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Shop & Save….A Family!

Women love to shop. Even those of us who rather get our leg hairs lasered than go shopping admit it feels good to wear something fresh off the rack. It makes us feel prettier, confident and more put together.

It’s even better if that said rack has some sort of discount sign affixed to it. That much sought after shopper’s high ignites when you see the “sale” sign on THAT dress. You peek inside the back of the neck scoop and see that magic little (of course its little) number that marks your size. You look over that sweet drape of cotton/rayon goodness in approval.

Who cares if it doesn’t fit JUST RIGHT, you pretty much stole it at that price and it feels SO GOOD that you go celebrate at the Cinnabon next door. (You buy the small ones of course)!

So that Cinnabon might make the dress fit a little less than “just right” but who cares?  It was only $17.99 marked down from $30, marked down from $58. Well done faithful shopper!

This shopper’s high is experienced by millions of frugal mom shoppers who LIVE for these kind of finds. It feels good to save money AND look awesome doing it. Aside from, you know, clothing our bodies and the bodies of the littles in our homes—finding great deals make us feel like good stewards of the resources we have.

It’s the “I got it at Ross” feeling when people compliment you on your outfit and you proudly declare that you got 116 pieces for only $29. Good job mama who is trying to stretch a dollar so she can save up for that summer vacay!

But I want to ask a question.

What if you learned that the person who made that “great find” dress doesn’t make enough money to feed her three children? She leaves her 9-year-old daughter to take care of the younger two all day in her tiny makeshift home.

What if the hang tag shared this young mom’s photo and explained how close she was to giving up all three to a local orphanage hoping that her children have a chance to thrive?

Would you refrain from buying the dress?
Would you call the brand and demand they pay her more for her 10-hour shifts?

What would you do?

I know. You hate me for bringing this up. I don’t want to step in the way of your savvy shopping. I really don’t. But every garment, accessory, pair of shoes we buy has a story and chances are, it’s not one you want to hear. Because it would break your heart.

I know your intentions are good. You search for that bottom line deal because you want to save and perhaps use those savings to do meaningful things.

But is there a better way to shop?

As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of our money and we often equate that with tithing and saving. But what if we looked at shopping as a way to bless others, too?

Yes! We get things for ourselves but what if we knew that this mother of three was able to send her littles to school and keep her family together because the company she works for believes in more than just the bottom line?

Would you buy that dress and pay the full $58. Sure—you wouldn’t be able to have 29 dresses hanging in your closet but you’d have a handful that you would be proud to wear because you KNEW your purchasing power was literally saving lives FAMILIES.

I don’t know about you, but I think this sort of ethical shopping is more in line with my Christian principles.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. Proverbs 14:31

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9

Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy….   Deuteronomy 24:14

I’m not asking you to go “radical” and blow the dust off your grandmother’s sewing machine. Homemade pillowcase dresses can only take you so far people!

I’m asking you to take a look at some alternatives. You’ll be surprised to learn how many companies are rethinking the bottom line and incorporating fair trade principles that are more socially and ecologically sustainable. I know these words don’t really mean a lot to most of us, but thinking about that single mom struggling to keep her kids should mean SOMETHING.

There is SOMETHING that all of us could do.

A million small pushes is better than ONE giant shove by one person. Let’s do this together!

Here’s a good place to start to learn about companies daring to go against fast fashion……

Want to start with the basics? Click here!

Leslie is rocking this cute shirt at a recent conference!
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Our Clothes Can Serrv The Community

Since January, I have been creating a fair-trade capsule wardrobe. It has been going well and it has made me really think before I buy. At times this has been challenging but also freeing at the same time. This concept has caught on in my HandUp Global Goods family. While not everyone is ready to dive in to the capsule wardrobe, for the month of June, each member of the HandUp Global Goods team has purchased a fair-trade item to wear.

Last week, I kicked us off with a cute top from Girl Set Free. This week, our fearless leader, Natul is sporting a cute top from Serrv (see what I did there in the title)! This bright, lightweight tunic is 100% cotton and is perfect for these very warm summer months. Serrv has a variety of tunics, dresses and breathable sweaters that is sure to match any style. Right now, you can take an extra 40% off your clothing purchases! Just typing the word sale makes me super happy!

