11 April 2013

Give in Style: Handcrafted Ethiopian Scarves...at walmart

It's been a long time since The Real J showed up on this here lil' blog. One of my long-time style inspirations, she used to make regular appearances. Then I left that office. Then she left the country. For Ethiopia.

Her H's work took them there, and she freelanced. And taught yoga. And made friends with folks in an amazing country I can only hope I'll visit one day.

And one of those folks is a designer, apparently.

The Real J posted a link to walmart in facebook. "That's odd," I thought. "She's so not the wal-mart shopper." But it was about some scarves - some beautiful, gauzy, delicately colored scarves.

J's friend Salem was picked up by walmart in their Full Circle Exchange program. Can you imagine getting that call? Or email? Or letter? Or however one gets notified of these things nowadays? You're a woman in Ethiopia designing scarves, and American behemoth walmart wants to carry your wares.
How beautiful - and covetable, in the best of ways - are these pieces? All are pictured on Salem's site, Salem's Ethiopia. For now, we'll just have to make do with the Walmart pieces, though, or cross our (ok, my) fingers that J or someone she knows travels to Addis Ababa soon and can pick them up for me. I mean...that necklace...

J and Salem were neighbors in Addis Ababa. When I asked J about Salem and her business, she couldn't say enough. "She's just good people," she said. It takes a lot, methinks, to start a business in a place that knows itself almost too well, that, in fact, turned in on itself, and is only now starting to rise up from its own ashes. To say that Ethiopia has a rich history might be one of the biggest understatements around, so for Salem, it makes perfect sense to use art and design to make a "living history, telling the stories of Ethiopia as it courageously battled wars, bonded religions and empowered its people through artwork."

With the success she's had so far, and the friends, fans, and supporters she's developed over the years, Salem could easily leave Ethiopia. She could take what she's started and move to the US or the UK. The red tape in either place would be considerably less for a business woman than it is in Ethiopia. But Salem stays. She's inherently - perhaps instinctively - committed to her country. So she stays.

The Real J told me that when Salem sold the first piece of jewelry that she had created - herself - she gained a sense of self worth that was so powerful she wanted to pass that on to other women. In addition to recording Ethiopia's story in art, her mission is, then, to empower women like herself to be able to experience that same moment of power and realization. So she stays. She grows her business, grows opportunity for Ethiopian craftspeople, and raises her family (3 children, all now at university).

(One of these days, H and I will schlep The Beans across oceans and continents to Addis Ababa, and we'll meet Salem. H being Orthodox, which many Ethiopians are, gives him a special bond to the people and the place.)

I will not tell a lie. As soon as J posted the walmart link, I clicked (I mean, she's one of the most stylish people I know). Then I bought. All. 3. Scarves. (We won't talk about the scarf I bought at the other behemoth, Tar-zhay, the very same morning.) Then I browsed the rest of the collection.

It's teeny, compared to the rest of the site. There are 52 apparel items in the Full Circle Exchange, 173 in the whole collection, with a few sold out (the dresses below, for example, of course). But the story in it - and the cause - are worthy. Though admittedly, the cynical me wonders how much of it might be a PR tactic on wal-mart's part. If J hadn't posted it, and didn't know Salem personally, having met many of the artisans in her cooperative, I'd wonder whether the women even existed. The idea, though - part of a larger initiative, Empowering Women Together - is to foster success for small, women-owned businesses, enabling job creation and skills development. Makes sense to me. Never mind that the goods themselves are lust-worthy.

Clockwise, from top left, scarf, convertible dress, maxi dress, laptop case

I can't wait to wear my scarves. I have visions of drapey goodness, of light, airy coziness on these in-between days (not these weirdo scorchers in April we're getting right now). I'll be sure to Instagram (@DCCeline) when they get here...but only if you promise to do the same.

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