Friday, March 7, 2014

Empowering Women Through Business

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Celebrating gender equality and women's empowerment on International Women's Day has been observed since the early 1900s but it wasn't designated as an international holiday by the United Nations until 1975. Today, thousands of IWD events are held all over the world every year on March 8. As International Women's Day approaches, I've been reflecting on how the women I've met during my travels have impacted my life and my business. Without their strength, ingenuity and creativity, I wouldn't be able to live my dream. 

I have my parents to thank for my view point on life. Growing up internationally and having lived in a family that embraces the culture, arts and crafts from each country we lived influences much of what I do. My entire life I was surrounded by eclectic, global people, food and objects. That was a gift and it gave me an innate head start. I have been introduced to the nuances of collecting and buying for my business by so many people that to give one name of who has influenced me most would be impossible.

Over the years, however, I've partnered with a wonderfully diverse group of women throughout my travels. But in many countries, it is a matter of culture that women do not work out front. Make no mistake, they are present and integral to the art, craftsmanship and detail work that you see represented by what I've brought back, but they are often in the background.

I work with women on various levels - some are artisans and designers, some are shop owners and some are sourcers, like myself. Finding creative partners in developing countries to offer technical support and expertise has been a focus. I see my role as a guest in the countries that I travel in and the amount of what I don't know is humbling. Women have been deprived for too long from participating in the opportunities and benefits of economic growth and globalization, so seeking out these women whether it be an already established arts cooperative within the country, or a group that coordinates a group of artisan women, or seeking out the the soloprenuer is important to me.

I worked with and learned from a woman named Flower over several years during my trips to Vietnam. Flower had been working with the hill tribes for many years collecting and helping to capture and preserve the art and lifestyle of these diverse groups. In Thailand, I work with a fabric shop owner who is responsible for the beautiful Japanese-inspired patchwork textiles in The Loaded Trunk. In Guatemala, I developed a relationship with a designer who has made these gorgeous pillows out of indigenous guatemalan cotton fabrics with pom poms. And here in the States, I primarily work with women: a seamstress who works with me to re-imagine vintage textiles into home decor, an assistant who helps keep the t's crossed and the i's dotted, a photographer who makes all our found treasures shine, and a marketing and design team to communicate my passion for travel and commerce.

Westerners are lucky. It is easy to find people, especially women, to work with here. It's not something I had to work hard to seek out, like it is in many developing countries where the women are often struggling harder for a voice. It wasn't as much a conscious effort to work with "a woman" in the U.S. It was more organic. As a soloprenuer the collaboration is essential. Textiles and re-purposing them is a passion. Finding like-minded people who understand my vision is essential to my success.

Below are some of my favorite pieces in the shop, all made by women from around the world.

This pillow was originally a Pwo Karen Tribe Blouse made in Thailand. The blouses are hand-woven on back-strap looms and each woman has her own style of embroidery and preference for decorating with Job's tears seed appliqué and other embellishments.

Our Indigo Silk Shibori Scarves were made in a collective of women artisans in the pocket of Neb Sarai in Delhi. The collective works with women and provide employment to those who are unable to leave their home for work.

Hand-woven by the rural women of Senegal, each basket serves to generate income to provide food, shelter and educational materials for Senegalese families.

The Gypsy Sack is used making hand-dyed cotton shbka fabrics from Mauritania. Shbka fabrics used in these original designs are traditionally worn by women in the south of Morocco and Mauritania and are a great way to support them.

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