Love your neighbor’ even mean?

How do you love your neighbors when you don’t even know who they are?

Do you ever sense there are people in need right in your own community, but you have no idea where to begin to help them?

Have you ever felt God calling you to adopt or foster a child, support an adoptive or foster family, help a single mom, learn more about issues like human trafficking, work with refugees, or serve the poor and underserved right here in Pittsburgh?

This is the event for you.

It’s one day only, and it’s this Saturday, October 22.

Expo 2016 is a free conference featuring keynote speakers, breakout sessions, panels of people sharing their stories, and representatives from local and national organizations.

This year’s theme is Love Your Neighbor.

Who are your neighbors?

  • trafficking victims
  • foster children
  • refugees
  • single moms
  • foster families
  • orphans
  • adoptive families

Whether these are the kind of “neighbors” you know or have contact with on a daily basis, they are members of our community. Won’t you take the first step toward learning how to love them better? Won’t you take the time to listen to their stories?

Maybe you have friends or family members who have taken a step toward adopting or fostering and you want to support them, or maybe you’ve taken a step and started the adoption or foster care process. You’ll learn so much, I promise, and you’ll discover organizations and resources to help you every step of the way. Maybe you’ve always had a heart for refugees and want to learn how to help. You’ll find out how to partner with organizations that serve this community right here in Pittsburgh. Finally, maybe you’ve heard about the issue of modern-day slavery in the form of human trafficking but you thought it only happened in other countries. The breakout sessions focused on trafficking will shed light on this important and widespread problem and what you can do to make a difference now.

8 a.m.–3 p.m.
Saturday, October 22, 2016
North Way Christian Community
12121 Perry Highway, Wexford, PA 15090
Register online by Monday, October 17, or at the door the day of the event.

Schedule

You can find the complete schedule here. And check out the list of exhibitors!

Speakers

The keynote speakers are Bishop Aaron Blake and his son, Diego Fuller.

Bishop Aaron Blake and his wife were empty nesters having raised six children already when they opened their home and heart to one foster son, Diego. A year later, their home was filled with six teenage foster sons.

Diego Fuller was a troubled kid with a family who neglected him. He was a foster child whose life was forever changed when he became engrafted into the Blake family. He is now a nationally known gospel recording artist.

The complete list of speakers is available here.

Sharing is caring

Spread the word on social media, visit expo16.org for more information, register online today, and please stop by my table and say hi. I’ll be there representing Noonday Collection for the third year, and I can tell you from experience you do not want to miss this event.

See you Saturday!

Ethical Fashion Everyday Advocacy

Ethical Fashion: Our Clothes Tell a Story, Part 1 (of 2)

your clothes tell a story

Imagine this scenario:

You’re shopping at Target. That doesn’t require any imagination so scratch that; it doesn’t involve enough imagining. And your kids are definitely with you if you’re at Target, so there’s not a whole lot of actual shopping going on. Imagine you’re shopping in the designer jeans section at Macy’s with your best shopping friend. Not in the clearance section either, the full-price designer jeans.

All of a sudden your friend (who has seemingly become quite “enlightened” lately) tells you she knows for a fact XYZ Company employs forced labor to produce its jeans and that workers at its factories are often abused and paid a substandard wage. Would you try the jeans on? I’m going to guess no. How would you feel toward XYZ as a brand? You would be angry with them, right?

Now imagine you are approached by a researcher doing a study, and you’re asked to rate five brands of jeans that differ along four measures—the style (boot cut or regular cut), the wash (regular or dark), the price and, lastly, whether the company used child labor.

You’re told that due to time constraints, you can only view information about two of the four measures before you come up with your ranking. Be totally honest with yourself: Which two would you choose?

This was an actual experiment, conducted as part of a study by researchers at Ohio State and the University of Texas at Austin. The results were published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

When asked which two criteria they would use to rate the jeans, more than 85 percent of participants opted to not find out whether the company used child labor.

According to a write up about the study on NPR online,

“If we’re actually told that a specific product was produced in an unethical way, we won’t want to buy it. Yet given the choice, most of us would rather not know the backstory. We won’t make the effort to, say, download an app or check out a website that could give us ethical ratings of manufacturers. And the reason we avoid this extra checking-up is at least partly that we’re unconsciously afraid of being upset by what we’ll discover.”

The thing is, we likely would be upset by what we discover.

 

cheap clothes fast fashionThe fashion industry has changed dramatically in just the past 20 years, and not for the better.

Two reasons: Cheap clothes and fast fashion.

Clothes became cheaper because we started manufacturing them in developing countries, where production costs are a lot lower. Today we spend a much lower percentage of our incomes on clothes, around 3 percent, and produce them almost entirely overseas.

In 1960, the average American household spent 10% of its income on clothing and shoes, 95 percent of which were made in the United States.

Today, we import 98 percent of the clothing we purchase, so only 2 percent is made in the United States.

“Trendy clothing is cheaper than ever, and cheap clothing is trendier than ever.” —John Oliver

So the question becomes, how do the big brands compete when the clothing is so cheap? The answer is simple: large volume and low quality. To keep their prices really low, retailers have to sell a ton of clothes, and in order to sell a ton of clothes, brands have to produce them quickly and cost effectively. This is the essence of fast fashion retailers H&M, Forever 21, and Zara.

These retailers design clothes to fall apart. Their bottom line depends on it: They need you, the consumer, to buy often and in excess. The clothes typically only last a few washes before they start to fall apart, and then you have to go out and buy more.

