Jessica: Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. This is your host Jessica Honegger, founder of the social impact fashion brand Noonday Collection. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared.
Today’s episode is a special one that we are releasing in honor of International Women’s Day, which is how we got to kick off our whole week. Now, at Noonday Collection, International Women’s Day is an everyday celebration. And you are going to get to hear today from three of our Artisan Business Partners from three different countries. You’ll hear from Roopa Mehta, who is the CEO of Shasha Association for Craft Producers in India and is also the newly elected president of the World Fair Trade Organization. You’ll hear from Fabienne Deplat, who is the Director of Production at Haiti Design Co. in Haiti. And finally, you’ll hear from Jalia Matovu, Noonday Collection’s first Artisan Partner and the founder and Chief Creative Officer of African Styles Ajuna.
We recorded this conversation live at Noonday Collection’s Global Fashion Sales UN-type summit in Austin, TX, that we have here every single year. I know this conversation will mean so much to you, as it did to me. Give it a listen.
Jessica: Welcome to the Going Scared podcast.
LIVE at SHINE
We are coming at you live from our International Global Women’s Summit does fashion, does business development, does inspiration. I cannot think of a better place to have a conversation about women empowerment than here at our annual Noonday Collection conference, Shine, where we celebrate women every day.
We have special guests for today’s panel, and I’m so excited to welcome to the show Roopa Mehta, Artisan Business Partner from India, Fabienne, one of our Artisan Business Partners from Haiti, and Jalia Matovu, one of our Artisan Business Partners from Uganda, welcome to the show.
Now I have gotten to walk with each of you for a few years, as we have scaled and built and created impact across our partnership. And I experienced you as strong female women who have people reporting to you, who you’re developing, who you’re leading, but I can imagine there’s been some self-doubt along your journey. So, I wanted to hear about a woman in your life who, when you were feeling a little bit unsure of yourself, how did you borrow courage from her?
Fabienne, can I start off with you? Because I have a feeling I might know who you’re gonna talk about.
Motherhood, Womanhood, and Courage
Fabienne: I remember when I was a teenager, I was kicked out from a prestigious school, and my dad was telling me, "OK, this school is for you. If you’re gonna continue with that school, I’m not gonna pay school for you anymore." And my mom told me, "Fabienne, I’m gonna do anything to pay school fee for you. If I need to sell these peanuts in the woods, I’ll do it for you." So, I always remember that special time she stood for me and she said, "I’m gonna keep supporting you."
Jessica: You have a strong mama. I’ve gotten to meet her. She’s an amazing woman. She now regularly travels back to Haiti to encourage and give courage to women there. Thank you. What about you, Roopa?
Roopa: Again, mothers are special. So, this was … I just learned driving. And I’d gone to drop my youngest sister to the bus stop. Coming back, to avoid somebody, I took the car into the ditch. And the car was damaged a little. I came back home. I went very nervously to my mother and I said … it was her car. Very nervously, I told her, I said, "Mama, this is what’s happened. I’d done this." Immediately, immediately, she took me back into the car, and she made me drive. She said that, "No, this is the way you overcome fear." So, that was the lesson I’ve never forgotten.
Jessica: That’s awesome. OK, take me back one second because I’ve been to India several times and I know not many women drive there. It’s not as common as it probably was then. So, tell me about that. Was that a big deal, that your parents let you drive?
Roopa: Well, my mother drove, and I taught myself driving.
Jessica: OK, that is awesome.
Roopa: Yeah, my mother was driving and yes, I … But my generation of people in … from where I was, people were driving, women were drive … I don’t drive anymore though.
Jessica: OK. I hear you. Jalia, what about you?
Jalia: I think for me … you asked about a time when I was feeling doubt in myself. I think for me, it was you, Jessica. Yeah, I remember the day you came to Uganda the first time and you told me, "Jalia, you are a designer now. Why don’t you wear makeup? Why don’t you wear your jewelry?" But at that point, I did not feel like I deserve to wear lipstick or to wear the jewelry that I was making. It was for others but not for me. But you encouraged me. You said, "You have to do this, try this out." I remember trying the lipstick on me, but I could not feel like it was for me. So, I really have borrowed a lot of courage from you, and you have made me believe in myself, and you’ve made me come from very far. Thank you.
“I did not feel like I deserve to wear lipstick or to wear the jewelry that I was making. It was for others but not for me. But you encouraged me.” Jalia Matovu
Jessica: You look beautiful.
Jalia: Thank you.
Jessica: With your lipstick on today.
