At long last, "it" has been announced finally and I can now talk about it!!
On to the news that made you quiver with curiosity I am sure: I was nominated for an award and to my great surprise, I won.
I thought it an incredible honor for me, Antoine Didienne the president of Vavavida, to be recognized by San Diego Metro Magazine as one of the winners of the 40 under 40 young leader award for the year 2015.
Every year, San Diego Metro Magazine recognizes 40 "men and women who represent some of the best and brightest minds of San Diego." That felt pretty good to be amongst people whom I feel have achieved way more than I have. I guess we must be doing something good to be placed among the royalty of San Diego, even if just for a year.
And no, I don't take this award too seriously and yet I am nervous about it. We have been in the trenches for the past three years and it feels odd to be going to a big lunch reception to receive an award for the work we are happy doing everyday. Not complaining mind you. Just odd. I am also nervous because I want to represent Vavavida, my partners and the people that support me well. I want to represent the work we do to empower women and I hope to provide others an example to take action and make this world a better place, even if it's just by the seemingly benign action of just clicking a few buttons on a website. The thing is, these clicks do make a difference.
I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to write an Op-Ed in the San Diego Business Journal this past week and since the that content was locked behind a paywall or on paper, I thought to share that content with you guys.
If you have read my personal story on how I came to co-found Vavavida, you will by now have realized that fairness and women's rights are important to me and this opportunity came at the perfect moment, given that a couple days later, it was Women Equality Day.
I truly hope you enjoy the following; they came from my heart.
Wonder Woman —just like Superman— was a superhero born out of a time period and culture that made her creation necessary. She was created strong and powerful, fighting for justice, love, peace and gender equality. She was created on the backbone of 2 world wars and the 70-year civil rights struggle for women suffrage. In its earliest comic strips, Wonder Woman fought bravely for women's rights and independence long before she was fighting super villains. She had even created a university for women because she believed in the power of education. Fast-forward to today and it seems down right ludicrous that women in the US are still fighting to be treated equally. In 2015, women are still under-paid, under-represented in politics and in the boardroom, over-sexualized and too often not taken seriously. Add ethnicity and/or class to the mix and these obstacles become mountains.
The great news is that women’s rights in America have come a long way since then and, according to the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index, the US is now considered one of the best places in the world to be a woman. However, most women in other parts of the world aren’t as lucky. About 70% of the world’s poor are women. In countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Cambodia, women and girls make up around 70% of the apparel sweatshop workers. They are paid between $.50 and $1/day for working 12-hour shifts six days per week with no paid time off or health benefits. In Uzbekistan, young children (mostly girls) as early as seven-years-old are forced to work in cotton fields for four to five months a year during cotton picking season. Female genital mutilation is still an accepted cultural practice in many countries. Women’s access to basic education is still difficult in many developing nations and Malala, the youngest-ever Noble Peace Prize winner took a bullet to the head because she was outspoken about her right as a woman to go to school. I guess what I am saying is that for millions of women around the world, women’s rights are still stuck in the 1840s or further back and fighting for these women to live decently and have healthy futures is more crucial than ever. The problem very often lies in the eternal cycle of poverty.
Breaking that cycle and empowering women —especially in education and economically— may be the most important thing we can do to even the scales with men and improve a nation’s GDP over time. Many studies by the International Monetary Fund and the UN have proven the importance of women in society. In the US or abroad, the result is always the same: even if women are the most affected by poverty, they are also more likely than men to repay loans when given the chance. Educated women are also more likely to raise a community out of poverty. They are better at managing their family’s health and economic issues, thereby reducing health-care costs and allowing them to concentrate on improving their children’s development and education. Many developing countries stunt their ability to thrive because girls and women are treated as property or as second-class citizens that are denied access to education and well-paying jobs.
Since I co-founded Vavavida three years ago, my work has given me the opportunity to understand these issues more deeply in the hope that I can help solve them. I also decided that, as a consumer, I have the power to demand more from the brands I create relationships with. I had to make sure that the products I purchased empowered people to thrive and not keep them in the never-ending cycle of poverty. Shopping more ethically for instance was the simplest step I could start with and seeking out ethically made products was a simple commitment I could make to support them. At Vavavida, my partners and I made the commitment from the beginning that the jewelry we would retail would have to be fair trade or close to it. For an artisan, being part of the fair trade system means that the product they make yields a living wage and that part of that premium will be reinvested in the local community. That’s why I would encourage you to purchase fair trade products. You can also get involved with local women-focused organizations like PCI (Project Concern International) with their Women Empowered program or Connected Women of Influence, an organization dedicated to creating a support and networking system for women in leadership positions. And finally, my advice to male business leaders would be that having a more balanced ratio of men and women in the office and espcially in the boardroom allows for more diverse thinking —very handy when finding solutions to complex problems— but also inspire a more collaborative culture in the office. Also, studies have shown that women make less rash decisions and are more responsible with finances than we men are. So, listen to the women on your staff, encourage them, promote them and bring them on to the board. You won’t be sorry you did.
