on amani & the importance of buying handmade.

I'm a Target girl, through and through. In-store Starbucks is my jam; red clearance stickers are my kryptonite. I love Target because I love a good deal, and Target is full of good deals. I also love any place where I can simultaneously purchase a new pair of shoes, batteries, ice cream, and an Elmo doll. Wham bam, thank you ma'am. Because I frequent Target so often (and I do mean often), I'm ashamed to admit that I rarely spend the time and money supporting handmade businesses. I always intend to buy handmade items (especially gifts), and sometimes I manage to do it, but more often than not, it's the day before my friend's birthday and I'm already running to Target for diapers and laundry detergent so WHY NOT pick up a gift while I'm there? It's convenient! It's cheap! It's on SALE! When faced with the decision to buy something from A Big Store or buy something handmade---I have, historically---defaulted to the first. I have always gone with the cheap option, the easy option, the lazy option.

But then I went to Liberia and had a major wake-up call. 

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It was there at Amani that for the first time in my life, I saw with my own two eyes the work and love and devotion and pride that goes into a handmade item.

It was shocking, impressive, and most of all, convicting.

I saw women sitting at the sewing machines with their babies strapped to their backs and a permanent look of concentration on their faces. I saw the pride they took in their work and the pure satisfaction they received when they finished an item. I saw product after product stacked neatly in the showroom: beautiful, well-made, created from start to finish by the gracious woman standing next to me. I saw her baby on her back, her children on the floor, her joy and her gratitude for that place and that job.

I saw, with my own two eyes, the impact---the food in her belly and the sparkle in her eye and the humility and sheer thankfulness in her heart. I heard that woman praise God every afternoon during devotions and thank Him for every blessing under the sun.

I saw all of it. With my own two eyes.

And it was good and it was powerful and it made me think about every item I've ever bought. Where does this stuff even come from?

During my trip, I witnessed the entire life cycle of an Amani product: shopping for lapa in Monrovia, driving the lapa eight hours to Yekepa, watching the products be made/approved/priced/tagged, moving the products into the showroom, sorting through inventory to fulfill U.S. orders, wrapping the orders in blue plastic bags, carrying all of the products back to Hannah's house via suitcases and a wheel barrow along the side of the road, carefully packing four suitcases with exactly fifty pounds of Amani products in each one, loading the van with all of those suitcases, driving the Amani products eight hours back to Monrovia, hauling the suitcases through security at the airport, flying with the suitcases back to California, and then finally, FINALLY, shipping the Amani products to two Amani stores and one Amani warehouse across the United States where they are now available for you and I to purchase.

This is what we call a labor of love, my friends---emphasis on labor, equal emphasis on love.

The whole time I was there, I kept repeating, "This is crazy!" as I watched the incredible amount of work and effort put into the Amani products. There were no big machines or factories or robots or computers. It was just one giant room full of people, humming to the tune of the day, cutting and sewing and ironing with hot charcoal. It was just four suitcases traveling one bajillion miles, canceled flights and customs be damned.

And then I remembered something from a documentary about food....something along the lines of the importance of voting with your dollar. And I couldn't get that idea out of my head because you see, I so rarely think about voting with my dollar, despite the fact that I vote with my dollar every single day. I vote with my dollars at Target and Starbucks and I tell them on a regular basis, "I like this! I need this! Keep making this so I can keep buying it!"

And this isn't a rant about Target and Starbucks because I love Target and Starbucks; this is more about sharing the wealth and voting with your dollar when voting with your dollar makes sense. Because I will still need a place to buy cotton balls and granola bars and Elmo toys, but there are other places I can buy cosmetic bags and backpacks and laptop cases and baby gifts. I can buy those things from Amani and in doing so, I can vote with my dollar. I can use and wear those products free from guilt because they were not made in a sweat shop or under inhumane circumstances. They were made in the room where I stood, the room with the bright green walls and big open windows. The women and men who made those products were paid for every single item they created and were able to use that money to put food in their bellies and shirts on their babies.

While I'm no longer in Liberia (where 85% of the population is unemployed), here in the United States I can still vote with my dollar and support this beautiful, life-changing, fair trade organization that is offering opportunities where opportunities do not exist.

Ever since I got home, I've been trying to figure out how I can help Amani moving forward. And while there are no simple answers, today I simply rely on my storytelling so that if and when you consider purchasing an Amani product, you know exactly where it came from and exactly who you're supporting. You are supporting Annie and Vic and Ophelia and Morris and Ellis and Hannah and many, many more.

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It's easy to feel defeated and helpless when it comes to making the world a better place, but if I am learning one thing this year, it is this: every single day I have the power and ability to make tiny decisions that make a difference, somewhere, to someone.

So today, this week, this month, this holiday season, I am making a commitment to spending a little less money at The Big Stores and a little more money on fair trade, handmade goods. I hope you'll join me.

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*I am currently working with Hannah and the founder of Amani to potentially host an Amani pop-up shop here on this blog, featuring some of the products that we brought back with us. Fingers crossed we're able to make it work!