I spent the first few weeks of the new year thinking about my goals, hopes and dreams for 2017. When it came to AMERICAN NOMAD, I found myself starting to think about run of the mill business objectives. But, while spending some time in silence (which is a necessity for me) I realized I never want my vision for AMERICAN NOMAD to turn into merely dollar signs. When I'm tired at the end of a 12 hour day I think about the women of BASHA and how the kantha throw I'm photographing has helped save them and their children from a life of exploitation. I think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (yes, read about it here) and how it's choking the Pacific Ocean. And I think about how art forms I cherish are on the verge of being forgotten, taking with them the history of their cultures and people. THESE are the things that push me through my day and why I refocused the mission at AMERICAN NOMAD for 2017 - #planetpeoplepreservation.
It's simple, I pledge that each item we curate will always: protect our planet, be a patron for people, and preserve art forms and cultures. So why is this important to me? To us? I believe in animal rights, I believe in recycling and helping others after natural disasters. But, something that always stumps me when advocating for these issues is how do we really solve them? We can't think in terms of just one issue because at the end of the day, they, and we, are all interconnected. If I drive a hybrid car to shop at a big box store where 95% of the items are produced in toxic environments that exploit women, what am I really helping? I want to focus on how AMERICAN NOMAD and our shoppers cam address some of these issues.
1. BE A PATRON FOR PEOPLE
Compassion towards others was one of the driving reasons I wanted to start AMERICAN NOMAD. The more I learned about the exploitation of women and children in places such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Uganda, Rwanda, I couldn't sit idly by not doing something to try and help. It isn't just women, but persons of all races, nationalities and physical abilities are discriminated against around the world.
I quickly learned the problem was much larger when I read about the Rana Plaza disaster where 2,500 people were injured and 1,021 died when a factory collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Rana Plaza building housed a number of garment factories and a majority of them had been cited for unsafe conditions in the past. Unfortunately factory managers were more concerned with pace of production than safety and would threaten loss of job, pay and physical abuse for any worker reporting infractions. Why does this happen? Because we as consumers want that $5 t-shirt we see in a magazine, commonly referred to as fast fashion. The thing is, a piece of clothing we pay $5 for has to be made at a nominal cost for a company to make money. These small price tags force factories into unsafe working conditions, forced labor, exploitation and literally pennies for wages.
AMERICAN NOMAD advocates for fair trade and social change. Our partners ensure artists receive a fair wage, safe working conditions and empower each one with programs that will truly help to break cycles of poverty through education, healthcare, business training and community improvement. We believe our actions are our personal signature and we want to ensure our signature says a person is valid regardless of their social status, poverty level, physical ability, race or sex.
2. PROTECT THE PLANET
Did you know the clothing industry is the second largest polluter only behind the oil industry? Just by supporting the purchasing of handmade goods you are already making a huge impact on our planet. We work with cooperatives and artists that source their materials responsibly. If they use new materials, such cotton, it is grown by the maker free of pesticides and other chemicals. We carry vegan leather items, but we also have an amazing line of leather bags that utilize waste and off-cut leather that is headed for landfills and tanned using only vegetable oil. Whether it is a purse or a towel, each of our items is produced using materials that respect our planet.
However, as I would pack and ship these mindful items I kept thinking, "Gosh, is this paper going to end up in the trash? What will happen to this box?" I want to package each item as beautifully as they are made but I don't want to create more waste. We'll be rolling out a number of fun programs this year encouraging the recycling of the materials we use to package our items, but what I'm really excited about is our new partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF).
With support from mindful individuals, small businesses, corporations and foundations, the NFF is planting trees for generations to come. Newly planted trees enhance wildlife habitat, sequester carbon dioxide, provide future recreation opportunities and help restore watersheds. Starting in January 2017, we will be planting a tree in partnership with the NFF for every item we sell.
3. PRESERVE ARTS FORMS + CULTURES
I am an artist. Well, I like to think I am anyways! Before starting AMERICAN NOMAD, I was a graphic designer by trade. While in graduate school I studied the history of various art forms and began feeling discouraged with the realization many of them have disappeared. Why? They were no longer valued.
Many of these art forms are the root of a persons culture. For example, in Kyrgyzstan nomads have been felting wool for thousands of years to craft their clothing, blankets and household items. With the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan found independence, but had no established economy leaving most individuals, mainly women, struggling to earn an income. A small group of women took matters into their own hands and started a cooperative handcrafting items using a skill they had been using since they were children - felting. Our partner, Craftspring, is now a thriving felting business in several villages in Kyrgyzstan providing employment to over 30 women.
I also think of the the young women in Bangladesh that are at great risk of being sold into trafficking and are often discarded by husbands or families when they are deemed "expendable." Our partner, Basha Boutique, works to help these women rediscover their dignity and inherent value through dignified work using the centuries old tradition of kantha stitching. Kantha, which means “patched cloth”, is a straight-lined stitch women throughout Bangladesh have been using for centuries to bring new life to fabrics and create clothing, gifts and baby items. The women at Basha create one-of-a-kind kantha items and slowly mend the wounds of the past, replacing them with moments of hope and peace.
In our fast fashion society, speed and cost overshadow quality and craftsmanship. It is now quicker and cheaper to produce items by a machine than by a person. But, the downside is when we stopped valuing the handmade item, we stopped valuing cultures and the people that work to preserve each unique art form.
Join us this year as we pledge to shop ethically and work towards #peopleplanetpreservation!