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Why I Said “Yes” to the HUGG Story

Four years ago, I found myself burdened by the number of orphaned children in the world. Even though our family had adopted and fostered and become active members in the orphan care community—the burden for me grew heavier.

Until one day, my husband came back from a trip to Haiti and gifted me with a handful of bracelets. He told me that orphaned young men made these colorful street bracelets and how they had just aged out of a Haitian orphanage and were struggling to survive. “Survival bracelets” I called them.

The burden I had carried for so long changed into a God-sized dream to stop children from ever having to become orphans in the first place. By equipping these young men with Jesus first and jobs second, they would stop perpetuating the problem of poverty and orphans and lead their spheres of influence for the glory of God. And that is exactly what happened.

These young artisans are earning a fair wage, receiving spiritual discipleship and the best part is they are giving back to their communities. Max, one of our original 8, lost both his parents at a young age, he knows what it feels like to be homeless and hungry. For this reason, as soon as he started earning a salary, he began feeding children in Canaan, a village close to his heart. In the last three years, he has started a foundation and now houses and provides for 12 boys.

He uses the same principles he learned with HandUp and applies them to his own ministry in Canaan. In fact, I am happy to announce that we recently launched Max to lead his own artisan cooperative in Canaan. Why is this so significant?

Because he has chosen to employ several of the mamas in Canaan so they can keep their babies out of orphanages. This is orphan prevention through job creation. Jesus first and jobs second. The HandUp model is working!!!

What started out as survival bracelets has flourished into the HUGG Mission Market concept. The items you buy are tokens of success for the makers with whom we partner, but they are also reminders to all of us that everyone deserves the chance to earn a dignified wage.

The Mission Market is a powerful way to do missions as 100% of the proceeds go back to our mission to equip young men who’ve aged out of orphan care in Haiti with Jesus first and jobs second. For 2019, HandUp aims to:

  • Hire an on-the-ground Program Director to oversee all program-related initiatives
  • Develop a 6-month character-based development program (LeKol HandUp) targeting young Haitian men
  • Formalize our Christ-centered business training workshops for program participants to launch their own businesses
  • Extend our HandUp House lease for another two years to provide a safe working environment for our artisans

So it turns out that this burden I had in my heart had a purpose. God planted it there to answer the prayers of 8 orphaned young men in Haiti and of course—in true God-sized fashion, He turned it into something so much bigger and beautiful than any of us could have imagined. All it took was a “yes” and one small step of obedience on my part……and countless other “yesses” from family, friends, supporters and shoppers!

We have learned that it takes local community to make a global difference and I am asking that you take a moment to ask God what your “yes” looks like today.

You can click here to make a donation or check out our HUGG Holiday Market and pick up a gift with a powerful story. It’s a win win!

May His name continue to be made famous among the nations. To God be the glory….always.

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Why Giving HUGGS is Saving Lives

Let me assure you that this is NOT a call for donations.

What I am asking is the following:

For you to consider carrying HUGG pieces in your church book stores, coffee shops, gift shops and lobbies.

For church leaders to learn more about a movement that seeks to create jobs in impoverished communities such as Haiti. We should be casting a vote to support artisans like Max by using our purchasing dollars for good. 100% of HUGG sales go back into our operations to create more jobs in Haiti. But more importantly, your purchase is saving lives. 

Let me explain HOW:

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting with the Association to Save the Children in Canaan and Onaville.

This committee was founded on the principles that all children have the right to shelter, education and access to food. Canaan is located about 10 miles outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. It is a post-earthquake, make-shift city settled on dry dusty hills with no plumbing nor electricity. It is a hard place for a family to carve out a living, but it is even harder for the children that drifted to this settlement without an adult to care for them.

Max, a HandUp artisan, knows just how hard it is to be an orphaned child in Haiti. He found himself a homeless teenager in Canaan. Although he loved his village, he knew that God was calling him to the city of Port-au-Prince. He didn’t know what he would find there, but he knew the answers were ahead of him.

After a few months of living on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Max was approached by a young man by the name of Patrick. Patrick had just aged out of an orphanage and was living with 6 other young men who had transitioned from the same boys’ home. Later Patrick would share with me the reason he was drawn to Max.