Empowered Women Empower Women
We are at Shine, which is all about celebrating women and women lifting one another up. We say that when a woman goes up, when a woman shows up, she goes up, and we take other women with us. And our own Noonday Collection Ambassador Manifesto, we say that “her success doesn’t diminish my success.” And I want to understand how you were influenced, a situation where you saw women supporting women in your community that also helped you to adopt that mentality. Roopa?
“When a woman shows up, she goes up, and we take other women with us.” Jessica Honegger
Roopa: Well, I’ve always had women bosses. And I think the most influential one was Shabbi, we co-founded Sasha, and she was amazing because she was the one who taught me also of how you can support women. And for me, I think that was it. That was it, Jessica. That was it.
Jessica: Fabienne, what about you,
Fabienne: In Haiti, women are really supporting women because they are the one who’s always in the front, do what they need to do, even they don’t have the privilege to do a lot of things, they will make the opportunity to have others use that privilege. We see moms, they don’t know how … they don’t go to school, but they are fighting for their daughters so they can go to school. They don’t go to university, but they want to make sure that our daughters reach that level. It’s like they are not selfish. They just want to push other women because they know they will be the future.
“In Haiti, women are really supporting women because they are the one who’s always in the front, do what they need to do. … They are not selfish. They just want to push other women because they know they will be the future.” Fabienne Deplat
Jessica: One of the most powerful moments I’ve had and mine, at nine years, at Noonday Collection is when I had the opportunity to visit Haiti and go to Wideleine and Yvetta’s home, which they had been … they were cohabitating together, they couldn’t afford separate housing and so they built a house together. And I mean, I have a joke with my husband … I would take "Sister Wives" any day of the week. So, I was just so inspired by that and I’ve been…
Fabienne: They live like sisters.
Jessica: Yes, yeah, I’ve been so inspired by women in Haiti in particular and taking that approach. Jalia, what about you in Uganda?
Jalia: I see many women standings up for one another, supporting one another in many ways. For example, in my workshop, there was this one time when one of my workers, Mama Jiabao, she had stayed in the abusive marriage for a long time, and she was getting ready to come out of it. But this one day, she went back home, and she found her children were outside of the house, the husband had kicked her out and had taken everything with him, everything, including blankets for the children, saucepans, everything. The house was clean. And she did not know what to do or where to go that night.
But women in my workshop came together the next day, when they found out that this had happened to her, everyone brought something to help her start over again. They brought cups and plates and blankets and jerry cans, and just that to support her and she really felt the support.
I see a lot of these things happen, even in their homes when they have trouble, women all come together, they cook a meal together, they support each other. Even though for me, I always felt like I can contribute skills to the women in my community, I have learned a lot from them that is not only the income that they need, but also the community, the sisterhood, the togetherness, the support they borrow from one another.
“I always felt like I can contribute skills to the women in my community, I have learned a lot from them that is not only the income that they need, but also the community, the sisterhood, the togetherness, the support they borrow from one another.” Jalia Matovu
Overcoming Challenges Together
Jessica: So good. So good. Let’s talk a little bit about challenges. I know each one of your countries has its own unique challenges when it comes to women. Roopa, how would you describe some of the challenges that women are facing today in India?
Roopa: This might sound strange but really safety, safety in workplaces, safety in home, safety in public places. It is something that is there, is present. It’s not an epidemic, but I think it’s something that women are constantly having to take care. The Me Too Movement, it can be anywhere but here, it’s … in India, one is that.
And secondly, which I think is important is opportunities. And also the opportunities to … for women to be able to at least get out and have the education, probably people are getting more and more, but work opportunities or being recognized or being given those positions which they rightly deserve. And even in home situations, there are still cases. And this is serious. I think it’s serious, in my view, that a man and a woman go to work, but a woman comes back home, and it’s like, “OK, now the fun and games are over, let’s have … get the meal on the table.” So, that, I think, is really not right.
Jessica: It’s interesting that you do bring up safety and, sort of, with pause, like “I know it sounds kind of strange.” We have partnered with International Justice Mission over the years. We got to hear from Melissa Russell, president of International Justice Mission, and their primary mission is really to make violence against the poor oblivious, and they are fighting for safe places. It’s something that we don’t think about very often. And I just want to take a moment to celebrate that we, through our partnership with IJM, were able to fund three rescue operations, $20,000. So, thank you for sharing that. Fabienne, what about you and Haiti?
Fabienne: Woman in Haiti are facing a lot of challenges. Not only in Haiti, they have … most of the time, they put men in front. But women get physically abused by their partners. And the worst thing, they make them feel guilty about that. They are victims two times. It’s like it’s their fault that something happens, and they have to accept that. And they treat them, sometimes they treat them really bad and they make bad comments about them. They are facing a lot of challenges.
