The Change Makers Spotlight is a weekly blog highlighting some of the best non-profits, businesses and individuals working to make the world a better place.
This week we talk to Cara Boccieri, co-founder of Ways of Change, an ethical fashion brand that works with artisans living in refugee situations to make jewelry and accessories. She offers great insights on business, highlights the rewards of running an ethical business and great travel advice.
1. What is Ways of Change?
WoC is an ethical fashion brand working with artisans living in refugee situations. We work collaboratively using traditional techniques and modern design to create unique, handmade jewelry and accessories. WoC works with artisans to develop and grow their own businesses and provide Entrepreneurial Training and a portion of each sale supports Community Projects which are identified and managed by the communities themselves.
2. How did it start?
The idea for WoC began in 2011 when I was carrying out research on a holistic approach to refugee settlements on the Thailand Burma border. I kept hearing, from both individuals and groups, about the amazing traditional skills that they have and the lack of access that they have to a marketplace. Although my research had little to do with this, through discussions we came up with the idea for WoC together. I contacted Lauren (my Co-Founder and Creative Director) and she was in! Over the next few years we spent time cultivating the idea and planning and in 2014 I moved back to Thailand.
3. What was your background before starting WoC?
My background is in working with people affected by conflict and migration with a focus on holistic living. I have an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, I have published a book on my research on a holistic approach to refugee settlements (“We Don’t Know Our Future”) and I have contributed to advocacy, policy and guidance regarding migration for large international organizations. My Co-Founder and cousin, Lauren Baird’s background is in fashion, styling and communications. So we are a perfect pair for running WoC!
4. What are the biggest challenges of running WOC?The biggest challenge in running WoC, for me, is the business and finance side of things. Neither one of us has a background in this so it is a constant learning curve. However, we have had amazing support in this area, otherwise, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
5. What has been the most rewarding aspect?There are so many, every day is rewarding! The relationships we have built with the communities and how the relationships have grown, we are both so willing to be a part of this and to be vulnerable and let our needs be known. I have seen that vulnerability be difficult and in the same step, that challenge being overcome. We have this amazing, authentic relationship, where we are all teachers and all students. Being welcomed into their lives and their homes is so rewarding. Working with people in developing their sense of self-worth after years of being told that their only value is a physical characteristic, and saying, “I am not a charity. I am a business and I am here because I see value in you and your skills.” Having that conversation repeatedly until it sinks in, and knowing that it has taken precedence in their being, because they begin to come to me with their ideas. That is rewarding! Another reward, which is is two-fold, has been that of meeting some of our goals. Our goal is one of mutual empowerment; where the global community is empowered through the choice for an ethical product and the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives, while the communities working with us are empowered through self-reliance and preservation of traditional skills. It has been extremely rewarding to see all of this become a reality insofar as the excitement we are met with when we tell people about WoC and, of course seeing the artisans feel empowered, opening their own businesses in a refugee camp, beginning projects such as organic farming and learning new skills such as sewing and seeing traditional skills being practiced once again, where they previously weren’t being passed on. It has also been super rewarding to have the fashion industry be so supportive and recognizing WoC and the artisans we work with. We have been featured in magazines and blogs and that feels like we are doing something valuable in people’s eyes and is encouraging.
6. Can you describe your partnership with Ban Nai Soi Community Learning Center to recycle students¹ notebooks and papers to use as packaging?
WoC’s relationship with BNSCLC is multi-tiered. It is located down the street from our office and its values of sustainability and refugee empowerment are very much in line with WoC’s values. Our Thailand office is a shared space with Kayan Community Development Services (KCDS – our partner organization) who also has many ties with BNSCLC; some of the teachers at the school live in the office. Sometimes I head to school as a teacher (English or Community Development) and sometimes as a student (Photo Shop class). Currently, the students are working on proposal writing, many of the students are from the refugee camps and villages that WoC works with, so we hope to work with these students in implementing their proposals in the future.
The idea to recycle student’s notebooks and papers to use in our packaging (rather than bubble-wrap, etc.) seemed obvious. It was Lauren’s idea when she was last visiting us here, we were getting ready to make our first shipments and were making decisions around how to best meet our mission of sustainability combined with our need for shipping our products.
We love innovative ideas that help to meet out goals! The students happily collected all of their old notebooks and papers and brought them to the office. We have enough now to last us for the next few years I think!
7. It sounds like you travel a lot. What do you like most about travel? Do you have a great piece of traveling advice?
I do travel a lot, so here are three!
1. Travel alone. Spend time getting to know yourself and your needs and connecting with and appreciating yourself. And time connecting with other people and places (that you may have otherwise missed).
2. Be conscious of your impact as a tourist (and as a human)! Every action you take has a very real impact on people and places everywhere; there is no exception as a tourist. Having an awareness of our impact contributes to responsible action…take responsibility as a tourist. Do research and make informed decisions about what you support.
3. Sometimes as a tourist it is easy to feel objectified, like a walking $. We react by objectifying back. Challenge yourself to see the human in everyone and instead respond with an awareness of the human journey.
8. What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to use their skills and talents to make a difference in the world, but do not know where to start.
Go! Go where you want to be or where you think might be a good start; here you will meet people and opportunity. Create your own experience, whatever it may be, that will cultivate self-worth and confidence in what you have to offer. And be open to experience culture, sharing, learning and opportunity; it is everywhere!
To find our more or shop Ways of Change, Click Here.