By Jessica Kelly, Founder & CEO, THR3EFOLD
Summer is my favorite season. It has my birthday. It has the best weather. It's prime travel season. Every year I like to go on one big adventurous vacation, and from the avenues of Paris to the beaches of Bondi, I've loved them all. But none have impacted my life the way Zimbabwe and India have. Here's my story of impact travel and why everyone should skip Europe just once to travel somewhere that changes their life forever.
The year was 2013. I had been working in fashion for a few years and been fortunate enough to work with many of the most revered names in the industry, while simultaneously gaining an understanding of how it operated. I still loved fashion and felt like it was my calling but I wasn't curing cancer, and began to question my bigger purpose in it all. At the same time, an opportunity presented itself for me to go on a volunteer trip to Zimbabwe and within a matter of weeks I was Africa bound.
They say Africa changes you and I found that to be 100% true. In Zimbabwe, I encountered the most warm, welcoming, generous people, even though they had almost nothing. We have our issues here in America, but this was the first time I was face to face with such severe social injustice. With a notoriously oppressive dictator these beautiful people had been stripped of any choice for a future for themselves or their children. Many families I met, could only afford to send one child to school, and they counted themselves as lucky. I played with children in communities that were 98% HIV positive, and the vast majority of people I met were a part of single mother families. I cried myself to sleep. A lot.
As I stared out the plane window on my long flight home, I watched the New York horizon get closer and closer and a pit formed in my stomach. What on earth was I doing with my life? Helping sell expensive clothes to rich people when there are children that can't even go to school? Something in my spirit shifted and I became determined to figure out how to wield my industry for the good of marginalized people around the world.
It took a year to create THR3EFOLD. Throwing every idea I could think of at the wall to see what would stick. Talking to everyone I knew in fashion to get their feedback (thank you friends for your patience). And finally concepting the name and brand identity to launch. I had the Why, and the Who, but finding the How was much harder. Even after launch, it took another year and a half to find our purpose, and that took another big volunteer trip even further and longer than the last one.
With a small idea that had been in my head from the beginning, I flew to India. I was completely open minded but prepared for the worst. I knew only one person in India when I booked my ticket and every contact I made was from the generous connections of the kind Indian people, including one unknowing woman on a park bench in Union Square (gotta love New Yorkers). The doors that opened for me checked my assumptions left and right. It seemed anything made in Asia was a bad thing, right? Well instead, I met small scale factories employing women rescued out of sex trafficking. Large scale factories manufacturing for H&M and Target yet providing daycare for their employees' kids, and a training and employment program for people in the nearby slums. I spent quite a bit of time with women in sewing programs in the slums all over Mumbai as well. Many of these women (and girls) are not allowed to be educated, work, or even leave their community because of their faith. But they aren't sad, they are very content with their life next to a landfill. As an educated American woman this broke my heart, but it also made me question my opinions and beliefs, and forced me to respect and love them for exactly who they are. Loving people that way is the hardest thing to do. But you better believe I'll devote my life to creating an opportunity for them if they so choose it.
My month in Mumbai and New Delhi made it very clear what the fashion industry needed. There actually are incredible factories out there, but their websites are awful, making it nearly impossible to find them. We could be the bridge. We could make it easier for brands to find these great ethical factories and create a future through sustainable employment for people in communities around the world. And so here we are.
I encourage you to pause in planning your next Eurovacation and give some thought into a volunteer trip you could take. Start your day surfing in Costa Rica, then paint people's houses and feed their children, and finish the day laughing with them over dinner and truly understanding their life and their heart. It will change you forever.
If you are interested in learning more about the factories we work with and the impact they have on their local communities please apply today. By learning your production needs and having a quick call we can get you connected and sampling this week.
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