The Inside Scoop: Becoming a Noonday Ambassador

To celebrate my four year anniversary with Noonday Collection as a Noonday Ambassador, I thought I would share what it has been like being an Ambassador and why I've loved it and I'll start with introducing myself for any new faces around here.

I’m Brooke, wife to Aaron and a St. Louis transplant from Virginia Beach, Virginia — we moved here so Aaron could attend grad school and earn his Ph.D in Research Psychology. It’s been an adventure growing together in a city that is new to both of us! I work full time at Washington University in St. Louis for Olin Business School, but after work or on the weekends, you can find me partnering with women in St. Louis, sharing Noonday Collection with their communities, or cuddling with our labradoodle, Rosie.

Before sharing more about my journey with Noonday Collection, however, I should probably begin by explaining what it is for those who haven’t heard about the company before. Noonday Collection is a socially responsibly business that uses fashion and enterprise to create meaningful employment opportunities for people around the world. All of our pieces are handmade by 29 artisan business partners from 12 countries who earn a fair wage for their work.

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I’ve always loved jewelry. My first “real” job outside of cleaning my dad’s business growing up was at a local silver jewelry store called Hi Ho Silver. I loved helping my customers find that perfect piece for their friends or family and I especially loved the relationships we got to make with our repeat customers who soon turned into friends. Even though that job was only for a summer, it clearly left a mark on me as I embarked on my journey to be a Noonday Ambassador seven years later.

Noonday Collection first caught my eye at a local fundraising event at my church. There was a table set up with Noonday samples and lookbooks for us to browse the whole collection. I was immediately drawn to the creative ways the paper bead necklaces were made. I also owned multi-colored papered necklaces, but I had never seen them styled in the way Noonday was designing them: Solid color beads, some with gold accents, was a totally new way of designing artisan-made jewelry. I was hooked from the design aspect alone, but then I found out how it was made, how it was fair-trade and ethically made, and how it was helping break the cycle of poverty — and I knew I was done for.

I hosted my first Noonday trunk show a month later and had a blast. I gathered girls from my community group who I had just started getting to know and we had our very own grownup dress-up party, complimenting each other and changing the world right from my first little apartment in St. Louis, MO.

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A month after my first trunk show — and two months after the initial fundraiser at my church — my heart and mind wouldn’t stop thinking about the impact Noonday Collection was having on the world and how I could be apart of it: By purchasing Noonday for myself and for gifts, hosting a trunk show, or — best of all — becoming an Ambassador myself to share Noonday with anyone and everyone who would listen!

The first two options were simple. I love to shop, so purchasing Noonday was easy. I also love having people over and earning free jewelry, so continuing to host trunk shows was another no-brainer. But, becoming an Ambassador in a city I had just moved to eight months earlier? Now that was something I would need to think about.

Still new in St. Louis, I didn’t have the security of close friends and family to support me and show up at my launch party or host my first trunk show. What if no one showed up? What if I didn’t meet anyone to share Noonday with? I knew it would be a huge risk to begin selling this world-changing jewelry in a place where I was still building my new community — especially because I’ve always loved staying behind the scenes. Becoming an ambassador for Noonday would not only require me to push outside my comfort zone, but I would also need to find the courage to be vocal about the jewelry and share the vision and heart behind the beautiful jewelry I was wearing.

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After wrestling with my decision for weeks, I finally said “yes” to my new role as a Noonday Collection Ambassador and I can honestly say that my life has been changed forever for the better — and it is all because of one thing:

The incredible community of artisans that Noonday partners with around the world.

Over the past several years, two of my biggest highlights as a Noonday Ambassador have been the two opportunities I have had to travel to Guatemala and Peru and to meet our artisan partners who make our gorgeous jewelry in person. On both of those trips, I have seen with my own eyes and felt with my own heart the impact we can have when we decide to shop fair-trade with our money. Noonday also partners with leaders in the communities we work in, so we are empowering local leaders across the world to create change and help their artisans and employees break out of the cycle of poverty.

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To Americans, it’s a no-brainer that we earn at least minimum wage at our jobs, if not more, but in workshops and factories around the world, this is sadly an exception. Fair trade means Noonday artisan partners are paid minimum wage or higher, on time, every two weeks, and that they are only working 40 hours a week. This is a game changer in helping to alleviate poverty. Poverty often means living day to day, and doesn’t allow anyone to think about the future because they don’t even know if they will have money for their children the following day. Earning minimum wage or higher allows parents to dream about their future, save money for a house, and pay their medical bills.