After the success of the amazing article featured on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune just last week, I got some big personal/professional news last night. Since I will soon become a celebrity I have already made the preliminary steps to changing my name to everybody's favorite San Diego news anchorman Ron Burgundy -- because clearly success has gone to my head and I can't have a name like Antoine Didienne. ;)
Of course I won't be changing my name any time soon but we were so happy about the news that we were in a very silly mood this morning coming in to the office.
Since I don't have all the details, I can't exactly tell you about it completely but just know that I was very flattered and slightly bewildered receiving the news. I had to read the email over twice to make sure I read it right. We should have more details by the end of the month and we will definitely let you know.
I was so happy about "The News" that I thought I should offer you guys something to celebrate with me: a big discount!
You have until Monday midnight.
We got some new products in recently (just like the one below), so if you have not been on Vavavida.com recently you are in for a treat.
A very interesting and engaging blog post appeared on the fashion revolution website today... I am being falsely modest though. ;) I find it fascinating and engaging because I wrote it and I am very proud of it.
Fashion Revolution and their "who made my clothes?" campaign started last year in honor of the Rana Plaza collapse and is a European Union and NGOs partnership to raise awareness about the human cost of the fast fashion industry.
I was very proud to be part of it and I think you should take a look... Here's the link to the Fashion Revolution article I wrote.
I wrote this blog post for another publication and thought you would enjoy reading it right here, on our blog.
“Inés" is from Mexico and she lived there until one day, her uncle —who lived in LA with her aunt at the time— got into a horrible car accident. He was the sole source of income and Inés' aunt was left with no other option than urge someone from her family come urgently and help. So Inés did, uprooted everything she knew, and left her family and friends. She risked her life to travel to a country she did not know, to live on the margins of society and work very hard for little pay, just to help her family live through a bad patch.
But this is not really about Inés. This is about thousands of women refugees and immigrants just like her coming to the US because they have been driven to abandon their home countries in search of a better future. The details change but the themes remain the same: They also have all experienced tremendous hardship of different degrees. They have all abandoned their homes, families and the people they love to come to here. They have not had the luxury of gaining a good education since most of them do not even have a high school degree or even a GED. They live in such frugal conditions that planning for the future is impossible. And yet, you’d be hard pressed to meet more hopeful, sweeter, mild mannered women and mothers.
I have heard the stories of their plights repeatedly. These women are at an impasse because without a basic education such as a GED, they can’t really get work. And without a job, they don’t have money to put their young children in daycare. And how will they put their kids in daycare if they don’t have a job. It seems like an insolvable conundrum, but maybe the answer is simpler than it seems...
That’s why Vavavida.com exists. We created this social enterprise to find real solutions to the problems under-privileged women face. Vavavida is an ethical fashion e-tailer of beautiful jewelry and accessories capable of empowering women’s economic future here and abroad. We retail products made by co-ops of artisans following the fair trade principles and with every sale we invest in women empowerment and gender inequality programs such as the PCI Women Empowered program. If you do not know about fair trade, you simply need to know that fair trade is about decency and wanting to tip the scales in favor of the millions of workers not getting their fair shake. It’s simply about paying people fair wages for their wares and production and treating them like human beings. The fact is that fair trade is fast becoming the quality standard with commodities like chocolate, coffee, tea and bananas but it is slowly being adopted in other sectors.
About 6 months ago, I heard of Jennifer Housman, a jewelry designer (Housgoods.com) and a volunteer with PCI who wanted to do a little more in San Diego. From meeting with Jennifer and the PCI president, together we decided to embark on the grand project of trying to solve these women’s conundrum by giving them an opportunity to work from home in conditions where they can work as little or as much as they can any given day and be rewarded with a fair pay for their work. This way, they are empowered to take charge of their own future and do not have to give up money by putting their kids in daycare.
For the past 4 months, we meet every Tuesday and teach women like Inés, who graduated from the WE program, to design and make jewelry inspired by the artistic traditions and designs of the regions where they come from. The hope is that we (PCI, Vavavida.com and Housgoods) may offer them a way to get ahead in their future. We just want these women to have a shot at a better life because we think that’s fair. This is why this weekend is so important: Saturday is World Fair Trade day and Sunday is Mothers’ day and what could be more important than celebrating our mothers and helping others less fortunate getting their fair shot at life?
If you are interested in knowing more about fair trade, here’s how to do it: google fair trade events in your community and you will find it’s much more popular than you’d think. But, if you live in San Diego, I would direct you to Cacaofest.com. There will be a big event in San Diego and you might see me there.