Jill Edwards

Creating sustainable, dignified jobs, one necklace at a time

“So, Mr. Ron, it occurred to me: If you is fishin for a friend you just gon’ catch and release, then I ain’t got no desire to be your friend. . . . But if you is lookin for a REAL friend, then I’ll be one. Forever.”

—Ron Hall, Same Kind of Different As Me

More than 20 years ago, when Jill Edwards and her family were still living in Dallas, they opened their hearts and their home to a three-year-old boy from Belize named Gerald. The young boy was experiencing health problems that required long-term medical and surgical care, and since his family could not afford to treat him, they sent him to Dallas, where the Edwards family could provide him with the necessary care.

“This was the early ’90s,” says Jill, “and that was my first glimpse into developing countries and the struggle people endure—the cycle of poverty, and people desperate and not being able to find sustainable, dignified jobs.”

From the age of three to 16, Gerald lived with the Edwards family, doing his best to mesh with his world in Belize and his world in Texas. He’s now 25 years old, and the Edwards family continues to offer Gerald and his family their support.

“In the book Same Kind of Different As Me, there’s a quote,” says Jill. “I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it’s something like, ‘People go in wanting to be your friend and to help, but when that season of helpfulness is over, the people you’ve been helping can feel like throw-backs—like they’re a fish you don’t want to keep.’ We knew we never wanted Gerry to feel like a throw-back, so we do what we can—we’ve helped pay for his education and the education of his siblings—but poverty can be a soul-crushing cycle.”

In 2014, almost 10 years after Gerry had returned home, Jill learned about Noonday Collection, a new fair trade fashion company that creates jobs for people in developing countries around the world. Artisans in these countries struggle to earn a sustainable income because they don’t have access to a global market or the means to establish their own businesses. Noonday helps them develop artisanal skills, start their own jewelry and accessory lines, develop business skills, and rise out of poverty. Noonday pays the artisans upfront for their products, which are then sold by Noonday Ambassadors at trunk shows throughout the United States.

“Ever since Gerry came into our lives, I’ve thought that God was preparing us for something bigger,” Jill says, “and the more I read about Noonday, the more I thought, ‘This is it!’”

For five months, Jill wrestled privately with the idea of joining the fair trade movement as a Noonday Ambassador. While her heart was calling her to join Noonday, as a fulltime nurse, mom, and grandmother, she struggled to find time in her busy schedule for another commitment. Finally, after months of keeping the idea to herself, she pitched it to her husband.

“He’s very cautious and conservative,” Jill explains. “I figured he’d be like, ‘This is crazy. You don’t have time for this.’ Instead, when I finished telling him about Noonday, he said, ‘Jill, this is for you! It couldn’t be any more tailor-made for your heart and for your passion.’”

The encouragement was just what Jill needed to jump in headfirst, hosting six to eight trunk shows a month, attending Noonday conferences, and even traveling to Peru, where she met several of Noonday’s artisans, including a third-generation silversmith who is working to break the cycle of poverty in the slums of Lima by mentoring up-and-coming artisans.

Some artisans, like the Peruvian silversmith and Noonday’s partners in India, possess skills that have been passed down for generations. “But then you have women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who are in prostitution, a vast number of whom were trafficked as children,” Jill explains. “So now you have these ladies—and men, too—who don’t have a marketable job skill. And they have to be taught a skill because without a job, they are vulnerable. And vulnerability equals high risk.”

In many poor African households, she explains, it’s common for families to have eight or nine children, who are turned out of the house once they reach adolescence. “For the women, they may say, ‘You’re old enough to find yourself a husband, or fend for yourself.’ All too often, in order to survive, the young women find themselves in exploitive jobs or with older men in abusive situations. They bear children, and the cycle continues.”

In order to break the cycle of poverty and domestic abuse, both women and men need dignified, sustainable jobs and reliable incomes, says Jill, who talks about these themes often during her trunk shows. That’s why, instead of employing artisans directly, Noonday sets up artisan partners around the world with businesses that can be sustainable for generations to come.

“Instead of continuously giving aid, we’re helping them to help themselves,” says Jill, echoing the “teach a man to fish” proverb. “And we’re there for the long-term—however long they need it—we’re not going to give up on them or throw them back.”

One of Noonday’s necklaces, the Rachel, is named for the daughter of a destitute woman in Uganda who had decided to leave her daughter at a local orphanage because she did not have the ability to feed her. On her way there, Olivia met Jalia and Daniel, two of Noonday’s artisan partners, who convinced her that there was another solution: she could join them and have a sustainable, dignified job as an artisan. Olivia accepted and has since worked her way up in the company. Rachel is now in school on scholarship from Noonday, and Olivia is helping other women escape their own cycles of poverty.

Noonday partners with 29 artisan businesses in 12 developing countries around the world and chronicles many similar stories of empowerment that are detailed in the literature that accompanies each accessory and piece of jewelry. Items are made from local and found materials, such as vintage coins and artillery shells that have been “upcycled” into beads by artisans in Ethiopia, water buffalo horns turned into cuff bracelets in Vietnam, and zardozi-embroidered purses made from threads handcrafted in India.

“Fashion can be very shallow, but it doesn’t have to be,” Jill says. “I joke that I want to be in a red carpet-like world where people ask each other, ‘What are you wearing?’ Not because I’m wearing Versace, but because they’re wondering which empowering, life-changing organization made what I have on.”

Since she joined Noonday, Jill has revisited the way she views making purchases. Now, instead of using her dollars on “fast fashion” whose production may harm workers making the items in unsafe, non-fair trade working environments, she’s more thoughtful in her spending decisions. “As consumers, we’re going to use our purchasing power one way or another. Why not use it to transform somebody’s life?”

To learn more about Noonday, browse the current Spring collection, or become a Noonday ambassador, visit www.jilledwards.noondaycollection.com. Email Jill at jill.noonday@gmail.com to host a trunk show.

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