When I first became a Noonday Collection Ambassador in 2012, we celebrated the graduation of 11 ladies from sewing school, who later formed a co-op called “Umucyo” (in Kinyarwandan that means “Light”). I’ve known their faces and names ever since, and shared their stories whenever I could. I’ve dreamed about meeting them in person… and last month that dream became a reality when I traveled to Rwanda for 10 days with 7 other women from Noonday Collection! The ladies of Umucyo sew beautiful bags made from brightly colored Dutch wax print cotton and they’ve found community and redemption through their employment. This is just one of the many stories from our journey.
She sat patiently while all of her friends had their nails painted and their hair done. Content to go last, Solange didn’t seem to mind the wait. The Umucyo ladies had arrived at the salon early in the morning wearing their favorite outfits. They were surprised to learn that we were treating them to manicures, pedicures, and hair treatments, and then eating lunch together at a nearby restaurant!
Our knees were nearly touching as we sat across from each other. Without a common language to speak, the best we could do when the translator walked away was speak the universal language: smiles and laughter. I playfully picked up one of Solange’s hands and pretended that I was giving her a manicure, imitating the aestheticians next to me.
Immediately I apologized if I had hurt her, to which she waved her arm in dismissal. The room grew silent and time seemed to stop as she continued her story. “It was the genocide. They were running after me and I fell to the ground.” Solange held out both arms and made a motion to show how she braced for impact with her hands. “I didn’t see the cliff there and I fell. There were many of us running from them. I lay on the ground for a long time and hid. So my wrist stayed in this position and healed like that. It still hurts sometimes and it’s hard for me to sew.” Not sure what to say, I took both of her hands in mine and kissed her left wrist, wishing it to be healed.As we traveled through Rwanda, I tried to remember that every single person we encountered was impacted in some way by the genocide in 1994. Anyone over the age of 21 was alive then. Many have relocated from the surrounding countries of Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, Burundi, or Kenya where their families fled: either during the 1959 genocide or 1994.
Oh, so much hurt in one place… and so much healing. What we saw in the faces of the Umucyo women was not sorrow, but JOY and HOPE! Many of them were single mothers and several had taken in children who lost their parents. They are strong, determined women who often travel over an hour each way to the sewing co-op, taking multiple buses to get there.
Never a complaint on their lips, always gratitude.
Solange: “I am so thankful for Noonday Collection for helping me have this job. Before, my kids suffered so much from hunger and I could not pay school fees for all of them. Now because I am earning, they are well fed and they are all in school.”
Mary Sunshine: “I want to tell you that we can thank God and wish you to continue praying so that we may continue with this job…. And we have this vision to increase (hire) more ladies.”
Bella: “I am thankful to be here. I really needed this job.”
Friends, if you’ve ever purchased a Noonday Collection piece, or even better, created a marketplace by hosting a trunk show, this gratitude is for you!! Every time we make a clothing or accessory purchase, we can choose to use our money to make a difference in someone’s life. Not by giving a handout, but by empowering women who are using their skills and talents to create something by hand to sustain their families.hosting a trunk show or becoming Noonday Collection Ambassador, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! And as always, you can purchase unique, handmade accessories that are life-giving and life-changing here.
Want to support the Umucyo women in particular? They make gorgeous Beach Bag that can be used in so many ways… at the farmer’s market, to carry library books, as a gym bag… the possibilities are endless!
In Style & Love,
Happy Wednesday fair trade fashion fans!
A few weeks ago I was involved in a really fun, inspiring event in Annapolis and I just had to share it with you! It was a fashion show that combined many of my favorite things in one place: local boutiques, fair trade accessories, and a charity event for a good cause! My friend Michele of Fashion Karma produces this fashion show every year called Strut and Sip for Autism. The mission is to raise funds for locally based organizations providing therapeutic services to children and adults with Autism. She asked if she could feature some Noonday Collection accessories on the runway, and of course the answer was YES!
