(Update: Noonday added a page of Frequently Asked Questions that helps to clear up a lot of confusion about their company.)
There’s been a bit of controversy in the blogging world recently, all centered around an upcoming trip to Rwanda sponsored by Noonday Collection, an online and direct sales jewelry company. When I first read about the trip and its accompanying contest to win a spot among the well-known bloggers traveling, I was pretty shocked. I’m a bit familiar with Noonday, as it’s often called, and its mission to support women artisans in impoverished countries around the world. The company was founded here in Austin, and has its roots in the Evangelical Christian community. I do not belong to that community, but I know many people, including close family members, who do.
In fact, one of my sisters recently became a Noonday ambassador, the title for women who represent the company mission by holding trunk shows in private homes. She and I had a lengthy email exchange, followed by a marathon phone conversation Monday night, and I was able to pick her brain about the purpose of this trip and the overall goals of the company. I’m passionate about fair trade and responsible fashion, and I voiced my concerns about the trip itself, along with many questions about the business aspects of Noonday Collection.
We talked for almost three hours, and I tried to listen with open ears to everything my sister told me. Obviously, she is a brand new ambassador for the company, and not a spokesperson, but when I hung up the phone Monday night, I felt confident that Noonday Collection is a company I’m happy to support.
Noonday is a Christian company that began as a means to fund an overseas adoption, two topics that are controversial at their core. It took off successfully from the start, and the company now maintains an online site and store, alongside selling their products through in-home trunk shows. It is a direct sales company, but not a multi-level marketing company, I discovered. From the information I’ve gathered, suburban Christian women seem to be the company’s target market. The products are jewelry and accessories made by trained artisans in several countries, and though Noonday Collection does not hold a fair trade designation, it reportedly pays its employees a fair living wage, supplies the materials needed to create the jewelry, and also offers training in sustainable job skills. All good things, in my book.
It was the trip to Rwanda this summer and its publicity that really caught my attention, and I think the scrutiny given to the company over the last few days has been warranted. Noonday’s site isn’t what I’d call transparent at all, and there are lots of unanswered questions, from the purpose of the trip itself to the profits earned by the jewelry sold. Many readers have left comments and questions on the bloggers’ sites, but there has been no response, so lots of unanswered questions remain. I understand the concern completely.
As someone familiar with this specific Christian community, I think the Noonday founders have chosen to focus their efforts on reaching their target market, a group of women who are well-versed in topics like mission trips and fundraising for adoptions. While these ideas might seem outrageous or even offensive to those of us outside these churches, I wholeheartedly believe that the company founders, the bloggers, and their customers and readers are doing what they feel they are called to do. I can definitely respect their beliefs, even as I might question them, and I also feel that their motives are pure and selfless, too.
The trip to Rwanda, called “poverty tourism” by many, involves meeting with the artisans who supply the products to Noonday, and getting to know them on a personal level. The bloggers selected for the trip have long-standing relationships with Noonday, as well as large audiences, so they are in a position to share these artisans’ stories with others, in turn exposing more women to the possibilities of fair trade. This press release clearly explains the purpose of the trip. My hope is that this trip and the bloggers’ conversations with the women artisans will be filled with the utmost respect and dignity as they learn about their experiences. And I believe they will.
I realize this post is incredibly long and quite controversial, but I felt the need to weigh in. My hope is that Noonday Collection will also learn from these recent events and provide readers with the answers we’ve been seeking. Their site is currently veiled in a few layers of secrecy, and I think much can be gained by simply responding to the questions asked and putting it all on the table for everyone to see. I’m happy to support fair trade companies and their missions, and I want with all my heart to support Noonday Collection.