The knowledge of Noonday’s impact never fails to give me fresh energy and encouragement. In the moments when I might feel tired of loading my Noonday Collection samples into the car one more time or asking again and again if someone in my community in St. Louis will host a Noonday trunk show, I simply think about meeting Ana in Guatemala and José in Peru, who are running incredible businesses in their communities. And I think about how lives are being changed by business — and by things as seemingly simple as earrings, necklaces and accessories.

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Being part of Noonday Collection has done more than help me be more connected to my local community in St. Louis — it has opened my mind, widened my worldview, and given me a passion for making every purchase count. Every sale matters — no matter how big or small — and they all help towards making positive changes around the world. So when you wear fair-trade jewelry in the future, you should always smile, knowing you are helping to end poverty right where you are.

If you would like to support myself & Noonday Collection, you can purchase through my Ambassador page here. Thank you for supporting fair trade & artisan made goods!

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All in good time: Getting to know JORD Wood Watches

I've been slowly trying to create a more thoughtful closet over the last two and a half years that is full of more ethically made pieces that are also closet staples and will stand the test of time. Recently, I've begun the same process for my accessories and wanted to share a great company that I've recently learned about and couldn't love more. JORD Wood Watches is a local St. Louis company that makes beautiful watches almost completely out of wood! How fun is that?! 

I've worn the same watch for the last six years that has different materials and textiles so the simplicity of the Fieldcrest watch was quite a departure for me but I absolutely love it! This watch doesn't have any bells or whistles but instead is just a well-crafted, gorgeous, timeless (pun-intended) piece. I am not the only one who loves this watch; quite a few of my friends not only noticed I switched watches but complimented this watch. This Fieldcrest watch is a real head-turner!

I took some time asking JORD some questions about the watches and I'm excited to share what I learned with you!

Could you tell me more about the artisans who make the watches?

"Though the watches are all hand finished, we do a great deal of the manufacturing with specialty tooled machines.  Wood is a fluid substance, and it will contract and expand to a certain degree based on its environment.  We can’t change that property of the wood so we’ve found that machine tooling allows us to create pieces to exacting standards so that even when slight expansion and contraction occur the fully assembled watch retains its structural integrity. If we were to do those processes by hand there would be the opportunity for variation that creates a negative effect further down in the assembly process and possibly in the future during wear.

"Part of the craft, we feel, lies with our team who choose the wood to go through the manufacturing process.  That cannot be accomplished by a machine! The grain of the wood, the coloring, the density – that all has to be evaluated prior to the process.  Even more challenging, almost like putting a puzzle together, is when the watches are being assembled.  A single piece of wood can produce a wide variety of grain and coloring, so our team sorts through the individual pieces, matching them for shading and the strike of the grain, and making sure that the finished piece has a natural uniformity."

Where are the watches made?

"Our watches are manufactured in China in a facility that we manage.  We have a team on site, who follow production and are in charge of quality control, as well as a team who works specifically on prototyping.  Our designers are here in St. Louis and after the initial drawings, specs, and materials are chosen our team in China evaluates the design, considering production and long term wearability, makes whatever changes are necessary, and builds out samples. Prior to putting a new design in full production, several of the JORD partners will fly to China to oversee the final design and approve the materials. 

"We wanted to ensure the people working on our watches were trained adequately, treated fairly, and paid appropriately for their positions which is why we choose the facility that we did that allowed us to manage it. And to top it off, all of our watches are treated with natural substances, no hazardous chemicals. Not only for the sake of the environment, but for those who work on the watches."  

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Lastly, I'm so excited to be partnering with JORD to offer See Things Closer readers a special $25 e-gift code! Once you fill out the form, you will instantly be emailed your $25 e-gift code. You will have until 12/18/16 to redeem the code. I can't wait to hear what watch catches your eye below and if you have a favorite! Here's to shopping locally and supporting small businesses this holiday - cheers! 

Why Dressember has become one of my favorite winter tradition

The first year I learned about Dressember also happened to be my first winter in the Midwest—a coincidence I now find pretty comical. I moved from the mild winters of Virginia to Missouri, where December is more of a “real” winter, in the truest sense of the word: cold, windy, and oftentimes snowy. I’m now used to bundling up in the winter, running from my car into work, and spending as little time as possible in the freezing temperatures.

Of course Dressember has their own dresses!  C  heck it out!

Of course Dressember has their own dresses! Check it out!

The idea behind Dressember is simple: Wear a dress every day of the month, while raising money for women’s injustice through the International Justice Mission (IJM) through having your own fundraising page or by joining a team and raising money as a team of women. 