It was so incredible to work with her for about 2 hours one afternoon, styling all of the outfits that she pulled from local Annapolis boutiques! I learned so much about current trends and what goes on behind-the-scenes at a fashion show.
On the night of the big event I joined one of my Noonday Collection hostesses and her friends on the red carpet:
We had the best time sitting in the front row, clapping and cheering as we recognized all of the Noonday Collection pieces on the runway! I imagined the artisans sitting there right next to me, seeing their handmade work under the big lights!
At the end of the show, Michele walked down the runway with her daughter Lydia, who she says is her inspiration and encouragement.
Such a beautiful moment! I really was so honored to be a part of such an amazing night!
In style & love,
(all photos by The Annapolis Photographer)
I have a confession to make: I’m not what you’d typically refer to as a “fashionista.” All of these pics you’ve seen on the blog of me so far? Totally outside of how I normally look! On any given day, you’ll find me like this: in running clothes.
(my friends are all nodding in agreement right now)
This. Is. Me.
There’s almost nothing more I love than going for a nice long trail run with a friend or two. No running watch or Garmin device, no training plan. Just plain old running, Forrest Gump style.
So when we made the move from Florida to Maryland earlier this year, I knew I needed to find some new, warmer running clothes STAT. No way am I giving up outdoor running once the temps start dropping!
But of course, you know me: any clothing purchase needs to have a purpose behind it…
So I was so thrilled to find Janji!
JANJI MEANS “PROMISE” IN MALAY: Our promise is to use the power of running to fight the global water crisis.
It was love at first sight for me with this running apparel company: I quickly decided to order a new pair of tights and a long sleeve shirt!
The tights are so super comfy and warm… like seriously warm!! They feel kind of fleecy on the inside. Zippers at the bottom for easy on and off. Elastic waistband on top for flexible fit (check their size charts before you order). Zippered pocket in the back for your car key. Perfect.
Also? The purchase of these tights provides water for 3 YEARS to one person in Tanzania!! Amazing. You can learn more about the water projects they support here.
My long sleeve top is made of a soft, moisture-wicking blend. I love the water logo and red stitching at the bottom. It’s the little things!
My shirt is providing 1 week of clean water to a person in the United States through the DIGDEEP organization. I love how you can choose your clothing based on a particular country that you want to support…
Do you feel drawn to Haiti, Rwanda, Peru, Kenya? They’ve got a shirt and pair of shorts just for you!
While Janji is not “fair trade,” they are most definitely a socially-conscious company that aims to make a difference in the world. They pay attention to the important things, like manufacturing practices and fair wages for their workers (which goes to show that a “made in China” tag is not always a bad thing):
Janji manufactures over 95% of our clothing at a small, family-owned sportswear factory in Guangdong Province, China which has been owned and operated by two brothers since 2009. The strong partnership between Janji and our factory is rooted in our shared values concerning the importance of fair working conditions and high quality apparel construction.
I can totally vouch for the quality of my new gear and it’s safe to say that I’ll be purchasing more from Janji in the future to add to my running wardrobe! I have my eye on the running jacket and their cute new headbands!
Happy trails, running fashionistas!
In style & love,
Hey y’all. I don’t know what’s happened this morning. I guess there really is a crack in everything and that is how light gets in… this post isn’t about fashion or informing you on the next place to spend your dollars to make them count. This one is a bit deeper, transparent, and I’m just going to hit “publish” at the end. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;)
Have you ever gone searching for mementos (not the candy, although they ARE good)? But you know what I mean… you just get this thing… this longing to go looking through old love notes or cards to be reminded of something that you feel like you’ve lost? You just want to rekindle those feelings (which I often rely to heavily upon).