“Women get physically abused by their partners. And the worst thing, they make them feel guilty about that. They are victims two times. … They are facing a lot of challenges.” Fabienne Deplat
Jessica: Thank you. Jalia and Uganda.
Jalia: I think I can state about three things. The first one is abuse. Domestic violence is still a big thing in my country, especially in communities where poverty is very big. There still a lot of domestic violence. And the sad thing is that the government has not done much to protect women from abuse from their husbands. The law does not really come out to protects the women.
Other thing is education. There still a big percentage of women or girls that cannot access education as much as the boys can. There still in the culture where people think that the boy child is a better person to educate than the girl child, even though there’s this African proverb that says, if you educate a man, you educate an individual, but you educate a woman and educate the whole community. So, I believe that if we, thanks to Noonday for all the sponsorships that we have in our country, the majority of the children who are sponsored are girls, and I do that on purpose, because I want the girls to achieve as much as the boys can achieve.
“There’s this African proverb that says, if you educate a man, you educate an individual, but you educate a woman and educate the whole community.” Jalia Matovu
Educating, Employing, and Dignifying
Jessica: And I know in many of your countries, education is an issue for women, where girls have often not had the opportunity to be educated. And as you mentioned, Roopa, that’s changed dramatically in India. But then, of course, the problem remains, after school, jobs, jobs. And I know, Fabienne, you talked to us yesterday that even within your workshop, there might be a woman with a law degree working beside a woman who’s never been to school because there just are not enough jobs. Jalia, I love what you said, and I think we could even add to that and say, "You give a man a job, you give an individual a job. And you give a woman a job, and you give an entire community … you lift up the whole community."
So, let’s talk a little bit about that, because that is why we are in partnership together. That is our shared passion, that we are creating meaningful, dignified work that is bringing dignity to women so that they’re not afraid to come to work, so when they come to work, they’re going to be developed and they’re going to become leaders. They’re going to get paid on time, and then they’re going to use that money to then educate the next generation. Hello, this is what we get to do at Noonday Collection. As customers, when we purchase, we get to be part of that solution. As Hostesses, when we open our home, we’re part of that solution. And then Ambassadors, we get to also have our very jobs be what is the domino effect that creates this impact.
So, Roopa, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about … you mentioned the problems in India. How is your work at Sasha designs being a solution to the problems that you see for women in your community?
Roopa: Actually, if we see the impact in Sasha, you see that how the dynamics at home have changed, and they have changed. The women who are going out to work, who are bringing money home, you’ve seen the respect they have got in their homes, in their communities. The biggest, I think, positive is that because they’re meeting other women, they’re sharing their issues. They’re getting strength, and they’re able to have a voice in the house. They’re able to participate in decision making. And with the income, they contribute for the education of the children, for healthcare, and for joy, to get that TV, to go for the movie, to have new clothes at the festival. So, I think that’s a position of women, it has changed and thank you.
“The biggest, I think, positive is that because they’re meeting other women, they’re sharing their issues. They’re getting strength, and they’re able to have a voice in the house. They’re able to participate in decision making. And with the income, they contribute for the education of the children, for healthcare, and for joy.” Roopa Mehta
Jessica: Fabienne and Haiti.
Fabienne: I want to add to what Roopa said because most of the time, when men working, they feel, "OK, I need to have more women in my life," because they have more money. But when women have money, they take care of others. They take care of their children. They take care of their cousin. Most of the time, in Haiti, when … we said that yesterday, when someone is working, they have other people to help. They have cousins, sister, grandma. They feel the need to help those people. So, it’s very important when women are working because it’s is good for the all community. It’s not just only for themselves, but for other people.
Jessica: It’s beautiful. Jaila and Uganda.
Jalia: So, employment in my country, employment does not only provide income, which is a very … everyone needs income. But employment also gives these women dignity and independence. Because they’re employed, I’ve seen several of them who are able to come out of abusive marriages. I remember one woman who came to Jessica, and say, "Jessica, thank you so much for that job, because now I can leave my husband," because some women are stuck in these marriages only for fear of being homeless. I’ve seen that when women are employed, they get that independence, they get that the power to leave and be free from abuse. They also be able to provide for their children, for their family, the extended family. Employment is such a huge thing. It transforms the whole person.
