A recent interview with social entrepreneur Liz Bohannon of Sseko Designs inspired us to reconsider the clothes and fashion accessories we’re buying. We can’t realistically expect to only buy goods directly supporting a good cause. Not every business can funnel profits back to the people who make its products and help fund their college education.
But we certainly applaud businesses that try to make real change in global communities, that actually teach or reinforce skills of artisans, that create new distribution channels, and that promote financial independence.
Nayariva in Portland, Oregon, for instance, dances along the same mission as Sseko. While on their honeymoon in the Amazon rainforest, Genevieve and Deven Morganstern recognized the talent of local El Chino women artisans who labored all their life to perfect the craft of hand-weaving dyed palm fibers into bowls and coasters and jewelry.
The Morgansterns saw that the artisans had overcome many challenges to learn their craft. They founded Nayariva, meaning “who has many desires” to bring those fine goods to the United States. Genevieve Morganstern had worked in digital marketing strategies, so she had experience selling products online. Today, centerpiece bowls in stripes of bright orange, white and cerulean and other vivid colors are sold on the Nayariva website. Part of the proceeds go back to the Amazon village through the nonprofit Angels of the Amazon toward health care, education and entrepreneurship projects.
Another fashion brand, Raven + Lily, helps women in poverty from Ethiopia, India, Cambodia and Los Angeles. All of the Austin company’s products, which include jewelry, bags and clothing are made with fair trade and sustainable practices. And all of their proceeds go back toward their mission of empowering women through design. Their products are earthy and understated, such as this hand-loomed wristlet or this cream and gray ombre Nimol Everyday Bag.
Raven + Lily’s jewelry line is also right on trend (check out the adorable lookbook), with arrow-shaped charm earrings, long thin gold strand necklaces and this eye-catching, shimmer fringed necklace. Much of the material comes from upcycled metals.
Finally, footwear company Pons Avarcas uses eco-friendly techniques to create traditional sandals from Menorca, Spain. The soles of these sandals were once made with recycled tires for countrymen and farmers; now they are made from rubber molds, but still in the style of their heritage. Noelia and Jose Fuentes run the U.S. division of the company from San Diego and continue to promote the craftsmanship of the sandals, which vary from glittery gold flat sandals to animal print wedges.
We’re continually inspired by companies that use the business mindset to propel both fashion design and social justice forward. Even if we can’t always donate money or purchase products to support their mission, we can try our best to be educated about their work. It’s worth checking them out.