I can read The Bible and be reminded of God’s love, His compassion, His mercy… I can even share my now old, as in “past,” infertility testimony and I do get that swell of emotion at His faithfulness. But, if I’m being honest, sometimes, those things just don’t really cut it. They don’t make you excited about the season you’re in (usually that’s a pretty stinky season). I haven’t especially enjoyed this one I’ve been in. It’s been hard. It feels like I am constantly reminded that I’m in this maturing stage. The one where you don’t see the crazy (super)natural growth happening. The one where you have to ACTIVELY CHOOSE joy/love/hope/perseverance. I want it to just come without any cost to me: It always has in the past. But it seems these mid-30’s, or just this part of my faith walk, are not being too kind. They are requiring more of me than I’ve had to pay before. Things are shifting and changing and never have I felt more the words of Robert Frost “Two roads diverged in a wood…” AND I HAVE TO CHOOSE WHICH ROAD TO TRAVEL!!
I got a sweet reminder today from a friend who saw something I wrote in 2013, which wasn’t that long ago chronologically, but feels like an eternity ago in every other way. Again, if I’m being honest, it feels like I’ve back tracked. It’s like I was reading a book, laid it down right as it was getting good, and lost my place. I’ve tried picking it back up but nothing’s making sense. I almost can’t even remember the plot line for Pete’s sake! Has that happened to you?? Then, it’s like, you either write the whole book off and say “oh well… maybe someday I’ll start over and then I’ll finish it.” But often, it seems, you never do.
The problem is that book that I laid aside? It’s MY LIFE. With all the dog eared pages, and the parts that I want to read over and over (and sometimes over) again because they’re just SO GOOD. And I’ve kind of cast it aside (I do this so often in my every day life. I seriously have multiple books hanging on the sides of couches and chairs throughout our home). It’s like I’ve left it open to the page I was last reading, and then I checked out. I got distracted… tired… scared. I may call it guarding my heart or guarding my time or whatever but this morning it looks like I just got lazy. Like I counted the cost and said “meh… I’ll just stop reading right here. I’ll pick up another book and start that. Maybe someday I’ll come back and finish this one. It’s getting good, but I’m scared of what’s going to happen to the main characters!! I’m not sure if this ends the way I’d write it! So maybe I won’t finish it and in MY head, it’ll go as I wish.”
Wow. This is so off topic for what y’all usually come here to this blog for… As I mentioned when I sat down, I can’t explain why I’m “going there” today in this blog post. That reminder from my sweet friend from 2013 really got some things stirred up. I’ve been wrestling for a while believing that, in the end, I would come out on top, but not being willing to surrender. I think the greatest (seeming) oxymoron of following Jesus is that sometimes you have to lose, to gain. May I be a humble “loser” (which really means winner). May I, today, decide to be one who gives over the pen to the Author of Life, picks that book back up and finds my place. And my prayer be “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee…”
If you too, are feeling this way, join me! I need accountability partners!
(here is my original memento that got me going today… Oh to live as “Haiti Brandi”)
Hey fair trade fashionistas!
I’m not sure what the weather’s like where you are, but here in Maryland, temperatures are dropping and fall is in the air!! Having just moved here from Florida earlier this year, I’m not quite used to the cold temps yet… and my first instinct is to run out and grab a scarf, put on jeans & boots, and bundle up!
What if every time you put on a scarf in the morning, you were providing HOPE to someone who needs it most?
Instead of buying a scarf at the mall or Target this year, I’d love for you to consider purchasing a scarf (or four!) from this wonderful artisan group that I just learned about: it’s called Daughters of Hope.
Daughters of Hope is a fair trade, social enterprise based in South India that provides training and employment to impoverished women. Daughters provides not only a safe and healthy work environment, but provides family support in many ways through free childcare, free healthy lunches, savings plans, insurance, and much more.
The women that work at Daughters of Hope come from difficult backgrounds: most live below the poverty line, have been widowed, abandoned, abused, or exploited. Most have little education or training, but they’re hired by DOH and provided with training and much more!
They create beautiful infinity scarves made from saris (traditional garments worn by women in southern Asia)- so each one is unique, soft, carries with it a beautiful story. They also sew bags using the saris as accents and to make the straps!
My good friend Chelsea, of Do a Little Good (check out her blog post about one of the ladies at DOH), and I got together last week in downtown Annapolis to do some product shots of these gorgeous scarves and bags!
