One Colour

Wisdom

The One Colour Journey by Cynthia Cheong of My Fair Baby

In My Opinion, Wisdom, In my own wordsOne ColourComment

Di Stitt
Founder of One Colour and Australian and New Zealand distributor for Kenana Knitters via Kenana Down Under
Photo Source: One Colour – Di Stitt with Milka

Milka-Di-1-cropped-1080x675.jpg

 

“I didn’t set out for Africa. The place kinda picks you.

Back in the early 2000s, I became increasingly concerned over extreme poverty that I believed could be tackled through trade, not just aid. The statistics in 2005 were horrific; 1.4 billion trapped in extreme poverty. As my boys were going to school, I found myself with more time, and it dawned on me not to waste what time we have. We enjoyed a great and healthy lifestyle. We were educated. We need so little effort to make life easy.

I found out about fair trade through some key individuals. It fitted my beliefs of ‘trade, not aid’. I have a friend who buys from the Oxfam catalogue. She showed me what buying from people who made the products was like, and I found this to be a fascinating concept. Then there was a couple running Tribes and NationGrant and Mignonne, whom I met at a conference. They’d returned from living in Tanzania, and were big advocates for fair trade. The encounter gave me more ‘Aha’ moments, with stories of unconceivable poverty due to unfair trade.

I decided there and then that if I wanted to make a difference, I would tackle poverty through business and trade. I thought a great way to start was in the fashion industry. Everyone wears clothes, so surely, there would be a market for this. So when I followed my husband to South Africa for his work, I met up with some t-shirt suppliers from South Africa. They told me about a Kenyan producer who uses beautiful fabrics and takes care in their production. Finding a producer who knows what quality looks like is like finding gold! I took them on as my supplier, and so, One Colour as a clothing brand started. The first collection ‘Looking Beyond’ was launched in 2009.

I was a naive starter. I didn’t understand how complex and challenging the fashion industry was. Running a clothing brand is costly, and till today, I’ve been in the process of selling the remaining stock. Best intentions can often not create what you want.

However, in late 2010, something happened which opened a new path for One Colour. I was doing a Christmas market in Brisbane when a lady stopped by the stall. She saw that the scarves I sold were made in Nakaru, Kenya. The lady started telling me about Kenana Knitters that was based close by at Njoro, Kenya as well, and how they have started this wonderful enterprise to empower women through knitting soft toys.

So in 2011, I visited Kenya again to meet Patricia Nightingale, founder of the grassroots organisation since 1998. It so happened that the Kenana Knitters were looking for a new Australian distributor. What a serendipitous event! Paddy’s a great judge of character, and she picked One Colour to be her distributor. Africa had picked me!

By about 2013, I got a handle on distribution, did trade fairs, and now Australia makes up about 50% of the sales of Kenana Knitters’ products globally. The growth has been phenomenal. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

You know about the lady I met at the Christmas market? Turns out she’s Paddy’s cousin. What a small world! Paddy is an amazing local white Kenyan. Mad keen knitter. 20 years ago, she said, ‘Let’s make something! We’ve got wool. There’s a few of us.’ And so, she started Kenana Knitters with two others. They now have around 600 women involved. 28 of them are on full-time employment managing quality, rostering, supplies, distribution, office management and of course, knitting! The remaining ladies are casual knitters who fit into the family-like environment. Many of them have children. Some even bring their babies to work. They sit on the lawn and knit.

Through Kenana Knitters, the women have been able to generate income and educate their children. The whole community has been transformed. The thing is, Kenana Knitters is fully self-sustaining. They are not a NGO, and don’t ask for donations. Kenyans run Kenana Knitters. This is their country, their society, and they know best how to transform their community. I feel I’m helping them to stay viable by creating a market opportunity to sell their products here.

I will always remember Mary who sadly died 2 years ago from HIV. Mary worked for Kenana Knitters for 5 years before her death, and all through those years, the organisation helped her with her medical treatment. When she first arrived, she was a starving mum with a sick newborn. They cared for her and her baby back to health. Mary was quiet-spoken, and always grateful. Through her employment, Mary was able to buy land and provide an inheritance for her children. Even today, everyone remembers Mary, leaving her knitting spot vacant as a respectful tribute. I featured Mary’s story a few years back on Mother’s Day, and it touched many of my readers. When I met Mary, I thanked her for allowing me to share her story, and to my astonishment, she hugged me and thanked me back. I still recall her tall, elegant figure (she was a Turkana woman), modestly dressed, such a beauty. How humble and extraordinary she was! In our society today, we applaud those who stand out but forget those who are quiet and humble. I have such immense respect for Mary as a mother. The sacrifices she made in her life for her family keeps me focused on ways I can keep bringing the Kenana Knitters products to our customers here.