Even though the founder of Dressember, Blythe Hill, says it “started as a silly idea, born out of boredom,” I also don’t think it’s a mistake that it takes place in winter—during a month when women might normally prefer to wear pants, for the sheer sake of staying warm. Dressember thus happens at the most inconvenient time to make the biggest impact for women. 

This year marks my third year taking part in Dressember, and it is now as important a Christmas tradition for me as decorating the tree is. In the hopes of encouraging you to take part in the movement as well, here are three tips (and myth-busters!) for participating in your first Dressember:

1. Have an “you can do it” friend. 

I have been lucky enough to take part in Dressember the last two years with my best friend. I realize not everyone might be able to do this, but I highly encourage you to have a friend alongside you to do Dressember with—especially for those colder days or on mornings when you wake up late. The encouragement it provides is so beneficial. 

My best friend and I don’t live in the same state, but for the last three years we have celebrated New Year’s Eve together, meaning we also celebrate the end of Dressember together. Traditions are big to me and I love that we can now also include Dressember in our holiday traditions.

Courtney & I got creative with celebrating the end to Dressember & New Years Eve together and wore sequins skirts under our black dresses!

Courtney & I got creative with celebrating the end to Dressember & New Years Eve together and wore sequins skirts under our black dresses!

2. The “I have only have 2 dresses” myth

This comment comes up every time I talk about Dressember—and it was my first thought, too. I didn’t really want to spend lots of money on new dresses just so I could participate in a fundraising event. 

Slowly, I developed my own approach to Dressember. I now get one to two new dresses on ThredUp to accent what I already have in my closet. I also use cardigans, scarfs and tights to make my summer dresses winter-appropriate, and to help me not freeze :) Also, If this is the only thing keeping you from participating in Dressember, be encouraged by its founder, Blythe, who wears the same dress every day with different accessories and clothing. 

The motto I repeat over and over again is, “I can do anything for 31 days.”

Keeps your perspective outside of yourself

I don’t think it’s an accident that Dressember also happens during the same month as Christmas. The month of Christmas lists and presents and focusing on ourselves, no matter how hard we try not to. I’m so guilty of it—making Christmas lists of what I’ve wanted during the year, even while telling myself “this is the season of celebrating our Lord and Savior was born.”

I’ll never forget visiting Guatemala in July of 2015 with Noonday Collection, and visiting IJM’s headquarters there. When their leader asked our group of 15 women if we had participated in Dressember the previous December, over half of us raised our hands. Without hesitation he said “thank you” for participating in one of their most effective fundraising incentives to date. 

A fundraiser that entails wearing a dress for 31 days. That’s it. It's a powerful thing when women come together for good, and Dressember is one heck of an example.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed with the injustive and poverty in our world, but together, we can see things closer and take small steps towards creating a better world—steps as small as wearing a dress for 31 days. 

Are you in? Let's be on the same team and let’s change the world together through fashion! And, if you've participated in Dressember before, what tips or myth-busters do you have for us going into another Dressember? Let's encourage one another as we create a better world together!

a noonday collection ambassador trip: guatemala 2016

It’s a Friday afternoon in Santiago, Guatemala—a small town with a large indigenous Mayan population on Lake Atitlán. I’m standing on a cleanly swept dirt floor around a long wooden table, watching a group of local women sit and sift through piles of beads before they string them into beautiful multicolored beaded cuffs. I’m here with eleven other Noonday Ambassadors, on a weeklong trip to visit four Artisan partner groups.

As I look back on our week in Guatemala, what I will be taking away from this experience are the people I got to meet and what I learned from them, especially from the leaders of our Artisan partner groups.

During our time with Ana, an amazing woman leader working in Santiago,

 I loved seeing the sense of pride she has in her work. 

She enjoys who she works with, laughing and learning alongside them. She is always trying to improve—from constructing a tin roof over their rear workspace to switching from a wood-burning fire to propane gas to heat their dye (which can be hazardous for their health and also enables them to produce more—and thus earn more). Ana is proud of the work she has created for her community and leads them well.

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On another day in the nearby town of San Juan La Laguna, we got to meet Cristobol, one of Noonday’s key Artisan partners in Guatemala. Cristobol 

has a passion for empowering others,

 despite the difficult circumstances he went through in his past. I was so moved by the way he has built a network of teams in his workshop—we met the eight women who each have their own team, allowing them to learn leadership skills, and they even share the various steps involved in the creation of each bracelet.

