The disadvantages toward women of different nationalities, cultures, and beliefs are so widespread that it's hard to pinpoint the worst places in the world for women. From living in the extreme poverty, to being trapped in abusive relationships or being exploited and sex trafficked on the streets, you would be hard pressed to find one corner of the world where women are not faced with life's darkest situations.
But one non-for-profit organisation is taking it in its stride to bring dignity and opportunity to underprivileged artisans around the world.
Fashion & Compassion is committed to transforming the lives of individuals and communities by providing holistic employment opportunities, educating consumers about the injustices women face and donating a portion of product sales back to their ministry partners, so they can help address the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of artisans, in addition to their need for greater education, and their economic wellbeing.
Fashion & Compassion’s Founder & Director, Michele Dudley, says the organisation is first and foremost grounded in its core values - love, dignity, hope, service, community, integrity, generosity, action & beauty.
"We believe all people are created in God’s image and that we are all worthy of love, dignity & respect," Michele says.
"We provide transitional employment to vulnerable & rescued artisans. The artisans in our program are usually employed for a set period of time and during that time, we help them earn an income, start a savings account, gain work experience, catch up on their education & build a better life for themselves & their family."
F&C began in 2008 after Michele went on a mission trip to Rwanda and Burundi.
"I stood in a church where over 11,000 people had been brutally murdered in less than five hours during the Rwandan Genocide & everything inside of me broke. It was in that moment that I felt God call me to do more with my life & to do my part to fight injustice in the world," Michele says.
"I had no what that would look like, or what it would become, but I was obedient to the call & started selling paper bead jewellery out of my dining room to help war-displaced women feed & educate their children. Over time, God started opening a lot of doors and in 2012, I officially started Fashion & Compassion with my co-founder, Celeste Bundy."
F&C now has six different project sites around the world (Ecuador, Ethiopia, Mexico, Rwanda, Uganda, USA), and employ more than 200 artisans.
"We work with women who are impoverished, survivors of sex & labor trafficking, former addicts & refugees. Some of the women in our African projects are HIV+ and there are several that have survived violent relationships," Michele says.
F&C partners with 16 organisations across the globe to help them accomplish their work, and they donate all net proceeds back to the partners associated with each project.
In the last three years, F&C has donated more than $200,000 back to their partners, and the money has been used to help artisans overcome addictions, transition into full-time employment & further their education. It’s also helped purchase a safe-house for human trafficking survivors in Ecuador, care for & educate 12 abandon children in Ethiopia, train upcoming leaders in Central Africa, start a school for the blind in Rwanda & start micro-business training in Uganda.
The artisans are paid per piece, so the more jewellery they make, the more money they earn.
"But more than that, it’s a way for women who have been overlooked and underestimated for their entire life to stand up & proudly say, 'I did this'," Michele says.
"It gives each woman a sense of ownership & dignity. That’s also why every piece of jewellery is tagged with the artisan’s name – it’s not just about the product, it’s about the person behind it."
The women behind the jewellery - as told by Michele
Lydia* came to F&C after she courageously left a 20-year abusive marriage. She was very insecure and emotionally scarred, but has made great strides since joining the jewellery project. Lydia needed to be reminded of God’s love for her and that He created her with unique gifts & talents. She’s very articulate & has used that gift to help encourage other women & communicate with F&C customers.
“I was in an abusive relationship for 20 years. But when you’ve been in a bad relationship like I have, it’s not easy. You forget about love, how good love can feel. To be around these people – they just love me. I’ve never felt more love than at Fashion and Compassion,” Lydia says.
“This here has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I feel like I’m beginning to live again. It’s like totally light. I saw so much darkness around me, now I see light.”
Isabel* is from the Philippines and spent years serving as a domestic slave to a high-profile family in Saudi Arabia. She was rescued in 2014 and was referred to us by World Relief shortly after. Isabel spent 8 years separated from her two sons, but last spring, we partnered with World Relief to bring the boys to the United States and reunite her family. Today, Isabel and her boys are rebuilding their relationship & attending Christian counseling, Isabel rents her own apartment AND she’s even joined our fulltime staff as the Assistant Jewellery Project Manager! (* - name changed for protection)
Josepine* is one of our Dignity Collection artisans in Uganda and she has a niece named Concy that she’s raising, along with her 3 children & 4 orphans. Josepine started caring for Concy when she was 3 years old, after Concy’s mother was abducted by Joseph Kony & the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Concy is now 12, thanks to a life-saving surgery she received three years ago. Concy had an intestinal problem that physically caused her intestines to exit her body when she would go the bathroom – it’s called a rectal prolapse. I know it’s horrific, but it’s also a miracle. Fashion & Compassion came along side Josepine to cover the cost of the surgery for Concy & Josepine was able to use money she earned from the jewellery project to help pay for the procedure. Not only that, but she’s also been able to send all 8 children to school and a couple of them will be graduating soon.
*Names changed for protection.
The future for Fashion and Compassion
As F&C continues to grow, Michele's hope is that the current projects will grow deeper, as they continue to invest in each artisan on a personal level.
"We believe that a change in one person creates change in families & communities," Michele says.
"As we continue to grow, it’s my hope that we’ll be able to educate more women & my big dream would be for us to be in the position to give away at least $1M!
"Fashion & Compassion is so much bigger than me & I pray that God will continue to use us to make His name known and that everything we do will bring Him glory."
We're partnering with Fashion & Compassion to give you the chance to win the colourful Alegria necklace. Neutral acai berries pop against brightly colored vinyl beads, making it the perfect statement piece for spring! This necklace has been handmade by human trafficking survivors in Ecuador.