Hill Country View Maganize
Written by Jamie Twitchel - 7.1.2019
Fair-trade fashion confers far-reaching results
We have many ways to define ourselves, though a common choice is by where we come from, whether it’s a country of origin, a culture, or heritage. But when people must integrate into a new society, it’s easy to lose that sense of identity. Angelica Reyes-Johnsen came to the United States from Guatemala at the age of ten, getting an education and living the American dream. After she married and created a blended family with her husband, she wondered how to teach her children about their heritage while also helping women in her native land.
Tesoros Maya (Mayan Treasures) was her answer. Her fair-trade company works with Guatemalan female weavers to ethically source and sell handmade items.
“I want to empower female weavers, our children, and U.S. consumers, to show them that handmade is beautiful,” Angelica says. “We’re not just selling a product, but the story behind it, the heritage and our culture.” Angelica soon discovered other mothers engaged in fair- trade businesses with their native countries, and since they shared similar challenges and goals, she created a mentorship group, Moms Without Borders
of Central Texas.
One member is Anne Drane, who hails from Kenya. She began selling handmade goods from the Maasai tribe as a hobby, but after becoming a stay-at-home mother, she opened her company, Sawa Sawa Collection. “I needed to do something to pass my culture to my daughter, so that she appreciates it and sees Kenya as a positive place to come from,” Anne explains. So she partnered with her Kenya-based friend Kate to handle production while she handled selling in the United States.
Sawa Sawa Collection sells a colorful array of sandals, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and other items. Goods are mostly made of leather and beads, since the Maasai are nomadic cattle herders and beads were once a means of trade. And although colors are chosen for their symbolism in Kenya—for example, orange signifies generosity, warmth and friendship— Anne says that clients can obtain goods in any color they
As a result of this mutually- beneficial working relationship, Maasai women can send their children to school and put food on the table. Anne adds that her work gives her a sense of purpose. “What we do affects these people directly,” she says. “They’re able to have a dignified life.”
Also working to help women lead dignified lives is Lillian Katumba. Lillian was born and raised in Uganda and spent many years there helping impoverished women make ends meet. She immigrated to Texas a few years ago, hoping to focus solely on her career. But life had other plans for her. “I was at a fundraising event in Austin, and I remember crying because they were talking about Uganda and trafficking,” Lillian recalls. “I said I was done with just going to fundraisers. I had to do something about it.”
What she did about it was to create Zuri Styles, a company selling collections of handbags, jewelry, and other goods made by Ugandan women to promote their financial stability and combat human trafficking. Success stories appear on Zuri Styles’ Facebook page, with a recent addition telling how a Ugandan community could finally afford to build a communal restroom with an actual toilet. It’s stories like these that have caused Angelica, Anne, and Lillian to reconsider the concept of wealth. “To the mothers in our native lands, wealth is the power to feed their children and give them an education and a home,” Angelica says. “We can relate because that’s what we want for our kids, too.”
Members of Moms Without Borders of Central Texas run fair-trade businesses to improve the lives of women in developing countries. Member businesses welcome the chance to provide pop-up shows at retailers and community events. To learn more, become a retailer for, or shop at Tesoros Maya, Sawa Sawa Collection, or Zuri Styles, visit tesorosmaya.com, sawasawausa.com, and zuristyles.com.