Throughout the month of October, I am following several people and businesses that are making a difference in the local and global community. My first meeting occurred a few weeks ago at the WORN headquarters with a woman named Meredith.
We began our meeting at an expansive conference table in a chilly executive looking office. Surrounded by glass windows and padded rolling chairs, Meredith and I nestled into a corner of the table over cookies. As we each delicately bit into moist snacks, I explained my interest in her company in my typical not-so-eloquent fashion, a mouth full of cookie. I first learned the refugee assistance business model from a favorite boutique in Abilene, Texas. Store-owner Jessica told me the mission behind perfectly knitted scarves as I shopped for local, eco-friendly gifts for friends. Thanks to my encounter with a local shop owner, I gathered the courage to call the company and ask for more information.
Creative personality and refugee advocate Abbi Martin Ice began laying the foundation for WORN in November of 2010. Working with Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Abbi combined the established talent of knitting among refugee women in the area, fashion, and an increasing interest in socially conscious business models. By June of 2011, WORN began producing scarves for year-round wear-ability with 13 refugee knitters. In order to provide quality products for consumers and sustainable living for the producers, Abbi and the WORN team (comprised of 3 members) established knitting tests for quality control while maintaining a sense of dignity for the women working hard to produce over 600 scarves a year (and anticipating more production in the coming season). In addition, the managers and marketing team behind WORN established financial education classes for the refugee women new the American banking system, government taxes and budgeting concepts.
Over our afternoon snack, the animated Sales Director Meredith enlightened me on the struggles of the working mothers new to America as well at the challenges to creating a socially-conscious mindset among consumers. “Our concept is a hand up not a hand out,” Meredith stated. Rather than giving away money, shoes or food supplies to families, the people of WORN attempt to create a lifestyle change for women re-located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Bhutan, Burma or Nepal. Knitters (and crocheters) for the company work from home, allowing them time with family, are paid based on scarf creation not scarf sales, and 80% of money made from each scarf directly contributes to labor costs for the women. All creations are locally made in the USA and create an effort to end poverty for refugee families. Meredith tells me of one knitter, MDh (all women go by there initials to protect their identities), who began saving her money from scarf making for her one-year-old’s college education.
More than just fashion, although I do love a beautifully handmade scarf or hat, WORN provides peace for its employees through job security and the dignity of creating something beautiful for consumers. The socially conscious enterprise enables refugees to find value within their work ethic, final product and the self in order to continue to provide for families. And those who purchase the uniquely handcrafted materials make a statement about ending poverty and promoting peace for all human beings by wearing ethically produces products.
Although placed in an over-sized conference room at Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, Meredith intimately explains to me, “The women of WORN are tired of the lives they left behind; they are tired of struggling to ‘make it’ in America. They are worn, but not abandoned.” After leaving our meeting, I climb into my car and drive out of the Charities parking lot. Half way down the road I am forced to pull over because I can no longer see past tears streamed down my face. I meditate on Meredith’s answer to my question, “What biblical story reminds you of the company with which you work?” “Ruth and Naomi,” she answers quickly. Although Naomi gave her daughter-in-law permission to return to her family of origin and remarry after the son’s death, Ruth pleaded to remain with her mother-in-law. In Ruth chapter one, the young woman explained to Naomi, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” The women of WORN come alongside each other, create hope for one another, and support a system of ending poverty for all through collaboration.
Although I don’t own any WORN products as of today, I saved several of my favorite scarves to Pinterest boards in anticipation of the holiday season buying spree for friends and family members.
WORN on Twitter for #FollowFriday