“Employment also gives these women dignity and independence. Because they’re employed, I’ve seen several of them who are able to come out of abusive marriages. … Employment is such a huge thing. It transforms the whole person.” Jalia Matovu
From Flourishing Communities to Flourishing Futures
Jessica: I know in Uganda, there’s something called land grabbing, where even though the law says that a woman has a right to equal rights to land, in actuality, that’s not what is practiced. And so, the stories that Jalia has described on the podcast, that this woman, Mama Jiabao, came home and her house was just cleaned out, she really didn’t have a right to her home, according to the culture of the community culture. What do you see could change this? What are some ways, when you think about the future of woman in your countries, and if you could even imagine a world a couple of years from now, you’re standing in the future, you’re looking back? And paint a picture of that. Paint a picture of what would just bring you joy and just make you feel like, "Gosh, what we have done because of our work has created flourishing in our communities." What about you, Roopa, in India?
Roopa: You see so many examples of this. One of the most moving one for me was again, this particular family, community, and it is a Muslim community very, very conservative, where initially when we started working with them, the leader of that group that we help set up, she wasn’t even allowed to come to the office. But that changed. And for six months, the husband would come. And then, of course, she started coming and other women were traveling also to the city, to do their business.
And then I went to the village, and outside her home, Nehma is her name, there were three cycles. And I asked her, "Who are these cycles for?" Because I know she’s has daughters. She says, "These cycles are for the girls, they cycle to the next village to study." It made a huge impression on me because it demonstrated how, when there is income coming in, there are dreams for the future for the children, and now for the girls as well.
And in India, there is there are many, many leaders, women leaders and women moving into new professions, occupations. So, there is now a certain critical mass, if you like, that is created and which we are hopeful about, and you see it also at another level in our communities where, of course, many more ceilings have to be cracked. Ceiling … I don’t know what the phrase is, but yeah…
“There is now a certain critical mass, if you like, that is created and which we are hopeful about, and you see it also at another level in our communities.” Roopa Mehta
Jessica: I see lots of cracks, Roopa, and I think you’re the one that’s up there making the cracks.
Roopa: Many, many like me, Jessica. There are many amazing women working in this sector, really.
Jessica: So good, and I know that there’s so much collaboration and that you’re doing it together in an organized way.
Roopa: Exactly, exactly.
Jessica: Which is very Indian. You all are very organized. Fabienne, what about you? What do you dream about?
Fabienne: I would say there’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to … in the future. But I will see … let’s say right now, there’s women leaders in church, leaders in their community. But especially in Haiti, we’ll need more women in front of … in the political side. Because we’ve been experienced like men all the time, and we see the results. Maybe it’s the time for more women leaders, women’s senators, woman chief of a political party so they can carry more women with them.
Jessica: I love that. I love that. One of our very own Ambassadors just ran in one political office in her town, Holly Wimer, just giving a shout out. Jalia, what about you?
Jalia: I dream of a world when I could see more Jalias coming up in Uganda, women who can own their worth and believe in themselves and gather enough courage, and also go and help other women. I know I’ve been doing these empowering women in my community, but I haven’t seen more coming out to be like me. I would dream of that time when I would see Nakato starting a workshop somewhere, or like Mama Jiabao organizing a group somewhere, empowering others. Well, I can give myself some credit because I see now like Nakato is a leader in a church. And I see … OK, yeah.
“I dream of a world when I could see more Jalias coming up in Uganda, women who can own their worth and believe in themselves and gather enough courage, and also go and help other women.” Jalia Matovu
Yeah, but I dream of a world where I see more women leaders coming up and also seeing more girls acquiring education. And I dream of a world where I could see more employment being created. And, yeah.
Jessica: Well, there’s a quote here in America, "You can’t become what you can’t see." And you are the woman that people in your country are seeing, so now they know what they can become. And so, our dream would be a shared dream with yours, Jalia, that there would be Fabiennes, that there would be Roopas, that there would be Jalias, and that’s not just a far-off dream. It’s something that we’ve seen happen already in the nine years that we’ve already been able to partner together. Noonday’s already been able to scale. We’ve already seen women go from disempowered situations to empowerment. These women here that spoke with us today have already multiplied themselves and those women are multiplying themselves, and that is how we are going to change the future.
Jessica: I have learned so much from these three different leaders. I’ve gotten to visit with them in their countries, and working with them is a great joy. We truly are a business model where her success does not diminish mine. In fact, her success is my success.
If this episode got you curious to learn more about Noonday Collection, I would love to share more with you. You can hop on over to my Instagram account and DM me, but go give Noonday Collection a follow on Facebook, on Instagram … go check out our website if you would be interested in joining our Global Community. We are looking for women just like you. If you are looking for a side hustle, if you’re looking for a community, if you just want to be a part of something bigger than yourself, head on over to noondaycollection.com, where we celebrate International Women’s Day every day.
Thanks so much for joining me on today’s episode. Our wonderful music is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. And today’s episode was produced by Eddie Kaufholz. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.