Serrv is unique in that they are an online store that sells a little bit of everything and each of those items that they sell are fairly made by artisans around the world. Think of it like an online fair-trade utopia! It has everything from home décor, to food, to clothing and more.

Going all the way back to 1949, Serrv is one of the first companies to sell fair-trade products in the United States. They are a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization and the Fair Trade Federation. Their mission statement is simple and clear, Serrv is a nonprofit organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide.

With 55 partnerships worldwide with various artisans, farmers and co-ops, there is something for everyone. Don’t be sad you missed a sale! Give Serrv a try today and you can sport a pretty top like Natul.

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How One Shirt can Make a Difference

Over the last year and half of blogging for HandUp Global Goods, I have come across so many amazing companies. The fashion industry, while it still has a long way to go, has made significant strides to protect their artisans. What I really love, however, is a company that not only focuses on fair and ethical sourcing but also gives back.

Girl Set Free focuses on fighting against human trafficking by working alongside many reputable human trafficking advocates. Human trafficking is just a new name for slavery, an issue that is still very much alive within all societies. With an estimated 27 million individuals in slavery today, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes. Each purchase you make with Girl Set Free goes to stop human trafficking.

I bought this cute shirt to add to my fair-trade capsule wardrobe (read more about that here) from Girl Set Free. This super cute and soft shirt has been perfect this summer. I love the wider cap on the shoulder and the simple but beautifully stated “By Grace” on the front. The Grace Tee is perfect for a capsule wardrobe because you can easily add layers as the seasons change. It will be summer here until November, but I am looking forward to pairing it with some cute fall outfits once the weather starts to change. It is also a perfect backdrop for all my HandUp Global Goods jewelry!

Summer casual
Dress it up with a skirt and cute shoes
My favorite way is to pair it with my go-to jeans

Girl Set Free just launched a new website where they are offering all kinds of super cute and ethically made products. They have beautifully hand-woven cross-body bags, hand turned pens, and t-shirts with a message I can stand behind. I have fallen in love with the heart of this company.

Simply stated, I trusted and obeyed and have the most amazing tribe that believed in me but believed in God more and they never let me lose sight of that. Girl Set Free started with my personal redemption story. Little did I know, saying yes to hard and holy things would lead to so much freedom and healing for others. Not only for our artisan partners but for me personally. God called me to rest this year after a long season of healing and years of striving. You see, I felt my worth came from my work because I held onto lies from the enemy. It was time for me to lay that all down. I’m humbled and have cried many tears since we started this journey but the growth has been beautifully hard and I’m counting the fruit now. Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to his power that is at work within us.”  -CEO Amy Kratzer

Check out their new website, purchase some amazing items and let me know what you think.

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Give Your Local Hero a HUGG

A couple of years ago, I asked one of the HandUp artisans what he thought of the man who had taken care of him as a child living on the streets. He got quiet before he answered as if weighing his words—“I love him.” he said.

When I asked him if this man had been like a father to him, he perked up and said, “Papa Jimmy was more than a father to us boys, he was a protector.” It made me sad to think that this young man, who had little notion of a father’s role, would think that the word “father’ meant anything less than “protector” or “provider”.

Yet, a protector is what he needed most as a child living on the streets and that act alone earned the love of this young man for Papa Jimmy. A few months later, it occurred to me just how faithful God has been to these boys.

When they were young and vulnerable, God sent Papa Jimmy, the protector, to try to mitigate the violence that they faced on the streets.

Then, the last five years of their adolescence, God sent Mike and Carrie, the providers, to bring them into a loving orphanage.

Then it was time to leave the orphanage. They needed to be able to protect and provide for themselves. So God sent my husband to Haiti and this single trip, as many of you know, was the beginning of HandUp.

“God is Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows in His holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

The story of the boys of HandUp reminds me that He protects and defends through regular people like you and me.  