Also because of fast fashion, we move through trends at lightning speed now. In the early 90s, there were two to four fashion cycles per year, they were centered around the seasons and planned months in advance. Today, there is no such thing as cycles, only trends, and they are changing constantly. H&M and Forever 21 receive new inventory every single day. This “trend cycle” explains why we feel like we can never catch up to the “it” style of jeans—is it the Boyfriend? Wait no, that was last fall or spring maybe? Now? It’s the Ex Boyfriend. I’m not kidding, look it up.

Add all of this together, and we’re buying way more clothes. According to the 2013 article “Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes,” In 1960, the average American bought fewer than 25 garments a year. In 1991, it was around 40. Today, each of us buys, on average 70 pieces of clothing per year, or more than one per week. That amounts to almost 20 billion garments per year, or around 28 percent of all the clothes in the world.

There’s a high environmental toll as well, because we’re throwing away more clothes than ever, overloading landfills and secondhand stores, which can’t keep up. Textile waste has increased by 40% since 1999. Appropriate to mention, because Earth Day is this week. We’re shielded from the environmental and human impacts because our clothing is being produced overseas—the problem is far away.

So hang with me, I’m about to bring it a little closer.

Cheap clothes equal cheap labor. According to Jenna Lusk in a May 2015 article for the Village Blog, most of our clothing is produced in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Most Chinese workers make about $1-$2.50 an hour; in Bangladesh it’s less than $1. It’s true the cost of living is lower in these countries, but these poverty wages don’t even begin to cover basic necessities like food and shelter. Women often work 14-16 hours a day just to meet their families’ basic needs, which doesn’t enable them to send their kids to school or save for the future.

“The reality is, the fashion industry is a 3 trillion dollar a year industry, and only 2% of apparel companies source from suppliers that pay their workers a fair and living wage.”—Shannon Whitehead in “The True Cost of Fast Fashion”

And wages aren’t the only problem. Sweatshops employ children to meet demand. Men, women, and children are victims of indentured servitude: As of 2016, there are an estimated 27-30 million people in slavery across the globe. Working and living conditions are often unclean and unsafe. Almost three years ago to the day, on April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza complex, which housed several garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,134 people and injuring 2,500, most of them women. The cause was substandard construction—adding floors on top of floors without proper support—and owners had been warned several times it wasn’t safe.

That’s hard to hear about. All of this is hard. The idea of children being forced to work, women being trafficked and enslaved, mothers and fathers being mistreated and underpaid just for trying to provide for their families, it’s very hard. The world is full of so much hard. We have enough to fight for in our own lives; we have enough difficulties facing us in our marriages, with our kids, at our jobs, in our finances. What’s wrong with a little willful ignorance every once in awhile?

Therein lies the problem. Because there are people behind the clothes we wear.

your clothes tell a story

Every item of clothing, every piece of jewelry, every accessory has a story to tell.

Every factory worker getting paid a substandard wage or being treated unfairly is a person, made in God’s image. And as Christians, we should care, and not only that, we should stand up for the vulnerable and advocate on their behalf.

Right about now you might be thinking, “This is all good information, ethical fashion lady, but what does it have to do with me?” or “Fashion? Seriously? She obviously doesn’t understand my life.” This does have something to do with you, I do understand your life, and I’m about to tell you about some very small steps you can take toward becoming a more conscious consumer.

Because “in order to make purchases that support our values, we must be willing to be conscious, thoughtful consumers—even if it means spending more on quality items.” (“The Case for Thoughtfully Buying Expensive Things”)

Excerpted from an April 21, 2016, presentation I gave on ethical fashion and continued here.

Everyday Advocacy Noonday Collection Start

Noonday Collection: The Start of Everything

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.”

SOURCE-+Noonday+CollectionAt 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.

Renal, Haitian metalworker

Renal, a Noonday Collection artisan [photo: Noonday Collection]

This bracelet, called the Briye, which means “shine” in Creole, is produced by the metalworking group in Haiti out of upcycled metal and leather.

Briye bracelet

Briye bracelet, kellysjol.noondaycollection.com [photo: Noonday Collection]

Latifa bracelet Noonday Collection

Latifa necklace, kellysjol.noondaycollection.com [photo: Noonday Collection]

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.


Visit kellysjol.noondaycollection.com to view the gorgeous spring/summer 2016 collection and purchase any time. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, contact me to host a trunk show. Interested in becoming a Noonday ambassador? Find out more here.
Everyday Advocacy

Start, or Why I’m Doing This When I Said I Never Would

a mommy and daughter

I tell my 4-year-old daughter all the time to never say never. Like the time she said “I never want to see my little sister ever again!” or when I said I would never have a blog, whatever.

I follow bloggers—mostly fashion, some mommy, some design, some business—and inevitably I compare my story to theirs and our family/house/financial situation to theirs, and I don’t want to share my stuff. This is why I say I will never start a blog. Never say never, Kelly. 

Humbly, prayerfully, I’m starting.

I’ll tell you why and why now in the coming days, but the short version is this: My heart was made new when I found Jesus, turned to mush when I met my husband, shattered when I lost my dad, and changed forever when I became a mother. Twice. To girls. I hoped I could coast for a while, at least until the toddler years were over. Then, on the same day in 2014, I was introduced to an organization (International Justice Mission) and a company (Noonday Collection) that wrecked me and my heart in the best way.

Now I know too much. About issues surrounding human trafficking and modern-day slavery and about everyday advocacy through ethical and Fair Trade fashion. But I also don’t know enough, and I haven’t done enough. This blog will record my attempt to start from where I am to change that. Because of and for my two daughters. Because we are all made free—created in God’s image and likeness to live out our purpose—but so many are not free. Because this is what I get for saying never.


Let not your heart be troubled: I plan to keep this as lighthearted as possible and to mix in our real life and humor. We live with a preschooler, a 2-year-old, and two cats. Funny things happen.