We would like to thank Kellie Guthrie for sharing the story of Re-Invention. They fight the label of poverty and destitution for those in the manufacturing trade. Their aim is to make a healthy, vibrant in environment where employees can take pride in working with their hands, making beautiful accessories. Check out their latest partnership with The Lydia Project. Enjoy the story!
I’m always a bit nervous when asked to write about what I do, because I don’t want it to be about me and so I always hesitate, but as I looked at what the Wish Dish is about and that authenticity is what you’re looking for, I felt more comfortable about sharing my story.
What I’ve been involved with the last 10 years has made me the most authentic self I have ever been, and I’ll be forever grateful that God has allowed me to be the person I’ve become. Someone I never thought I could be, but someone He had planned on all along.
After years in the fashion industry promoting and marketing women’s clothing across the country, I had an overwhelming sense to focus my experience, talents, and gifts on solutions for real change in the world. Let me say this up front: I’m not a statistician; I don’t have a wealth of school or book knowledge, and am certainly no expert on poverty!
I’m just a person who looked around me, “googled” a lot, and had a desire to serve. I was tired of my life being about myself and wanted to do something more.
When I began this journey, “social enterprise” or “social business” weren’t terms heard in the business world. However, when I started thinking about solutions to poverty, I thought employment was at least one of the best solutions and I went on a search for experts who were offering work as a solution to the problem of poverty.
I turned 40 in 2003 and took on a new career as a sales representative for a mid to high-end women’s clothing line and moved to the northeast. Whether on billboards, the morning news, the Internet, or seeing the upgraded terror alerts flashing on the 495 corridor I was bombarded by the images of what was happening in the world.
It seemed to me that the pleas from charity and all the checks written to several organizations, while sincere, were perpetuating vicious cycles of poverty. The desire to do something about what I was seeing grew and I knew I couldn’t not respond.
I believed it was possible that every mistake I had made in my life could be redeemed and that my experiences could help me play a role to help change the world. The images of the women I saw suffering and the manic days of survival they experienced could not continue on my watch! But what did I see as my part? Well, I knew what bothered me and that was the everyday fight for survival. And I knew I wanted to see alternatives to their circumstances and a way out of poverty’s vicious cycle.
I knew that somehow I could help create or facilitate work or employment as an alternative to poverty. It seemed that as soon as I accepted the part I could play I began to see this answer everywhere; a jewelry design company in Thailand, a furniture company in India, gorgeous linens made in Egypt, a cashmere and woolens business in Nepal.
All of these were social business ventures…economic opportunities through economic alternatives to the many dire circumstances caused by extreme poverty throughout the world. “Empowerment through employment” bringing permanent freedom from circumstances, while providing the experts on the frontlines the time to work with these precious lives to bring the dignity, freedom, and hope they’ve never known.
The issues are many: human trafficking, sexual exploitation, prostitution, HIV/AIDS, healthcare or lack of, domestic violence, but the common cause is extreme poverty.
And although I was a bit naïve, to say the least, this is where I began my journey. I began looking at not only a business, but the model and the strength of the model.
The questions were: Are there opportunities for training in design as well as other areas of the business operation such as accounting and management? Are there opportunities for promotion? Are there benefits, savings plans, opportunities for education? Is English being taught?
It would be 2 years; followed by a complete breakdown of my comfy life before deciding it was time I began looking for what I could do to be a part of the change.
A vital part of my journey began with my first encounter with a model for change in September of 2007, where I spent one month working with NightLight Design Company. NightLight is an employment alternative ministry established to combat the sexual exploitation of young girls and women around the world through sex-trafficking and prostitution.
After months of anticipation, I stood at the steps to the offices of NightLight Design, and the message was clear I was here to serve and assist with expanding their vision…not my own!
Bangkok is considered an epicenter for sexual exploitation and trafficking where women are essentially gathered from all over the world and fed into the city’s multi-billion dollar sex industry. They’re also sent to other locations believing they’ll be in positions as nannies or hotel and restaurant positions, but end up with passports taken and told of the tremendous debt owed to the traffickers and are thrown into the world of prostitution.
I experienced firsthand a model for change that was working, a model where not only were the women making jewelry, but they were also working in accounting, shipping, inventory, quality control, and were learning many different skills. Women were in positions of management and as master designers.
They would teach the new employees how to make jewelry. NightLight offers these women a salary, benefits, a savings plan, English classes, and many are in school receiving higher education.
The stories and outreaches were heart wrenching and I returned from Bangkok completely transformed, and with this in my heart…a passion to see poverty eradicated and a commitment that sex-trafficking would not continue on my watch!
I was asked over and over if I was overwhelmed. The funny thing is while standing right smack in the middle of a red-light district, I found that I was less overwhelmed than I would be seeing these horrifying images on the news. I felt so helpless to do anything about it when seeing it from a distance, but standing right in the middle of it, I witnessed action being taken, and was able to realize just how little Light it takes to pierce such darkness. “What would have become of me had I not believed I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”
The women of NightLight confirmed that before “ministry” can work, not just rescue is important, but full removal from circumstances is priority! Their model was working and, at that point, had blown away any statistics regarding the success of a start-up business.