My prayer for these young men is that one day they will be able to fully live these father roles for their own community, church and children. That the word “father” would entail all the good things that our own children experience with their fathers. It’s more than just protection and provision—it’s giggles and tickles and stern talks and late night prayers. It’s temporarily pulling the plug on your life to go be with your grown son who is struggling through his last course of college. I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day and he shared with me that he was staying with his son in another state because he knew it was the right thing to do. I was amazed at his dedication to leave his business so he could provide the emotional support his son needed. This is being a father.

Good daddies give their children layers of confidence, assurance and security that is hard to attain otherwise. That’s why so many of us are messed up. Did I just say that? I know I struggled because I had a father who barely provided and who hurt me instead of protected me. Yet, I learned the richness of a father figure through my father-in-law and through watching my husband interact with our children.

I dedicate this blog to all the fathers and father-figures who are out there protecting, providing and infusing their children with steadfast security. YOU really do make the world a safer place to live.

Click here to gift your local hero with a HUGG that gives back to young men who’ve aged out of orphanages.

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My Trip to Haiti-Part 2

When I arrived in Haiti last year on my first trip my senses were immediately overwhelmed from the moment I stepped out of the airport. Walking out of the airport doors there were hundreds of people lining the walkway to get to where our transportation was waiting. We were pushing luggage carts that each had about 6 bags on them right at the 50-lb limit, trying not to run over the locals, while the people that were in charge yelled at us to not let ANYONE grab our bags.  A mixture of heat, exhaust fumes and burning trash filled the air while you loaded your bags then hopped into the back of a “tap tap” for a Haitian taxi ride.

Haitian taxi called a “tap tap”

I felt like I spent half of the trip just trying to come to terms with all I was seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling; physically, mentally and spiritually.  I say all of this while trying hard not to exaggerate what I was sensing but portraying my emotion last year…overwhelmed. This same feeling crept into my thinking this year again, but I could really see a small part of what God is doing in Haiti.

We must focus on what God can do, and what He is already doing.  Like Mike and Carrie Gibson in California while Pierre Alexis in Haiti had a shared calling to serve the Haitian people and minister to street boys. This is how Grangou was established. Grangou has been able to not only meet the physical needs of many children in Haiti, but instill in them a desire to know and pursue God. This is also what Dan and Natul Middlebrook did when God laid on their heart a desire to help the boys that aged out of the orphanage and birthed HandUp Global Goods.

For the last 2 years I have had the privilege to take a group of young adults from West Conroe Baptist Church to minister at Grangou and minister with the artisans at HUGG. Being that it has been 1 year since I last went, it was astonishing to see what work God has done in the hearts of the HUGG artisans during that time.  We got to minister alongside 2 of the artisans who are mentoring and teaching about 10 street boys to read and write.  They also lead a weekly street feeding that feeds over a hundred kids.  Then we got to go out to minister alongside artisan Max as he reaches out to kids in the community he lived in for several years.  He uses the income he receives from HUGG to supply many street kids with food and has even built a shelter for several of the kids to live in.

Making jewelry with the HUGG artisans

Besides these 2 ministries, you can see the impact the HUGG artisans have on the people around them. There are other Haitians that are brought into the HUGG family; security, transportation and support personnel are all benefiting.  One difference from last year was the support personnel individuals originally separated themselves from the ministry activities and devotionals.  This year they seem to jump in and help serve in ministry and participate in ministry.  The spiritual and physical needs of the artisans is the focus of HUGG but they are in turn reaching out to the others around them and bringing them into the ministry aspect of HUGG.  It is a reminder that God is at work all around us…we just need to join in on what He is up to.

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How Marcial’s Hands Have Changed

“All my life, people have seen the palms of my hands, but now they get to see the back of them, too.” Marcial spoke these words to me as we were finishing up a satisfying dinner in the cool of the evening. It had rained that day in the capital city of Haiti and the showers had absorbed the heat released by the Caribbean sun. These powerful words seemed out of place coming from this meek, slender young man with a sheepish smile.