The lady in the photo with me is Milka. She dances and sings while working at Kenana Knitters. Milka has an amazing energy. She suffered from terrible varicose veins and could not work, walk or dance. She was in a diabolical situation with no money for an operation, and no means to earn money. Kenana Knitters decided to fund her operation. I donated some money myself. There is a hospital nearby where specialists from the US come periodically and a vein specialist was one of them.

Milka lifts everyone’s mood whenever she’s with the knitters, and I can only imagine the amazing time that was had when she returned, fully recovered. The singing and dancing would have been phenomenal! Milka’s smile and charisma is a powerful tonic to me, too.

I feel privileged to be part of such a great group. Me, I’m a caretaker doing as much as I can, but as more people catch the vision, it will grow and keep on going.

My advice for those embarking on the business route? Always do your research. Talk to as many people as you can who have gone before you. Energy can get you a long way, but some good advice can save you a lot of trouble.

And ‘Never say Never’. Because something may change.”

A Northern Exposure moment

In My Opinion, Inspiration, Reflection, WisdomOne Colour2 Comments

Just because this TV show (Northern Exposure) was made in the 1990s doesn't mean it's not a sound action to repeat watch it nearly 20 years later.

In 1990, when the show's harmonica theme song was first heard, I was living in Sydney. At that stage I think I managed to catch almost all the episodes between 1990-1993, then I moved to the Hunter Valley and, with the new living location and job, I didn't watch that many of the later episodes. By the time the show had its final series in 1995, I was married and pregnant, so definitely not in the zone for watching the series, although at that time I do remember watching quite a lot of Pride & Prejudice (the 1995 BBC production).

Northern Exposure still has a fascination for me, though. I love the quirky harmony of the imaginary town of Cicely, Alaska. The townsfolk, some of whom are so apparently opposed in lifestyle or belief, are still able to accept each other and live side by side. In that idyllic world there is little judgement, much respect and a wonderful fitting in with the rhythms of the seasons. The most recent episode I watched was "First Snow", all about the coming of winter, wishing each other "Bon Hiver", loading up on carbs to ward off the freezing temps to come and celebrating just what it takes to survive in such a remote location. I know life in Cicely it isn't real or even feasible but I still love the feeling I get when escaping for an hour or so into the lives of these characters.

So it seems good to begin my 2017 journal with a message straight from Northern Exposure. The message is spoken by Marilyn Whirlwind, one of the permanent characters on the show. I can't really say that the story Marilyn tells is based on truth (almost all internet references to this story are from the show), but it's a good story anyway.

Photo by AnsonLu/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by AnsonLu/iStock / Getty Images
The Eagle wasn’t always the Eagle. The Eagle, before he became the Eagle, was Yucatangee, the Talker.
Yucatangee talked and talked. It talked so much it heard only itself. Not the river, not the wind, not even the Wolf. The Raven came and said “The Wolf is hungry. If you stop talking, you’ll hear him. The wind too. And when you hear the wind, you’ll fly.”
So he stopped talking. And became its nature, the Eagle. The Eagle soared, and its flight said all it needed to say.

My take away from this is, if I hear my voice speaking I will know I'm not listening. And when I hear the wind and the river and the wolf (or birds, or laughter, or bees) I will know I am.

This year, and every year, I want the way I live to say all that needs saying, even if a few words leak out from time to time. By the way, these journal posts don't count as words or not listening, because I don't really know if anyone reads them!

The tolling bell, no man (or woman) is an island, floral reminders

Inspiration, In My Opinion, Reflection, WisdomOne ColourComment

Reflecting on words written 500 years ago...

John Donne was writing in the (his) present and yet his insight and words are no less true today, in our present.

The bell tolls for all of us, every day, every hour, every minute, every second. This is a big kind of reflection.

For me, it's the inter-connectedness in the meaning of these words that toll for me. How can we be so connected (mankind together on a big rock called earth, in a solar system, in a galaxy, in a universe) and yet make decisions based on being somehow separate and a part from each other? Decisions made here or there rippling across oceans and continents affecting the lives of others who didn't make those decisions in the first place.

We might think we are different, through our colour, creed, belief, birth location but if John Donne is on the money, that thought isn't true in the big sense, just in the little, keep me safe, I must be special, sense.

If we keep trying to break our inter-connectedness then we will start to believe we are not connected at all. That would bring mankind to a sad, sad place...an island, maybe. I might think I'd like to be on that island but really it's no place I want to be, not really, not permanently.

The bright star, the beauty of this passage, is that always in every age everyone is involved with everyone else, we just don't remember it.

John Donne reminds me.

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee" - John Donne (1572-1631) in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

Is this why floral tributes become such symbols for people even when they don't know the person or people who have gone?

And the inter-connectedness becomes evident in such laying down of flowers and messages for those we will never know.

This is a wonder and why we still exist - at least in my opinion.

 Kensington Palace 1997

Kensington Palace 1997