Giving Dignity

Dignity is “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect”

I first stumbled upon Karama Collection at Proverb 31 Ministries’ She Speaks conference this past summer. By “stumbled upon” I really mean that I was “magnetically drawn toward with mouth agape.” Think neutrals, leather goods, brass and silver simplistic jewelry. Definitely standing out next to the hot pink and turquoise everything else. To each her own color pallet. Between the leather totes and backpacks, and jewelry that I could wear and still look professional, I felt like I was magically transported from the conference into a Madewell.

Full disclosure, I didn’t expect to see anything this fashionable at a Christian women’s conference. There’s a difference, I’ve learned, between being “in actual style” and “in Christian style.” As one who once owned more than one graphic tee saying “a bread crumb and fish” in the “Abercrombie and Fitch” era, and far too many poor footwear choices to share, learning the difference has taken years of trial and error. Everything I saw at the Karama booth was in actual style. Since I’m great with first impressions and even better with facial filters, my wide-eyes betrayed my attempt to appear like a civilized lady who had seen leather bags before. When the executive director explained that Karama partners with artisans throughout Africa and Haiti to craft these gorgeous leather goods and jewelry, I literally gawked. Then accidently blurted out something along the lines of, “but this is actually really cute. Like, Madwell, Anthropologie level cute. Like, I’d-actually-want-to-wear-this-cute.”

Please pray for my future first impressions.

Cue pedicured foot (something about “putting a best foot forward” forced me to get my toes done) in mouth. My unfiltered response unintentionally revealed a preconceived notion I didn’t realize existed within me. Apparently, I was surprised that artisans in developing countries were capable of creating a high quality product that I would actually want to buy. It wasn’t that I thought that those artisans were incapable; I just had not seen anything of this quality or this relevance prior to.

“That’s the point,” Kristine graciously explained.

Karama aims to give dignity to its artisans. Dignity, by definition, is the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect. It means that the product sells itself, as opposed to the mission behind it selling the product. Remember the original design of Toms shoes? Let it be known that this was my staple footwear for most of college. Let’s be real, I didn’t wear Toms because they were fashionable. Trendy in certain circles? Perhaps. Fashionable? No. Instead I purchased and wore Toms for the mission behind the brand— to provide shoes for a child in need— chalking it up to fashion compromises for a good cause. This mentality is charitable, not dignified. Dignity is mutually exclusive from charity. Charity involves helping those in need; one party gives and the other receives a gift that either will not or cannot be paid back. Typically, companies that give back position themselves in such a way that they are perceived as a sort of charity. Thus, as the buyer, you purchase a product because you want to help those in need, regardless of whether or not you actually want or need it. The thinking goes like this: “This purchase is for a good cause, and this necklace is cute enough.”

This is not dignity; it’s charity.

Karama isn’t a company that gives portions of earnings back to its artisans. It’s an organization that empowers and equips artisans in developing countries to start and sustain their own businesses. Karama does not employ people in other countries to work for Karama, rather it partners with artisans and champions for their own small businesses. Karama enables their artisans’ products to have exposure in a global market place. Karama doesn’t say, “look at this charitable work we are doing” but rather “look at how talented these artisans are!” There’s a difference between the two and that difference involves dignity.

Karama desires to communicate to artisans that their businesses are successful because they produce an excellent product, rather than that their businesses are successful because wealthy American Christians feel sorry for them. I respect this immensely because it does not caudle but coaches.

I’m not saying that it is wrong to purchase things out of a heart of charity, or to be driven by charity rather than desire or necessity. But I am saying that it is important to recognize that giving charity and giving dignity are two different things, and one will outlast the other.

With that said, Karama sells jewelry and leather goods that are hand crafted by artisans throughout Africa and the Haiti. Karama champions these small businesses by equipping and empowering the artisans to create a high quality product that will thrive in a global market place, and in turn will bring money back into their local economies. The product sells itself, and the mission behind it is icing on the cake.

I am crazy about this organization and its mission. So much so that my friend Helen and I will be hosting a giveaway over on Instagram to give one lucky lady the gorgeous purse and wristlet, both of which are perfect for Fall, and both of which were crafted by artisans in Haiti and Ethiopia. For entry details, check my Instagram page! The winner will be announced October 6th at noon.

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