In a world of quick trend, sustainable-fashion manufacturers tout their dedication to clear and moral manufacturing. Whereas items from these firms may be costly, the aim is to pay producers a dwelling wage whereas creating modern, excessive-high quality clothes.
As resistance to quick trend was choosing up, Harper Poe graduated from faculty and began a day job that didn’t encourage her. She give up, and with a pal went on to discovered Proud Mary World Textiles, a firm that sells honest-commerce equipment, dwelling items, and clothes. She companions with artisans in international locations corresponding to Mali and Mexico recognized for high quality handcrafts. Earlier than Poe launched Proud Mary’s first assortment in 2008, she had no actual expertise within the subject, except for working briefly in inside design. She says that she’s sought out steerage alongside the best way that’s helped her stability her firm’s mission with its backside line.
For The Atlantic’s sequence on mentorship, “On the Shoulder of Giants,” I spoke with the Charleston, South Carolina-based mostly designer in regards to the promise and pitfalls of social entrepreneurship, in addition to how she patterned her winding profession path on an admired mentor’s. The dialog that follows has been edited for size and readability.
Elisha Brown: Are you able to increase on Proud Mary’s slogan, “Pleasure, not pity”?
Harper Poe: The concept is that Proud Mary is a enterprise-to-enterprise relationship. So much of individuals are like, “We’re empowering ladies.” That’s superior, however there’s one thing unsuitable with that. Once you say you’re empowering another person, that’s insinuating that you've got the ability, and also you’re saying, “Oh, I’ll offer you some of my energy.” However the artisans who're making these merchandise—I can’t weave like that, I can’t make that embroidery—they have already got a lot of energy. We wouldn’t be in enterprise if it wasn’t for these artists.
Brown: What are the origins of the corporate?
Poe: I used to be dwelling in New York Metropolis a yr previous to launching Proud Mary. I studied building administration in faculty, and I used to be working for a common contractor within the metropolis. I simply burned out on working 9-to-5 in New York Metropolis, so I give up my job, went to South America, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. For the primary time, I noticed ladies weaving textiles and the cultural significance of it actually struck a chord with me. I received again to New York and I began taking lessons in world affairs, as a result of I used to be additionally interested by worldwide improvement and decreasing poverty.
It was a excellent storm of completely different passions coming collectively at one time. A pal and I began Proud Mary collectively, and we launched our first assortment of purses, pillows, and small equipment made in Guatemala on the finish of 2008.
Brown: Who has guided you as you’ve realized in regards to the moral-trend motion?
Poe: Beginning out, I had no concept what I used to be doing and possibly didn’t ask for sufficient assist. I simply knew this was my calling and I used to be going to kind a enterprise and determine it out. I met Elaine Bellezza. When she was 40, she was dwelling in San Francisco as a personal chef and artist. She give up these and joined the Peace Corps in Cameroon and ended up dwelling in Mali for 15 years. She had a gallery and began working with artisans there. She’s been creating handcrafts all throughout West Africa, and did some work with the World Financial institution.
She was at all times tremendous encouraging of me. Each time there was a possibility to carry a designer on some of these improvement journeys, she would encourage me to use for it. I feel that she positively challenged me and nonetheless does. She simply at all times advised me to not having a bleeding coronary heart about this work. I positively discovered that difficult typically. She’s like, “That is enterprise. Go do the work. The good will come out of these enterprise relationships.” I take into consideration that a lot.
Brown: How did you wind up working with ladies in Syria and Mali?
Poe: I feel Mali is the nation that’s most likely the closest to my coronary heart. I went there in 2011, and fell in love with the textiles and the individuals and the music. I went with Elaine, who had lived there for 15 years. I began speaking along with her, telling her I needed to work with textiles in Ghana. She mentioned, “It's best to go to Mali—they've stunning stuff.”
I had listened to the information, however understanding individuals in a place, understanding their level of view and why issues are occurring, modified the sport for me. Some of our artisans’ spouses had been killed in the war. Since then, the safety scenario has deteriorated. So much of artisans we had been working with there don’t actually have an outlet for his or her merchandise anymore.
I additionally needed to do one thing with the refugee disaster in Syria. I discovered a Syrian-American girl by the Ethical Fashion Initiative. She began a workshop with about six ladies who, some of them, ISIS had taken over their villages. Some had been double refugees from Palestine, and now had been internally displaced in Syria. They make purses and jewellery. They’re attempting to develop and scale to 75 ladies within the subsequent six months.
Brown: What do you concentrate on the place the moral-trend motion is now?
Poe: We hit a tipping level with [the 2013 garment-factory collapse] in Bangladesh. Acutely aware consumerism has come a great distance, however there's a lengthy solution to go. We’re in danger of exploiting some of the producers and a few of the artisans, from a advertising standpoint. I worry that phrases like “moral trend,” “artisan-made,” “empowering ladies,” all these buzzwords, individuals are not going to consider the ladies—which may very well be a bit harmful. The manufacturers which can be doing this work needs to be trustworthy and informative, not overzealous in utilizing one other particular person’s story to promote their merchandise.
Brown: Have individuals reached out to you for recommendation or mentorship because you began Proud Mary?
Poe: Yeah, I’ve had a few individuals wanting to begin sustainable companies. And I've one assistant/studio supervisor. She graduated final yr, so she’s attempting to determine what she needs to do. I attempt to loop her in as a lot as doable, inform her about my path and the way very nonlinear it was. I let her realize it’s okay to make errors—it’s okay to try to have 5 completely different careers till you determine what you wish to do.