It’s hard for my first-world mind to grasp how a child survives life on the streets. For many of the orphaned children of Port-au-Prince, there are no families who can lend a hand. There are no government programs, shelters, soup kitchens or even friends whose houses they can crash for the evening.

There is hunger, violence, drugs and the daily struggle for survival. No one knows this better than Marcial.

As he spoke, I tried to imagine him as a child. I pictured him, small and timid, begging for food and money on the street corners like so many children do in Haiti. Hands out. Yet, he is one of the lucky ones. An American couple started a boys’ home in Port-au-Prince and Marcial was able to live out the last five years of his adolescence there. He relied on the kindness of strangers for his survival.

The problem is that no nation has ever climbed out of poverty with their hands out.

Job Creation

That is why HandUp Global Goods (HUGG) seeks to eliminate a life of handouts for teens aging out of orphanages. By giving them a HandUp, we allow them to lift themselves out of poverty.

Today, Marcial is an artisan at HandUp and for the first time in his life, he gets to show others the back of his hands. He earns a fair wage and can now take part in a transactional-based economy where more than two-thirds of adults lack formal jobs.

Carving out opportunities is critical in ailing economies and from my experience, charity doesn’t typically forecast long-lasting solutions. Commerce, on the other hand, is a powerful catalyst for positive social transformation.

Our hope is that the ripple effects of these artisanal jobs will open doors for more jobs, trades and innovation in impoverished communities. Imagine hands that have begged for so long transforming into Haiti’s workforce. This is our vision and the reason we give a HandUP.

 Spiritual Discipleship

In addition to his job, Marcial takes part in our spiritual discipleship program which instills in our young men a Christ-centered faith that motivates them to give back to their communities. For the first time in his life, Marcial gets to be the “giver” instead of the “receiver”. What a joy it is for him and the other HUGG artisans to have the honor of pouring out what has been poured into them. Frederick Buechner said that it is easier to raise strong children than to repair broken men. We know we can’t “fix” these young men who have witnessed more horrors than I care to imagine. Yet, we give them the spiritual tools to experience healing on their own. We balance high expectations in a perpetual state of grace, and although challenging, we make it clear that THIS is a partnership. One success, and our little enterprise rejoices, a failure and we all mourn. There is a latent beauty in our daily exchanges of demanding more from one another in a spirit of love.

Giving Back

It feels good to be in a place where you can give of your time, talents and resources, and Marcial is getting a taste of that through the community work he does through HandUp.  There is dignity, joy and gratitude when we give back and as he puts it, “people can now see the back of my hands.” Powerful words from this wise young man. But as experience has shown me, these former street boys need to consistently be reminded that they have the right to live out these new stories of givers and leaders. It’s so easy for them to sink back into what they thought they were for so long. It takes convincing, patience and unconditional love.

Fashion that Fuels Social Transformation

I think of all the Marcials of the world and wonder how something as simple as shifting my shopping habits could potentially allow people like him the freedom to give for the first time in their lives. To give food to their loved ones, to give them a roof over their heads, to give something to those with nothing. To SHOW the back of their hands.

That night, preparing for bed, those words repeated themselves in my head. “I now get to show the back of my hands. Back of my hands. Hands.” Every garment touched by my hands in a fancy department store was MADE by someone else’s hands. I know this. While I don’t know their story, I do feel a connection to those workers who make my beautiful things. Because of people like Marcial, I now feel compelled to ask “Was this person paid a fair wage?” “Were their human rights violated in any way?” “Is she able to give her loved ones what they need?” My hands have the potential to transform a life when I choose to use my purchasing power for good.

Buying fairly-traded apparel and accessories not only allows impoverished artisans to earn for themselves, it gives them the freedom to give. For Marcial, this one act has given him a deep satisfaction. For me, it’s done the opposite. I know it will take all of us to pursue fashion that transforms lives.

Ready to join the HandUp movement? Here is a great place to start!

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My Trip to Haiti: Part 1

Short-term mission trips to different countries have a way of causing us to glamorize every experience we come across.  We go expecting every experience to be exotic, unfamiliar and exhilarating.  This can cause us to romanticize even the mundane parts of our trip.  From the transportation methods, the language, the pace and the food, we tend to put too much emphasis on experience. 