I was really impressed with the quality of these scarves! I love all of the different patterns and colors!
Of course, I’m wearing my jade striped Root Collective flats. Of course. :)
These are the straps I was telling you about! They’re braided using strips of fabric from actual saris. So neat!!
These scarves are perfect for casual, every day wear… or dressing up! So light and easy to throw on.
All jewelry shown is Noonday Collection! I love pairing accessories from companies with one common goal: to alleviate poverty and provide opportunities to artisans around the world!
This scarf: the colors!! So vibrant and fun!
More braided straps and pops of color:
Okay, are you ready for the best news of all? The scarves are only $12 each! Because they’re made with upcycled saris, no two are alike. They recommend you purchase them in groups of 2 or 3 so you have a variety of colors! I honestly loved every single one that I tried on.
And make sure to check out the bags too… they’re really affordable as well and tell a great story with all of the sari accents!
Let’s change our shopping habits so that we’re buying products like these that give LIFE and HOPE! We can all “do a little good” every day! If you buy one, let us know what you get!
In style & love,
October is Fair Trade Month and we want to make the most of it here at the fair trade fashionistas. My favorite excuse for shopping fair trade fashions is based in the quote by Anne Lappe “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I constantly remind my husband (the CFO of our household) that there are already lots of dollars that go towards making the world worse, and I must uphold my duty for good. (I’m sure you can imagine the reaction to that!;)) In my pondering recently, I have been reminded of something amazing. This fair trade/ethical fashion movement is what happens when Love hijacks your shopping. Want an example?
My friend Beth is a mom of three. She has chosen to stay at home with her children and home schools. She lives modestly while striving to make her purchasing dollars count. Like many of us, she still wants to dress fashionably, even if it’s not for “show.” She had bought three pair of “cute shoes” not too long ago. When she heard about Otto and The Root Collective, this is what she did:
See these three pair of darling shoes? They are going back to the non fair trade store they came from so I can purchase a pair Otto made instead. Thanks Shannon and Brandi for reminding me that our purchases are powerful and thank you Bethany for giving us cute shoes and the chance to make a difference!
What makes any woman sacrifice THREE pairs of shoes to cover the cost of ONE pair? The answer is akin to the Cinderella story – where the purpose and destiny of life is tied up in shoes.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Otto. He grew up in the slums of La Limonada, a unique neighborhood located in Guatemala City, Guatemala. There he endured many challenges: poverty, social stigma, and a prevalent gang culture. Like many in his community, Otto had two choices – go to school or join a gang. There are no other choices. Young, idle minds must find an outlet. If your parents cannot afford to pay school fees, you’ll find SOMETHING to occupy your mind. With gang culture rampant in this slum community on the outskirts of the city dump, you join willingly, or you are “persuaded” to join.
I don’t know the details of how Otto came to be a member of a gang, but he did. He made bad choices. Gang life in Guatemala City is just like we hear about gang life here: weapons, theft, and fighting rival gangs. But Otto had another story to be written.
One day on a public bus, his heart was changed. He had an encounter and knew that this was a lifestyle he must leave. He jumped off the bus and ran… and ran… and ran… eager to escape the mistakes he had made and desperately seeking an alternative way of life. He experienced a real transformation when he stopped running and found his acceptance outside of the gang.
In his new life, using shoe-making skills he learned as a 10 year old, he felt burdened to make shoes for kids in his community – Children going to school or for local kids in orphanages. He set about his task, creating shoes for children who deserve a life with more than only a of couple options.
He is good at his trade and then began making shoes for tourists, and finally, with The Root Collective. His shoes go on to find hundreds of feet and his passion grows to provide opportunity to many in his community. And EVEN THOUGH his son has been paralyzed due to gang activity, Otto longs to mentor and help mold futures for the young men in his community who live that lifestyle. Because HE KNOWS a life beyond gang activity and beyond bondage to poverty, he longs to mentor others in the art of shoemaking and show them there is another choice. And guess what? When Love hijacks our shopping and we buy those shoes? It helps bring those dreams a little closer to reality.