Because of what I had seen in Bangkok, I knew there was no turning back and that I now had been given the responsibility to do something about what I’d seen. I knew I could no longer stand on the perimeter and just throw money and encouraging words at poverty, I had to engage. I was terrified, but also for the first time in my life, I knew this was the beginning of figuring out who I truly am and what I’m here for.
A few months after I returned from Bangkok, the name for my company came like a bolt of lightning. This is more of a call than a company name as it stands as a reflection of my personal journey where I have been completely Re-Invented! I also returned with a big vision and a global dream, but what was in my heart was that if I was going to serve well, I must start with “the one right in front of me”.
On a path that has changed so many times it’s almost embarrassing, Re-Invention is a social business , committed to seeing poverty eliminated from the lives of those who work with us and equipping a manufacturing workforce who takes pride in the work of their hands. I think that when it comes to social innovation, the social business model is one of its most brilliant concepts!
I believe this is something that truly has the potential to “change the world” and not because of economic impact, or how it changes the traditional business model, but because of how it changes us.
How a business model invites us to think not of ourselves and bottom lines, but to think of and reach out to our neighbor first and think of how the business bottom line impacts people and the community. How it allows us to invite others to join us in reaching beyond themselves, and invites investors to rethink what their return will be in terms of monetary shares and shares in humanity.
At its core, Re-Invention is about the collaborative process and living and working in a way that serves, with the hope of “Re-Inventing the American Dream” through businesses that build communities, not empires.
The company’s first collaboration was with the homeless at Friendship Mission in a very at-risk part of Montgomery, Alabama’s West side. In a re-purposed school bus, women learned to cut, sew, and create with the ultimate goal of arming them with the necessary skills and confidence to work with Re-Invention or seek other employment.
The Lydia Project ( www.re-invention.org) is Re-Invention’s current collaboration with The Nehemiah Center and Community Ministries of First Baptist, both in Montgomery, working to prepare its participants for a sustainable career in the textile industry by providing job readiness training , GED preparation and testing, ESL, and in-depth instruction in textile manufacturing.
Through a year-long apprenticeship, we’re creating our workforce. We train participants in every aspect of how our goods are made. Re-Invention is creating jobs, as well as an environment where people can afford to go to work. Many are on government assistance which is decreased when they start to receive a paycheck.
In order for people to be able to enter/re-enter the workplace, we’re creating a company that will,
We believe the foundation to breaking cycles of poverty, and the resulting exploitation, is through work. The most successful non-profit organizations and ministries we’ve seen have a training/work component that runs parallel to their personal and psychological work.
Work provides an alternative, a way out, and begins to eliminate the chaos so that those who are trying to transform mindsets have an opportunity for breakthrough. Through these collaborations, Re-Invention is helping to create opportunities for work that promote the sustainability of our world and the lives of those who live in it.
Re-Invention was specifically created to “Re-Invent” where we live. The making of our gorgeous goods began in my mom’s kitchen. After 2 years and having spread production to her living room and all over her back and front porch, I moved into an old firehouse in Montgomery, where I now live and our goods are made. www.re-invention.org
With a collection of sustainable home accents, furnishings, and travel/everyday bags, Made in Alabama, Re-Invention products invite anyone to be a part of our dream to create “Gorgeous Goods for Good”. We pair “leftover” designer and vintage fabrics with, burlap, muslin, and leather to create one-of-a-kind pieces of art that tell a story of the old being made new and the beautiful life that results!
Here I am running a social business, designing and making…when I had never sewn anything in my life until August 0f 2010. I’m just as surprised as anyone who knows me at where I’ve landed!
Do I still get scared, yes! Do I still wonder what the heck I’m doing and get completely overwhelmed by Montgomery’s large homelessness population and poverty I see every day, yes!
But when I’m overwhelmed I remember what’s most important and this is “the one who is right in front of me” and what I have to accomplish “TODAY.” If I get caught up in the numbers of people we will serve, and the number of dollars, and investors it will take to serve so many, and then the amount of product that will have to be made to serve such numbers, then Re-Invention becomes just a traditional business!
I need to remember that if I want to eradicate poverty, then I need only to look right outside my front door. If I serve well those who are right in front of me, then I’ll serve well as my territory expands.
The most important thing to remember is how one person will impact those around her. She’s the example to others, and I must realize her greatest impact is not realized inside our walls, but when she leaves our place of business.
You know, as I look back on when all of this stared, I see that even though I looked like I had “not a care in the world”, this journey began because of my own poverty. I think one of the most amazing things is how those we serve became a reflection of what we make – the making of goods from leftover and recycled fabrics to create one-of-a-kind pieces found nowhere else.
Every piece is a declaration over the lives of our customers exclaiming the Truth that the pieces and parts of our lives come together to create something beautiful and nothing is ever wasted.