“I knew we needed someone like Max in the apartment. We needed someone to teach us more about the Bible and Jesus.”

After several visits with this young evangelist, Patrick invited Max into the tiny 3-room apartment he and the other young men shared. It wasn’t long before Max carved his place within this band of brothers. It would be months still before I’d show up in their apartment, asking these young men whether they wanted a job. These 8 would become the backbone of the HandUp program.

As soon as Max started receiving a steady income through HandUp, he went back to Canaan. It was simple at first. He started out by purchasing rice, beans and oil for a local lady to cook for some of the orphans there. Then it grew to him building a shanty for 16 parentless children.

Max’s shanty for 16 children.

He had very little resources and several of the other HUGG artisans started pitching in to help meet some of the children’s basic needs. Aside from taking care of the 16 most vulnerable children, he started working with other needy children in the community. Bible studies, crafts, singing and dancing all became part of a weekly program under Max’s leadership.

But it was too much for him to bear. He witnessed two little children die simply of infections that could have been prevented with antibiotics. After this incident, my Life Group in Conroe, Texas started supporting some of Max’s efforts by providing for food costs and allowing him to set aside some savings for emergencies.

These extra funds were the catalyst that Max needed to jumpstart his program. He formed a committee with HandUp artisans and local community members to bolster their efforts towards saving children from the grips of poverty.

Under Max’s leadership, the group has committed to taking care of 12 of the 16 orphans under Max’s care. The 12 boys will be living in a one-room house rented just for them. The rest of the group are girls and I will save their story for another day. We will continue to partner with the committee until we’ve placed each little girl in a loving home. But for now, this committee does the best they can to meet the needs of these children that God has entrusted in their care.

Max, Marcial and Richardson & the new home for Canaan boys.

Without HandUp Global Goods…

There would have been no job for Max and the other artisans.

Without a job, they would have been too busy surviving Haiti rather than helping Haiti survive and THRIVE.

Tools for Ministry

Max’s efforts to build a program in Canaan is a result of what he has learned under the leadership of HandUp staff. Education, spiritual discipleship, and mentoring are all things that have been poured into Max over the last three years. Without this holistic approach, Max would not have had the necessary skills to lead this ministry in Canaan.

A HandUp, Not a Handout

Because of one job, 16 orphans have their basic needs being met.

Because we give a handUp and not a handout, young men are experiencing a dignity attainable only through the work of their own hands.

Young Haitian men like Max must be employed, mentored, and trained so that they can be the ones to help their communities.

Once, these young men were destined towards the path of becoming orphan makers. Because of their jobs with HandUp, they’ve broken through systemic poverty and are being transformed into Opportunity Makers.

The Struggle is Real

Although our retail and wholesale orders are slowly gaining momentum; our donations are at an all-time low. Without these funds, we are unable to meet our operational expenses on the ground.

But I’ll be honest–it’s the sales that we need. We have beautiful pieces that tell an equally beautiful story. If we tell it right, God’s church WILL RISE to the occasion. I know God cares about the makers that make the things we wear and He desires to use the church to bless them, not to exploit them.

There are 23 young men in our program. Many who are also making an impact in the communities in which they live.  Would you allow us an opportunity to share their stories in your church?

THREE VITAL Ways to help:

  1. Host a Sunday Pop Up this Spring/Summer in your church.
  2. Invite us to come share the HUGG story at your next Event.
  3. Carry HUGG products in your church.
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Dusting Off The Sewing Machine

I did it y’all. I dusted off the old sewing machine and I made something.

Not just any something. I made myself a dress. And I can actually wear it! I am sew excited! (See what I did there)

Now, for some this is not a big deal. For me, this is huge. I have always had an envious bone for those that can just whip something together. I am still sooooo far from this, but I am patting myself on the back for this one.

On this journey into fair-trade, I have also looked at the amount of excess I have in my life. Is everything I have a need or are most of my items wants? Having wants is not necessarily bad, but I was determined this year to really focus on not having too much stuff for the sake of having stuff. Reusing and recycling have become a part of my life this year.

