By Emily Pinto
There is nothing like travel to open your mind and heart and eradicate indifference. In 2010, I traveled to the highlands of Guatemala to volunteer with a worker-owned women’s weaving cooperative. I learned that the beautiful textile and craft traditions of the Mayan people are filled with meaning and are deeply rooted in their culture.
While volunteering, I observed that though the artisans are extremely hardworking and talented, their reliance on tourists to purchase their goods leaves them in a vulnerable position. They need access to international markets, guaranteed fair payment and larger orders to earn a sustainable income. Guatemala’s natural splendor and the richness of their ancient culture captivated me, but the undeniable poverty and injustice compelled me to do more.
I have always believed that the fashion industry can be a powerful force for good, both for people and our planet. I decided to use my education in fashion design and work towards creating a social enterprise to empower artisans to overcome poverty. Julie Savoie and I founded Estrella de Mar in 2012.
The original weaving cooperative I volunteered with was the first artisan group we employed when we formed and we still work with them today. The world starts to feel so much smaller once you have witnessed for yourself that people from two very different cultures often still share more similarities than differences. When you love people and love the planet you recognize our interconnectedness and responsibility to each other. That is why the driving ethos behind Estrella de Mar is, “Love is the message, fashion is the medium.” When women are empowered a ripple effect takes place throughout entire communities, which is the key to ending the generational cycle of poverty.
Travel has continued to be a big part of my life and reveal opportunities for me to create positive change. Last summer, I flew halfway around the world to visit Vietnam. Intrepid Travel was the catalyst for this adventure because I won a spot on their Vietnam Southbound tour through their travel photo contest on Instagram. The Hill Tribe ethnic groups have passed down their textile and craft traditions for centuries and I was eager to see their communities in person.
The bright green rice paddies and families in traditional dress were more vibrant than I could have imagined. However, in markets I witnessed handcrafted items that represented cultural heritage competing alongside cheap, mass-produced imitations. In order to support artisans and shine a light on their authentic traditions I visited fair trade cooperatives and curated a collection of handmade goods from Vietnam for Estrella de Mar.
Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect on the purchases and decisions we make in our every day lives that involve a global supply chain of people and affect our planet. I was inspired to travel to a developing country for the first time by global textiles and then inspired by my travel to become a social entrepreneur.
It is possible to make a difference whether it is through a new career path, supporting a local community project or simply expanding your worldview to become a better global citizen. Travel is a transformative experience that will show you how you can give back to the world.