Because of the work they’ve received through Noonday, each of these eight women leaders in Cristobol’s team have been able to open their own personal bank account and he’s also currently training twenty-one additional women to have a trade and soon join his team. He’s looking out for his community and I walked away from our time together inspired to grow even more involved in my own home community.

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Finally, I loved meeting Rosario and her team. Rosario has a 

determination to pursue her dreams.

 She drives four hours one-way every weekend to attend university and is also putting her daughters through school right now. In a community where it’s often typical for a girl to only complete education through sixth grade, Rosario’s determination to see her children and all of her female Artisans complete their education was humbling and inspiring to witness. She said that Ambassador trips always bring her joy and peace. It was amazing to realize our connection was just as meaningful for both of us.

This trip was a beautiful picture of how no matter what your role is in life and in the world, you matter. Whether you’re a Noonday Artisan partner,

Ambassador

,

Hostess

or customer, every role is vital and dependent on each other. I am so thankful to now have that perspective.

Now when I see our pieces, I see more than jewelry—I see the faces behind them, and the stories they shared with us. Just as the women in Rosario’s workshop transformed individual glass beads into wearable works of art, I now feel an

even stronger

connection with the story of Noonday—all of our individual stories, of Artisans and Ambassadors, woven together across the world.

So Worth Loving

I think we all struggle with the inside voice that tells us we are not worth loving. I think our media tells us every day that we need to be skinnier, wear more makeup, work harder, and do more. But, I often think what would our world and our personal life look like if we all believed we were “so worth loving”? What If we all ran our own race, didn't compare ourselves to others, celebrated each other’s successes, and truly believed we were beautiful. All bringing something unique and special to the table.

I’ve seen this cultural in the Noonday Collection Ambassador community and it’s so life giving, y’all. Our founder, Jessica, said it best. “Because, when you allow yourself to shine, you give others the permission to shine too.” When you focus on your own race and you run at your own pace, not the pace set by the world’s standards, life gets a lot easier. We begin believing we are worthy of love and living into our full potential!

This isn’t really a new concept, but it’s a concept many of us struggle to put into practice. Surrounding yourself with a community who believe this is game changer.  This environment enables you to really shine. You're able to really believe you're “so worth loving”. I pray that this continues to be the heart beat of my Ambassador community with Noonday and that it is put on women’s hearts all over the world. If you haven’t heard of “So Worth Loving” or Noonday Collection before, I encourage you to check it out. They are changing the game, one person at a time. Don’t forget you matter and your "so worth loving".

Brunch Beauties

One of my favorite things to do since moving to St. Louis in July of 2013 is to explore. Not growing up here, I've taken upon myself to get to know the city and to love where I've been planted. After a hard first year of not having people we knew, I finally got connected and met some wonderful people from our church, The Journey! Some of those people are the girls below. God has given me some great friends here and I'm so glad He hears our prayers! 

When you visit St. Louis, you need to stop at Bowood Farms and have brunch. Bowood farms is a natural greenhouse-style facility that has a cafe inside. Cafe Osage is "located within Bowood Farms, and features fresh vegetables and herbs grown directly on-site." It has the ability to transport you to another world inside the city limits. It's such a fun 'girls day' spot and does not disappoint. 

Eight months after moving to St. Louis, I began my journey as a

Noonday Collection

Ambassador

, and, to be quite frank, I was nervous due to not knowing many people at all. The girls in my community group at church were such a driving force at giving me the strength to go for it and the support I needed to "take the plunge" to be brave! Their support has meant the world and they wear it SO well. I love how everyone has a unique style and how Noonday still offers variety to fit everyones different styles! Emily totally rocks the

Quito Necklace

with her stripes. Swoon.

One of my favorite pieces is the 

 Rustic leather tote

. It is handmade in India out of goat leather and is the perfect size. I love that it can go dressy or casual too. We are best friends forever.

Krissy is rocking the gorgeous 

black diamond earrings

. They are just what Krissy needed to finish off her outfit. Perfect mix of edgy and sparkle. I love how see connects with the pieces made in India. It's so special seeing your friends and family connect with a certain country that our artisans are from!

I am grateful for community and that I get to explore St. Louis with these beauties. Friendship is so special to me and it's so great when you meet others who value the same things you do!

Lastly, Erin just rocks this vintage Noonday piece. She is such a support to me and has even

hosted a Noonday trunk show

. God knew what He was doing when he placed us as neighbors and I'm so glad he did.

Moving to a new place where nothing is familiar is hard. Growing up is hard. But find people who encourage you and can walk beside you through it and I think you'll see alot of growth. Take the risk and be brave. Now, go enjoy the weekend and never stop exploring!