I really wanted a new dress for an upcoming wedding but I was determined not to buy anything else. I am not sure if you follow Miranda Anderson from Live Free Miranda but I basically want to be her. She was the emcee at a conference I was at in February and I loved her. Her blog is amazing and filled with all kinds of crafty and beautiful items. She recently posted about a Kimono dress she made and I thought, “Yeah, let’s make this Leslie!”

The patterned looked pretty straight forward and with my mom at my side talking me through it all, I made this super cute and pretty simple Criss-Cross Kimono.

Cute right?! Here is the link to Miranda’s blog post (here) that takes you through each step. The only thing I changed was where it says you need 1.5 yards, I bumped it up to 2.5 yards to help with the length of the dress (I like mind right at my knees—this, of course, is your own personal preference).

It took a little more effort than going to the store, but I now have a one-of-a-kind dress that cost little and utilized items I already had.

Tell me what you think.

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When you Want to Buy the Trend: Confessions of a Capsule Wardrobe

Back in January, I made a commitment to create a fair-trade capsule wardrobe. Here I am, over halfway through the year and I have discovered a few pitfalls. Some of these pitfalls are purely psychological–I want to shop! Others are from a lack of planning; diving straight in to this idea. However, I have learned a lot about this process over the last 7 months. Here are a few things I wrestled with and how I am working on overcoming them:

  1. Never Buy the New Trend–Ugh! This has probably been the hardest. There are so many cute trends that are out there. What can make this more difficult is the fact that so many of these trends are available through fair-trade companies. It is amazing how far the fashion industry has come. We still have a long way to go but it is encouraging to see it moving in the right direction. But the purpose of my resolution is not to only buy fair-trade but to create a capsule wardrobe. This demands of me to be intentional in my purchasing. A trend will come and go, but a capsule wardrobe will last.
  2. Moving Away from Buying the Same Thing–I must be careful with this one. I have chosen a color pallet and tried to be intentional in what I need to search for when purchasing. But suddenly, I find myself looking at only black and white t-shirts, or jeans, or moving away from patterns. This does not have to be the case with a capsule wardrobe, but I just gravitate there now. I love patterns and textures and I need to learn to embrace that even in my capsule wardrobe. I can still look like me while being thoughtful in my purchases.
  3. Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More–There are great options on where to start building a capsule wardrobe. Just search for a capsule wardrobe checklist and hundreds will pop up. I downloaded one, checked off boxes of what I had, wrote in items I wanted rather than what was on the list and had a good plan of attack. Then, I stopped. This can’t happen. When the planning stops, you lose sight of why you started. So, as fall approaches, I am working on putting more planning in place as I add pieces. I will be posting about that process later.
  4. Give Yourself Some Grace–If you are a fellow Type-A individual like myself, this can be difficult. I have learned that this process is messy. I have messed up. I get lured like everyone else by cheap prices and trendy outfits that will only last a season. But it is ok. Mistakes will be made. I have learned so much through this process that I will be sharing on another post. What I have loved: When I am giving myself a hard-time, when it is not going smooth, my tribe around me has supported and encouraged. I love it and I am thankful for it.

If you are thinking of creating a fair-trade capsule wardrobe or maybe you are thinking about starting something completely different, know that the process is messy. Embrace that mess and push on. I am rooting for you.

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Fair-Trade and Giving Back All in One Purchase

July is in full swing. This weekend brought with it lots of family time, lake, swimming and fried fish! For so many reasons, I love 4th of July weekend. It is on holidays like this that remind me that I live in a place that allows me the freedom to help others around me. The items I buy fall into this category.

At HandUp, we are continuing to feature one of our own and the company they wish to highlight. Last week, Natul showed us the beautifully hand-crafted items from Serrv. This week, Gretchen has purchased cute shorts from Patagonia.

Patagonia is well known for their athletic wear. Growing from a small company that made tools for climbers, Patagonia now sells gear and clothing for all “silent sports”–from fishing, to running, to skiing and more. Their mission is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” They are Fair Trade Certified, give back a portion of their profit towards many different environmental groups and they use recycled polyester and organic cotton in their clothes. And, best of all, they have products for the whole family!

Check out these cute shorts on Gretchen. They are perfect for the summer and I love the sunny yellow. She is also rocking our beautiful new triple wrap from our beachy keen collection. Let me know what you think!

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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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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.

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 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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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.