A friend of mine recently hosted a trunk show for Fashion & Compassion, a jewelry line like no other, and contacted me asking how I could help spread awareness of this amazing organization and all that it’s doing for women in our city and around the world. She told me a little about its founder, Michele Dudley, and just from the brief introduction I had from my friend, I knew Michele was Smarty Mom material. I am so incredibly thrilled to use the Smarty Pants platform to highlight what Michele and her team are doing and what Smarties all over town can do to get involved.
Never heard of Fashion & Compassion? Well, grab your coffee, curl up with your phone or laptop, and read on. Enjoy getting to know Michele and Fashion & Compassion – I hope it inspires you to take action.
Smarty Mom: Michele Dudley
Smarty Mom Stats:
Married to: Eric, 20 years
Children: Hannah -16, Elise -16, Ben – 15, Evan – 13 and Jean-Marie, 24 (college student from Burundi who has been part of our family for 4 years)
Years in Charlotte: 22
Hometown: Belmont, Massachusetts
‘Hood: Freedom Park
Alma Mater: University of Southern California
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came up with the idea for Fashion & Compassion. After a life-changing trip to Rwanda and Burundi in 2008, I began selling paper bead jewelry at my church and out of my dining room to help war-displaced women feed and educate their children.
Shortly after, I met Antonia “Neet” Childs and Brian Gunter who run a bakery “Neet’s Sweets”, and a non-profit called Market Your Mind, which serves young women overcoming commercial sexual exploitation.
I started occasionally giving these young women an opportunity to make jewelry with the paper beads and that’s how our Freedom Jewelry Project was born. The Freedom Project is now run out of our office/boutique located at 1717 Cleveland Avenue in Dilworth and we have empowered over 150 women (and a few men) though our work locally and globally.
Tell us about Fashion & Compassion. Fashion & Compassion was established in 2012 and our mission is to connect caring consumers with vulnerable women artisans to bring dignity through economic opportunity. We accomplish our mission by:
– Providing holistic employment opportunities to vulnerable women in communities around the world.
– Educating our customers about the issues and injustices facing women around the world.
– Raising funds through product sales for our non-profit partners who address the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of the women.
Our desire is to use jewelry as a tool to transform women’s lives. The supportive environment, economic opportunity and connection to resources we cultivate within our projects allows the women we serve, both locally and around the world, to gain the confidence they need to take positive steps toward their future.
In Charlotte, we serve women who are survivors of labor trafficking, sex trafficking, domestic abuse, addiction, incarceration, refugees and immigrants. Our other international projects address similar issues along with extreme poverty.
What’s it like to start a non-profit? What are some of the biggest challenges? What have you found to be easier than you thought it would be? Starting and running a non-profit is not for the faint of heart! It is impossible to do without PASSION for the work, a supportive family and for me, lots of prayer.
This may not be too surprising, but my biggest challenge is balancing the needs of my husband and family with the needs of Fashion & Compassion. I have trouble keeping up with my calendar, carpool, email, staff, new jewelry designs, artisan crises and more.
But the one thing I’ve seen that is more powerful than I could’ve ever imagined is the incredibly diverse community of women who love and care for one another despite their personal brokenness.
You’re not only running a non-profit, but you’re also running a jewelry studio, retail store, and coordinating trunk shows. How do you make it all work? God has blessed us with amazing team at Fashion & Compassion. Each woman on our staff is deeply committed to the women we serve and willing to do whatever it takes to serve our artisans and our customers!
What is your favorite part of being involved with Fashion & Compassion? I LOVE the artisans we work with both in Charlotte and around the world. They enrich my life every single day and inspire me to keep going. I visit all of our international projects at least once a year and these trips continue to refresh and encourage me.
What would you tell others who want to start a non-profit – any words of wisdom? Be willing to partner with and learn from other organizations. It is easy to become narrowly focused on your own organization, but when we work together we can accomplish much more than we can alone.
There is an African Proverb that I love that truly believe sums it up: “If you want to travel fast, journey alone. If you want to travel far, journey together.”
What are your goals for Fashion & Compassion – where do you want it to be in five or ten years? We want to serve more women from all walks of life – our artisans who are working hard to overcome serious life issues, our volunteers who enrich us as they get to know and serve our artisans; and our customers who enable us to employ and transform the lives of women by purchasing our jewelry.
We donate 100% of the net proceeds of our product sales to our non-profit partners in each community we serve. Over the past 3 years, we have donated over $180,000 to our partners – and we hope to grow this to over $1 million by 2020!
What are the best ways for us to get involved? What can we do to help?
– Shop with us and tell your friends!
– Visit our Dilworth Boutique at 1717 Cleveland Ave.
– Shop online at Fashionandcompassion.com.
– Follow us on Instagram @fashionandcompassion
– Like us on Facebook!
– Host a trunk show at your home or our boutique.
– Volunteer with us – contact me at Michele@fashionandcompassion.com.
Now for some fun Smarty questions…
Favorite stone or gem? This changes, but at the moment I am into blush colors and neutrals. My favorite stone is sunstone.
Favorite piece of jewelry? This also changes, but my current favorite is our Pyrite Shine necklace.
Your most common Pinterest search? Jewelry display ideas.
What’s one meal you cook that EVERYONE in the family eats? Chicken Apple Sausages from Costco.
Family’s favorite place to eat out? California Pizza Kitchen.
Best date night restaurant in town? The City Club.
Early bird or night owl? Neither, but I often get up early to run which means I have to go to bed early.
Fresh-pressed juice or smoothie? Smoothie.
Best place to run in Charlotte? Myers Park/Dilworth Neighborhood
Last book read? Family Life: A Novel by Akhil Sharma
Thing you say most often? “No worries.”
Finish this sentence: There’s no way I could live without… I HATE to say this, but my phone – it is the other half of my brain and allows me to continue to work wherever I am. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Another great read! Thanks to Cheryl, I now know about Fashion and Compassion! TY
Best place to throw yourself a party!!. Wine+friends+shopping+doing good=GOOD TIMES
Great article on a wonderful family! LOVE Michele and her heart to help so many! I am fortunate to share this beautiful building with Fashion & Compassion now. My office and Multiple Blessings studio are upstairs and our boutique is filled with their fabulous jewelry and my art and licensed products. Fashion & Compassion is an incredible organization brining hope and dignity to women locally and around the world. If you have not been by to visit, you should!