After some recent rain, our Wisconsin snow has melted away - but I'm daydreaming about sledding down the hill by our house. And even though some people gravitate toward dark, muted colors on those snowy days, I still love a bright pop of color any time of year. If you’re craving something fun and whimsical too, you’re in the right place. But what gets me excited is when I see designs that aren’t just aesthetically beautiful, but carry story and impact too.
The embroidered Wildflower Clutch is handmade in the highlands of Peru. You can see fascinating step-by-step photos of how it is made by reading a blog post on Noonday’s site here. It begins and ends at a central workshop, but the embroidery is done out in remote areas.
If you’re like me, you love knowing that the items you collect have a meaningful story behind them. The handmade nature of this piece alone makes it special - but as I learned more about it from Mercedes and Faustino, the power couple behind Noonday's fair trade partner group Hilos y Colores, I appreciated this piece even more.
Revitalizing Rural Communities through Handmade, Ethical Fashion
Throughout the Ayacucho region of Peru, many rural communities are still feeling the impact of guerilla warfare in the 1980's. Women were widowed and children were orphaned. As younger generations moved into big cities to find work at factories, rural economies suffered.
This is the space that Mercedes and Faustino were called into. They provide jobs for over 800 women throughout Ayacucho, where there is great power in handmade work: women can embroider at home or in the sunshine, surrounded by friends and children playing, rather than move to find factory work. Handmade work is key to revitalizing rural areas where other job opportunities are scarce; like many rural areas in the developing world, handmade crafts are the second largest source of income, after agriculture.
Furthermore, in a culture where “machismo” is the norm, it’s revolutionary to see how Faustino views his wife Mercedes as his equal. They not only employ women; they let them bring their children to work at the central workshop, while supporting flexible women’s jobs throughout the region.
The Story Behind the Poms
As Mercedes and Faustino got to know more communities that need the jobs, they came across women with poor vision who were very interested in the work. However, it soon became evident that these women’s limited eyesight made them unable to execute the complex embroidered designs of products like the Wildflower Clutch or the Mossflower Weekender Bag (pictured here).
Some businesses would simply move on, eager to find someone who met their needs. But instead, Hilos y Colores turned the tables: they decided to create work that would meet the needs of these women, not the other way around.
So they taught the women to make poms.
This wouldn’t be sustainable without a buyer, of course, but Noonday was ready to answer the call. Collaborative design is at the core of Noonday’s fair trade business model, meaning that Noonday’s design team provides insight into American trends while our artisan partners bring their creativity, heritage, vision, and skill into the designs. In this case, collaborative design also meant Mercedes and Faustino were confident to propose the idea of poms to Noonday. Rather than simply taking orders from Noonday, they are truly partners.
Fortunately, Noonday’s design team predicted that poms would do great in the U.S. market - and they were right. The Peruvian Pom Wreath (below) sold out alarmingly fast when our holiday 2018 line came out. And when Noonday threw poms onto the design of the Wildflower Clutch, it added not only a fun design element - it also holds meaning as it reflects dignified jobs created specifically for the women who Mercedes and Faustino wanted to empower.
The story of Hilos y Colores shows what happens when a business remembers its core purpose and gets creative to make it happen. It shows what happens when they have supportive partnerships that want to see that purpose fulfilled.
Fair Trade: Business as a Force for Good
I often say that Noonday goes far beyond “do no harm.” Although I entered the fair trade space out of an interest in avoiding slave, underpaid, and child labor, I soon learned of a richness I had never imagined possible: the vision that business can not only “do no harm,” but can be an active force for good, a tool for social change. As we see in Peru, our artisan partners target their work specifically at those communities that need dignified, safe, well-paying jobs most.
When I met Mercedes and Faustino at our Shine sales conference last year and they shared this story with us, their teenage daughter Natividad was there too. She confidently shared her passion for the work her family does. She plans to lead the business in the future. The family is so well-respected in their community that Faustino holds a public office! This family shows that when business is done right, it has immense power to change the world.
Partnership Where Everyone Flourishes
Hilos y Colores sent Noonday’s home office a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece as a holiday gift, with the following note:
"Dear Noonday Family, we are very fortunate to meet you, we thank God for having made our paths cross. Thank you for evaluating our work and for helping us to improve the living conditions of our embroidery mothers. The words are too short to express all our beautiful feelings towards you. We can only say thank you and that our love for you is eternal. With all the love of Hilos y Colores 'The gift of the Andean hands to the world.'"
But here’s the beautiful thing: the gratitude goes both ways. Just as they appreciate Noonday and its ambassadors for helping them create more empowerment for women in Peru, I’m thankful to them for creating beautiful pieces I’m proud to showcase, that are providing an income for my family - and can for yours too.
Fair trade is centered on the audacious dream that in business, everyone can benefit and flourish. This is business as it should be. And in this model, you can benefit and flourish, too. When you hear about global poverty, war, and more, do you mourn but also feel a bit distant, simply because you feel powerless? It can be easy to fall into either complacency or overwhelm. But the way out is to recognize that there are amazing people working to provide opportunity in vulnerable communities, as well as practical ways that you can support them. And my goal is to connect you to them - because really, if you can help revitalize a war-torn region by buying a gorgeous purse, gathering your friends for a marketplace, or growing that marketplace through a fun job, how amazing is that?
Which step will you take today to build a flourishing world?