One example: while in Belize a few years ago, we were eating at the hotel restaurant and drinking some very fine coffee. If you know me you know I have a deep love affair with coffee.  Several of us were lamenting how great the coffee was and wondering if we could find this coffee locally.  We asked the server what the brand of coffee was and where we could find it.  He wasn’t sure of the brand but said it was easy to find as it was in a bright blue container.  We looked everywhere for this coffee over the next few days to no avail, so we begged him to show us the container so we could finally see where this finest of coffees could be found.  The server went searching for the container as we waited excitedly.  He emerged from the kitchen looking half confused and annoyed carrying a bright blue plastic container of…Maxwell House coffee. Our server proceeded to tell us we could find it anywhere, including in the states.  That wasn’t what we were expecting. It was this moment that allowed me to re-evaluate how I was approaching the trip and each experience I came across.

The International Mission Board (IMB) posted a blog on their Facebook page recently titled “5 Ways Not to Return Home From a Mission Trip.”  In it the author, Elliot Clark, looks at ways Christians can return from a mission trip and have the wrong attitude and outlook as they are asked to reflect on their trip.  The author defines the wrong ways as; the Expert, the Called, the Critic, the Exaggerator and the Enthusiastic.  I believe how we come home from these trips can be heavily determined by how we prepare beforehand.

As I prepared to go to Haiti, my second trip there, I thought about this blog post. I thought about how might I prepare myself before I left so I stay grounded in what we’re going to do.  I wanted everything I saw to be through the eyes of God, so I could see what He has been doing in Haiti way before I even thought about going there.  I reminded myself God has not been waiting around for me to go back to Haiti so He could finally get to work. No, I needed to see where God has already been working and join Him in that work for the short period I am there.  I needed to allow Him to show me, “This is what I am doing, will you join Me?”  Also, I needed to listen and respect those that spend many weeks a year there, those that live there and have been called into a life of ministry to the people in Haiti.

Beach day with the HUGG boys

Two of those groups that have been working in Haiti for some time now: Hand Up Global Goods and Grangou.  They are who we went to support in the ministries they already have established in Haiti.  Come back next week to hear specifically what these organizations are doing in Haiti, how God is using them to not only minister to orphans but how those they are ministering to are starting their own ministries.  What an amazing concept…minister to some of the neediest people in Haiti, disciple them into Godly young men and then support them as they begin to minister to their own people.  It is one of the most beautiful, touching things witnessed.  Oh, what God can do when we simply allow Him to take control.

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End of Year Teacher Gifts that Give Back!

I’m THAT mom-the last minute gift shopper.

I buy birthday gifts on the way to friends’ parties and wrap (if stuffing tissue qualifies as “wrapping”) them in the parking lot. There was a while that my car console was a cornucopia of ribbon and tissue paper. I got quite good at the whole “panic shop for party” thing. No need for plastic grocery bags, just ring up the gift bag—pop that baby open and fill ‘er up!!! Seriously—this is how I roll.

As much as I try to get ahead of the game, buying gifts never seems to scratch its way to the top of my daily lists!!! So for now, yes, it’s hurried and probably not very thoughtful—but by-George—we make it to the party.

With the end of year teacher gifts up ahead, I need to find something super-easy that I can throw together without hassle—but it HAS to be thoughtful, you know?

After all, this is the person who has lovingly guided my littles for the last nine months. One of my children’s teachers, in particular, deserves the Teacher of the Year award for never calling me to complain about my son. I KNOW him—there is no way his passionate convictions were laid to rest in the classroom. Yet—not one call or complaint. This lady is a saint! Blessed are the teachers who don’t take ALL matters to the parents.

So how do I genuinely show her my appreciation without having to scour stores and spend A LOT of time and money? If you are wondering the same thing and you, like me, pick out gifts sort of last minute—I do have some thoughtful ideas that are easy, inexpensive and packed with meaning.

