I always imagined buyers being the type of women pounding the pavement in NYC wearing tight black pencil skirts, slicked back ponytails and 5-inch heels. I’ll admit there was a point in my life where all I did was dream of being one of those women. Feeling powerful and in charge. Having the ability to make decisions and watching others marvel at my excellent taste. Well, I don’t wear 5-inch heels and pencil skirts aren’t my thing, and yet, here I am. The only difference? I’m in Haiti. Wearing yoga pants, Birkenstocks and a ripped chambray shirt trying to make my sweaty hair look semi chic in a top knot, but meeting with a designer, buying a fall line nonetheless. This day was profound for me. It was as if an adolescent dream came true today. Only, it came in a way I never would have predicted for my life.
I spent my childhood growing up in a setting where world travel was normal. I took my first trip to Haiti at age 11. I thought from a young age that helping in a country like Haiti was my purpose in life. I felt like I had purpose when I was in Haiti. I felt like I was making a difference. I have my amazing parents to thank for exposing me to the poverty of Haiti from such a young age. I went through phases where I felt closer to my passion for Haiti and phases where Haiti felt very distant. I traveled there regularly with my dad until college.
Growing up, I also developed a love for fashion, design and merchandising. My mom let me buy my first copy of Vanity Fair when I was 12, because Mary-Kate and Ashley were on the cover. I kept that magazine and read it cover to cover each day until it fell apart. That was my first real exposure to fashion. And I was in love.
I studied business in college, and decided fashion was my calling. I remember having breakfast with my friend Caroline one morning shortly before we graduated and saying to her, “I feel like I will be unhappy forever if I don’t make fashion my career”. I remember her encouraging me to pursue my passion if I felt so strongly about it. I went with my gut, and I moved to Los Angeles. I managed a retail store. I saw celebrities. I lived what aspiring fashion gurus would say is “the LA dream”. And in some ways it was my dream too. But it was lonely. It was expensive and eventually, I left.
I came home to Kansas City looking for something new. Something to do other than manage a retail store and “babysit” my associates day in and day out. I wanted more meaning in my career. That’s when I got a call from an organization called The GO Exchange. The GO Exchange (GOEX) is essentially an online boutique. Our passion is orphan prevention. By providing living wage jobs to the artisans making the products we sell, they are able to keep their families together. Many times parents give their children up to be adopted, because they cannot afford to feed and clothe them.
I met with someone from The GO Exchange shortly after moving home, just explaining my interests and my background with fashion. And then, on a random Tuesday I got a call with a job offer. No application. No formal interview. Simply, will you come work for us? I accepted the offer before the person on the other end of the phone could even finish their sentence. I knew this was what I had been looking for. I started working at GOEX shortly after, and quickly became enamored with the process of choosing products to sell on our site. I have a strong opinion and I know what women shop for, and to the dismay of the men I work with at GOEX, I believe I’m usually right. Lesson to be learned: don’t let a group of middle-aged dads choose products for women (just saying). I share my thoughts and express my feelings about our products enough that Mike, my manager, decided to let me come to Haiti and pick out our fall line.
As I walked around the factory today, seeing the workers, learning about the entire production process, it really hit me hard. These workers making t-shirts, handbags, pajamas, etc. are working so hard to provide for their families. This is their life. This is how they will feed their children. Great fashion does not have to come at the cost of cheap and unfair production. It’s completely possible to make beautiful products and not sacrifice the good of the worker. I am proud to say that I know the people producing the products I sell. I know they have proper work environments, clean bathrooms, lunch breaks and room to move around.
It seems counterintuitive- looking for ethical production rather than cheap production. If you want to make a buck, cut your costs wherever you can. That’s all they taught us in business school. But how did we get so caught up in that business practice? When did we start putting the product above the worker? Why don’t we even think twice about the worker when we buy a garment? It’s possible to have both- a beautiful garment and an ethical production process. And it’s gaining momentum. We thought it was a fad when brands started popping up a few years ago with an ethical bottom line. But this generation has proven it’s not a fad. It’s an innate desire to help. To give back. To be ethical. Our generation is changing the way products are made.
Megan Dodd – Go Exchange buyer and fashionista!
Today I became that buyer I dreamed about becoming as a teenager. It’s funny how life comes full circle sometimes. My passion for Haiti, my obsession with clothes and design, it all connected today in a way I never dreamed it would. Ethical business was never on my radar when I dreamed about what I would be when I was growing up. But today, I am proud to say that’s what I do. I’m part of the movement. And I will commit to valuing the worker as much as the product.
Story and photos above by Megan Dodd.