I guess what I’m saying is this: when you buy shoes from The Root Collective, you are holding in your hands the most dangerous weapon to come out of the gang culture of La Limonada: weapons forged by Love, and likely worn in it too. You make the conscious choice to side with Love when you shop ethically. And that my friends? Is the best hope we have, not only for the poverty stricken slums of Guatemala, but for the world we live in because Love never fails.
Brandi Mendenhall is a wife and mom, fair trade advocate, blogger, and Noonday Collection Ambassador. She prides herself on being a conscientious consumer, fair trade fashionista (which doesn’t even require her to get out of her PUNJAMMIES(™) ), and a lover of shoes. Her goal is to educate consumers on using their purchasing power for good and as a very practical way to love their neighbor (even when they don’t live on the same continent).
>>This post previously appeared on The Root Collective blog<<
It is so important to me to be an informed consumer and to make a statement with the dollars I spend- whether it’s supporting a talented artisan, women working in a workshop, or safe working conditions in a factory.
Happy Wednesday lovely readers! I know I’ve apologized profusely for our lack of blog-posting the last few months, but now that the kiddos are back in school, we’re energized and ready to get back on the fair trade front lines! Want to know what we were up to all summer?
Well, on June 16th, Brandi and I boarded a plane to heaven. Yep, we left the Newark airport and 5 hours later, we landed in heaven.
Okay, so it wasn’t heaven, but it sure felt like it! Did you have any idea that Guatemala was so beautiful? I certainly wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking it would be!
Unfortunately, despite the beauty, Guatemala’s history is full of earthquakes, volcanoes, civil wars, high crime rates, and a lack of infrastructure that makes it difficult for it’s people to rise out of poverty.
However, what Guatemala does have is a history rich in culture, heritage, and tradition! We were excited to travel to Guatemala with Noonday Collection to meet with our artisan groups that create gorgeous scarves and bracelets.
Their traditions of weaving and beadwork have been passed down generation to generation, and the amount of time and skill required to make each piece was simply amazing!!
I honestly could write an entire blog post about each one of the products, the unique materials used, and how they’re made (and maybe one day I will!) but today I want to focus on what I learned from the artisans we met on this trip.
We met with 4 different artisan groups (2 weaving and 2 beading) and we were intentional about spending time with each one. Learning their names, talking about their families (and our own), and hearing their stories, the good and the bad. We learned that communities had been torn apart by natural disasters (one mentioned lava from a volcano) and guerrilla warfare (their most recent civil war ended in 1996). There were families with 8 or more kids, some with special needs. Girls who had no school to attend after 5th grade. Children denied the opportunity of education in order to sell fruit or other goods on the street.
Working with artisan groups that partner with Noonday Collection has provided each of them an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and create a pathway to a better life for their families.
The one word I kept hearing over and over again was CONSISTENT. As in, “Thank you for the consistent work.”
Here’s a quote from Rosario, the lead artisan of one of the beading groups (they make the beautiful Laguna Cuff)!
If each woman could tell their story they would tell you a story of need. From abandonment, to poverty, from natural disasters or people that lost their homes, sometimes someone just needs a leg up. We can help them develop this ability and offer them a chance to join this group.
We have 50 employees and they each have family at home working too.
The work is sustainable, consistent.
When they didn’t have work it’s hard. Noonday sends consistent orders.
We’re working on the biggest order ever. A holiday order!
It was apparent from the moment we arrived in Guatemala that there are many, many skilled artisans there. The streets were full of colorful huipil blouses and corte skirts handmade by the women, and markets full of vibrant scarves and paintings. As you can imagine, as soon as we stepped into the central courtyard in Antigua our group of 12 (very tall!) American women was approached immediately by vendors looking to sell their wares. Many of them were children not much older than my own.
