In addition to this guest blog, read our fun, informative interview with Michele and co-founder Celeste here!
As the economic markets crashed in October of 2008, I stood among broken bones and cracked skulls in Rwanda. I was in a former church turned memorial, where 11,000 people were brutally murdered in only 5 hours during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the level of suffering experienced by the victims or even begin to understand what life was now like for the survivors.
But the following day, I visited a girls’ school for survivors and despite the trauma these girls had experienced as young children, they had hopes and dreams for the future. They had resilience in the face of unimaginable circumstances and it was their passion that turned my devastation into hope.
Even though my heart was shattered into a million pieces, I immediately had a desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of these unsung heroes. I wanted to help, by using my time, talent and resources in whatever way I could and that decision is what led to Fashion & Compassion’s founding in 2012.
When I returned from Rwanda, I started devouring books on poverty and injustice – particularly those that impacted women. I spent hours researching best practices for how to serve the billions of people who experience extreme poverty and suffering on a daily basis, so you can imagine how surprised I was to I learn that foreign aid and charity often do more harm than good.
As I finished one book after another, it continually blew my mind that aid often leads to corruption and dependence, rather than self-sufficiency and independence.
As Bob Lupton says in his book, Theirs is the Kingdom, “the deepest poverty is to have nothing of value to offer. Charity that fosters such poverty must be challenged.”
It went against everything I thought I knew about foreign aid and left me with far more questions than answers. But when I really started to think about my travels, I realized that I was most inspired by people who have beaten the odds and become leaders and change makers in their own communities.
Every one of them will be the first to tell you that they didn’t accomplish it on their own.
If they hadn’t had friends, donors, missionaries, mentors, etc. to help give them a hand up versus a hand out, they wouldn’t have been empowered to change their circumstances and ultimately change their life.
Of course funds were needed to support them along the way, but those dollars were accompanied by a relationship. And that relationship ignited diligence and determination on behalf of the recipient to pursue things like an education or to start their own business. I was quick to learn that when you give someone the keys to empowerment, to not be surprised when it unlocks a flaming potential that’s been there all along.
It was out of that realization that Fashion & Compassion was born and empowerment has been engrained into our company culture from day one. We believe in empowering people, especially women, by providing opportunities for them to have a better life, feed and educate their children and to rise up as leaders in their communities.
I think what people underestimate sometimes is the amount of work that goes into fighting poverty/injustice and it requires so much more than simply earning an income. It’s never been that simple and if we truly want to break the cycle, then we have to address the spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs of the people we serve.
So how do we do that?
We start with identifying local partners in the same communities we serve (domestically and abroad), who share our heartbeat and passion for empowerment.
We look for like-minded organizations that place a high value on the holistic transformation of our artisans by providing counseling, prayer, financial management assistance, micro-business training, recovery services and other critical needs.
Another thing we do that makes us different from other organizations, is donate ALL of our net proceeds back to the partner(s) associated with each project to further meet the needs of our artisans.
To date, we’ve had the opportunity to give over $200,000 and that money has been to used to purchase a safe-house for human trafficking survivors in Ecuador, care for & educate 12 abandon children in Ethiopia, train upcoming leaders in Central Africa, start a school for the blind in Rwanda and start micro-business training in Uganda!
Our heart is to serve our artisans and to support their individual journeys of healing and transformation.
Sometimes we’ve been more committed to their wellbeing than they have, but more times than not, these ladies are reaching towards a higher calling and it’s a privilege to walk alongside them as they learn to fly.
We’d love for you to be part of that too and to join us! Because when you purchase one of our handcrafted accessories, leather goods or bags, you're not only investing in a one-of-a-kind piece, but you're also investing in someone's life. And we believe that kind of empowerment is something that can truly change the world!
Unleash your potential,
Fashion & Compassion Co-Founder