Your teacher will be thankful for the goodies AND the benefits each one brings to impoverished communities. THIS is using your purchasing power for GOOD!

Package 1: $30 – Teacher Love Bundle

Our classic “wrap the world around your wrist” bracelet with a burlap bound journal and orange flavored Zambeezi lip balm!

Teacher Love Bundle – $30

Package 2: $45 – FOUR Handmade Bracelets

Buy 3 Akolads and Get the 4th one Free! Each waxed cord bracelet comes in a cute HUGG muslin bag and shares the story of the artisan who made it.

Buy 3, Get 4th Free – Akolad!

Package 3: $15 –THREE Handmade Macrame Bracelets

Need a little something extra to complete your perfect teacher’s gift? Add this beautiful gold-filled macramé bracelet for just $6.00/piece or  buy any combination of 3 for $15!

So, dear mama, make it easy for yourself and get these artisan-made beauties shipped to you today.

Teacher Special will run through May 24th.

 

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Edible Coffee: Have Your Coffee and Eat It Too

Coffee Thins

I have discovered something pretty amazing. Something that combines two things that I love the most. Chocolate and coffee!

I know, the marriage of chocolate and coffee is nothing new. I love a good Mocha every now and then. But today I am talking about something a little different. This new chocolate and coffee combination is something new entirely, at least to me. This is morsel that has packed an entire cup of coffee into one delicious chocolate/coffee square. An edible coffee that is easy to pack away in your purse or your desk and eat when the caffeine slump starts to pull you under.

Coffee Thins are USA made and have been developed by Eight O’Clock Coffee Company and Krispy Kreme. Their chocolate bars consist of 3 squares and each square is equal to one cup of coffee.  There are 6 enjoyable flavors to choose from with my favorite being Latte. What is crazy is that they really do taste like a cup of coffee! It is like biting into your favorite cup of joe. The nutrition is equal to an amount of coffee as well.

I am not saying these have taken place of my morning coffee. But they are super easy to pack away and pull out when on the run. Each square is individually wrapped to make it wonderfully convenient. You can order online here or you can find them at your local grocery store.

Pick up a bar today and let me know what you think.

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Share the Importance of Fairtrade by Joining the World Fairtrade Challenge

It has been a crazy last few weeks. Sickness has ran its course through our house, busy schedules have not slowed down even though we have been sick and I have a husband who is getting ready to go to Haiti in a week. It always seems to go this way before one of us heads out on a mission trip. However, this can only mean one thing: God is getting ready to do some amazing this on this trip! My husband will be doing a blog takeover once he returns to share his stories.

A few weeks ago, fashion revolution week took over to show everyone the beautiful people who make your clothes and accessories. This week, there is an opportunity for you to be a part of this global community by participating in the World Fairtrade Challenge. Starting Friday, May 12th, through Sunday, May 14th, Fairtrade America is hosting a fair-trade celebration and they want everyone to join. The concept is simple: to show the world the importance of buying fair-trade products. More and more people are buying fair-trade produce and products which allow farmers and workers to have a livable wage and a sustainable lifestyle. This continues to have an ongoing effect within their local communities.

How can you join in on the challenge?

You can register here to say that you are joining the challenge. Once you join, make a fair-trade purchase (it can be food, coffee, clothing, accessories, etc), post it on social media and use #fairtradechallenge. You can also treat your friends, family and/or coworkers to some fair-trade goodness. If you need some more specific ideas, you can check out more here and you can follow me on Instagram @thefairleslie.  

The purpose:

The goal behind the World Fairtrade Challenge is to show not only the importance of buying fair-trade but how it is becoming more accessible. I get so excited when I find new fair-trade produce available in my grocery store or the number of stores that are carrying fair-trade clothing and accessories. The best way to know if something is ethically sourced is to look at the label. Some will have a fair-trade logo while others may not have a logo but will state they are ethically sourced and produced.

Join the World Fairtrade Challenge this weekend! Do not forget to use the #fairtradechallenge to tag your photo. If you are unsure what to buy, remember Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend. What a great time to buy your mom something amazing and ethically made.