I am an optimistic gal but I also am a big question asker and can drive myself a little nuts sometimes. I go through seasons when I am almost constantly asking myself, “What can Noonday be doing better? How many artisans still DON’T have their kids in school? What is a living wage, really? Is this really sustainable and what does that over used word really mean any way? ” It took me years and becoming friends with one of the original guys at Tom’s before I finally bought a pair. And I live in Austin. “They shouldn’t be giving away shoes, they should be helping people make shoes in the communities where they are handing them out.” I thought. (Now I am an addict. They are my travel companion shoes and Tom’s has brought more awareness to the consumer’s purchasing power for good than any brand I can think of).
Sometimes ambassadors email me saying, “Some one asked how this is really changing a life. How much money goes back to the artisan? How can I be sure this is legit?” And I get it. I get the questions, because I have been asking similar ones my entire life. But sometimes asking the questions and always being so critical prevents people from doing anything at all.
I was in this “questioning” spot just a little bit as I traveled to Guatemala last week. That is when I sat in Maria’s humble home nestled in between corn and potato fields. Maria has been working with Jaime, the artist who makes our ceramic beads, for six years. As we sat in her clean one room home, with chickens scrambling at our feet, she served us drinks and began telling us her story. “I learned how to weave beads from my mother. Now my daughter is learning!” Her 6-year-old daughter sat beside us, weaving up a friendship bracelet for fun. Maria used to live in Panajachel, a tourist hub, and sold a lot of her beadwork there. Soon, though, her husband found another woman, and left her alone with her six children. That was six years ago, around the time that Jaime was looking for beaders to work with him. It was very difficult to find artisans willing to learn how to work with a new material and Jaime is the only ceramic bead maker I have ever known!
Maria is a go-getter and an obvious leader. When her husband left her, she went through all the paperwork to assure that the small property they owned was in her children’s name. But since it was near her in-laws, she asked to move back to her father’s property insisting she would find a way to pay her stay there. She now works with about 15 women throughout the Solola area, distributing Jaime’s beads that are made in his workshop in Antigua to all the women at a central meeting point. The women then take the beads home to work out of their house in between making tortillas, hand washing the clothes, and tending their land. “We just completed a really large order for a customer in the US. They were black with silver at the bottom!” I explained to her those were for us! She was so excited! We are excited, too, as we are working on several new designs with Jaime and Maria for spring.
(Maria with one of her daughter's outside her home)
We also visited Manuel- the man who makes all of our Nahualá trays. We pulled off a winding road to a collection of small huts. In my mind, I had expected a clean workshop with tools and men at work. Instead, it was just a room built off his house with masks, figurines, and wood to make our trays strewn about. Miguel has been working with Siggy, our main point of contact in Guatemala for many years. Siggy has a well know shop in Antigua called La Casa de Los Gigantes. He visits her often and sells her the many items he and the others in his community make for the broader market that comes through her well-known shop. My cynical mind went into action as we set among his 5 children watching him carve. “Is this really bringing a community out of poverty?”
You see, sometimes I think so BIG, that I forget about the ONE in front of me. In some of the places where we work- especially in Africa- Noonday really is on the frontlines, seeing small communities of people redeemed and working almost completely because of Noonday. In Guatemala- our work is much more spread out. The impact occurs when our orders, on top of other local and international buyers are combined. I was pondering this when Miguel’s wife asked us to take a photo of them in their new home. We stepped outside of Miguel’s shop into his new cement and tile house, with indoor plumbing to boot! You can see below the photo of us in one of the former dwellings, and the photo of us in front of his new home. Have our orders made a difference to this family? I would say yes. Was it because we gave him money? We don’t send money BACK to the artisan. We don’t do charity work. He presented us with beautiful trays- that have quickly become a top seller- and we purchased them at a fair price. It is that dignified exchange that creates JOBS that really can pull people out of poverty, one family at a time.
We use the word hand made frequently at Noonday Collection. Guatemala is the land of handmade! It is almost incredulous when you look around and realize that most of the women outside the cities HANDMAKE their clothes, and we are not talking sewing machines! Each woven piece can take up to 80 hours and are sold for at least $100 in the markets. Every region and people group in Guatemala has their own unique weave. The women will buy 1-2 a year, and that is all they wear. Jen Hatmaker’s chapter 2 would have nothing on these women!
We were able to see the weaving process first hand at Migual’s house, whose entire family is involved in the process of making our Nod to Neon scarves. His children Alicia, Irmer, and Minor are all grateful for the work their dad receives. On Siggy’s last visit to go over a new order , Alicia called Siggy later and said, “Thank you so much for continuing to work with my dad. It is because of these orders, that I am continuing in school.” When I asked this bright 18 year old her dreams she said, “I am studying to be a preschool teacher so I can work with small children and keep our native language, K'iche’, alive.”
Do you want to play a part in the lives of Maria, Miguel, Miguel and their families and communities? Host a Noonday trunk show. Wear their stories, share their stories, and join the movement that creates dignified jobs in places where jobs are the most limited resource. If you are a little bit of a cynic like I can be, then take a trip to visit them! Let them tell you first hand what purchasing handmade pieces at a fair price means to them.
(I am showing a photo of one of our ambassadors in the Nod to Neon scarf, the scarf they make! They were so excited to see it!)