Have you ever taken a trip to a poverty stricken country and returned home feeling a new found gratitude for the many comforts you had once taken for granted? Have you then been forced to ask yourself, “Why should I have so much while others have so little?” After a trip to Guatemala in August 2009 I again started asking myself this question. I’ve always wanted to do something about the poverty I’ve seen when traveling to third world countries but, like most of us, never known quite where to start. However, a weaving class that I took in Guatemala gave me an idea.
This class was taught by a group of indigenous Mayan women who had formed a weaving cooperative in the highland area of northwestern Guatemala. I was inspired by their worker-run/worker-owned artisan group that trained hundreds of women to produce, market, and sell their work in country and abroad.
In a region where three quarters of the indigenous population live in grinding poverty and the childhood malnutrition rate is one of the highest in the world, these women have found one of the very few means open to them of generating an income. By working together they can earn living wages, stay home with their children, preserve and pass along the ancient art of backstrap weaving, and realize increased levels of dignity and respect from their families.
On my way home from Guatemala I realized that helping these women market their products was the perfect way for me to help them help themselves. Since I was already helping a missionary friend by selling beautiful paper beads made by Women in Uganda, adding another ethically-produced ‘product line’ made sense. To top it off, I love sewing, quilting, smocking, making baskets, and all types of art so marketing quality hand made goods for marginalized artisans felt to me like the ‘perfect storm’ of interest, industry, and vocation. It turned out to be the calling and passion I had been praying about for the next chapter of my life.
I can’t believe it was back in November, 2010 when I opened our first brick and mortar store at 104 Main St. in Warrenton, VA. In November, 2014 we opened our second store at 806 Caroline St. in Fredericksburg, VA. Terry and I can’t say “thank you” enough to all those have supported us in these ventures! When we first opened, we loved hearing customers calling on their cell phones in the store saying things like, “You won’t believe this. I’m in this really cool fair trade store that just opened in Warrenton called Latitudes… Yes, in Warrenton on Main St.!” Those responses and many other encouraging words kept us going as we stumbled though the strange new territory of trying to keep a store stocked when the shelves were practically emptied every week. Now our journey continues, and we thoroughly enjoy being part of both our small communities, as well as the larger international fair trade network. We are excited to have the chance to meet more unique and inspiring individuals both here and around the world. Thank you for your encouragement and support.
- Lee and Terry Owsley