Selling products to tourists on the street, as well as in the markets, is the only hope that most artisans in Guatemala have for income each day. I talked with our friend Olivia (did you see her guest blog post?) more about life in the market to gain some insight into that way of life. She spent a few months living and working closely with locals and had so much to share:
They are working there basically seven days a week, twelve hour days (at the very least). When it isn’t tourist/mission trip season, they are extremely slow and barely make anything. Usually things go really well for about the two months during the summer of June and July and they make great wages. But, the other ten months of the year, they hardly make enough to survive. It ends up being extremely hard those months because on any given day, they have no idea if they’re going to go home with a lot of money or nothing at all.
This is why Noonday Collection is making a huge difference in the lives of artisans! By creating a marketplace in the United States for the talented men and women in Guatemala (and in other countries!), we’re able to provide consistent orders all year round that aren’t dependent on the weather or tourist season. Many of the artisans in the groups that we met with are paid a daily wage, or a salary, that they can count on. This a complete game changer for their families: now they no longer fear what will happen the next day or whether they’ll have food for their families. They can maybe save for a new home, or start up a new business. Kids can be sent to school instead of out into the street to sell fruit or other goods- and the cycle of poverty ends for that family as they begin to invest in the future.
Here is what we heard from Angelica, the lead artisan of one of the weaving groups:
Thank you for the consistent work that you give us. There is a lot of competition in the market and many times women do not get paid for their work. It does not even cover living expenses. But with your orders we are paid well. I just couldn’t even thank you enough. It has helped our families so much. Because it’s sure work. I know when I make one of these scarves it is going to sell. We’ve been able to help our kids and our family. Our kids are able to go to school. Please keep fighting for them.
This is Angelica and the lovely scarf that’s named after her (it’s a top seller!):
Meeting with our artisans in Guatemala, being welcomed into their workplaces and homes with hugs and kisses and sometimes homemade food and handmade gifts, and just spending time with each of them is something I’ll never forget! I loved every minute and was so honored to be a part of it all.
Want to be a part of something big too? Have you checked out Noonday’s new fall lookbook?? So many gorgeous new pieces handcrafted by our friends in Guatemala and all over the world! You can use your purchasing power for GOOD by shopping online or opening up your home for a trunk show!
Rosario compared all of us to a team of ants: each with a different job, working together towards a common goal. Noonday Collection is able to alleviate poverty only through the amazing skills of the artisans, and the work of the ambassadors, hostesses, and customers creating a market here in the US. Join us!
In style & love,
Well hello fair trade fashion fans!
Hope you have all had a wonderful and restful summer! Many apologies for the lack of blog posts this summer… Brandi and I have been traveling to Guatemala, spending time at the beach with our families, and just relaxing and reflecting on the many blessings in our lives!
But I wanted to make sure you knew about all of the awesome summer SALES going on right now with many of our favorite fair trade companies! Now’s the perfect time to grab some great deals on clothes, shoes, and accessories as everyone’s gearing up for the upcoming fall and winter season, and clearing out their supply of summer things! Go ahead and stock up for next year!
Sseko Designs – http://ssekodesigns.com/
Take 20% through August 22nd with the code SUMMERSTEALS
I’ve been wearing these Sseko T-strap sandals ALL. SUMMER. LONG. and I love them!! They have lots of different accessories to choose from, so you can change the look to match your outfit!
Raven + Lily – http://www.ravenandlily.com/sale/
I have this Giraffe Tank and it’s so soft and comfy! And it’s on sale right now for $19! Plus lots of other cute stuff!
Mata Traders – http://www.matatraders.com/shop/sale/clothing.html
We love all of the new clothing that Mata Traders just added to their sale page!
The Root Collective – http://therootcollective.com/sale
Remember these gorgeous flats that Brandi reviewed in spring? They’re only $47 right now!!
Symbology – http://www.symbologyclothing.com/#!sale/c1plu
Symbology always has fun and flirty dresses and tops… several are discounted right now!
Happy Shopping!! Let us know what you buy!
In Style & Love,