I'm sitting down with Chantha Nguon to discuss designs for our World Dress collection, having admired for years her work with luscious silk. Chantha is a strong, petite woman with a handsome face and eyes that hold a harrowing history. Born in culturally rich Cambodia, Chantha escaped the Khmer Rouge regime when she was nine, living in war-torn Saigon and later for 10 years without family in a Thai refugee camp. When she at last returned to her home in Cambodia, the culture had been extinguished; the women in her village knew nothing of their heritage, nor of hope.
Chantha went to work setting up a clinic, drawing on her experience in the refugee camp where she assisted the medical team; she began to teach hygiene and maternal care, opened a school for children, and finally, a weaving cooperative for women to have a source of income. The poverty in her region is extreme and the location remote; the only other path open to a woman is an early marriage and endless domestic labor.
As we sit together scheming with Ellen from the Ibu design team, Chantha laments that the skills that survived are rudimentary; she longs to recover some of the complex weaving that has always been the pride of Cambodia. I mention that we are forming a Foundation and might be able to help.
This fierce woman who has given her lifeblood to save her village without income or reward; this woman I have admired from afar for her strong and indefatigable work, her resilience and courage . . . this woman across the table looked back at me with tears filling her eyes. This is what I have been praying for for so long, she said. Someone to guide us, consult with us, to help us know what to do next and how, to be with us somehow. Thank you, she said, in quiet astonishment.
It is a moment I hold close as WeAreIbu.org launches this Friday, a non-profit that will link arms with competent, skilled, and hard-working women around the world in their quest to disrupt a cycle of poverty and fashion change. The Ibu Foundation board has embraced seven initial projects proposed by artisans with more in the wings. The point is to create a structure for success. Training, workspace, leadership. The point is to be an ally as these ambitious, inspired women reach to better their lives, and those of their daughters and sons. The point is to be the hands that Chantha has been reaching for - to be her ally and strength across the seas.
WeAreIbu.org is a separate 501c3 supporting global women artisans and their success. It does not benefit the Ibu brand in any way, and supports artisans to find markets far beyond the Ibu brand. In fact, the Ibu business is hosting the launch of this new Foundation on Friday and giving 10% of its profits from sales to WeAreIbu. Appropriately debuting on International Women's Day, we welcome our allies around the country and world to join us in this high moment.
This is the future for women, coming at us NOW. I hope you'll grab the opportunity to become a member of the Founding Circle with a one-time significant contribution to allow work to begin. Or make a contribution as you are able, and join this movement - join Chantha and her colleages - at any level.
My heart swells to think we are at this moment toward which we have been moving for a long time. I am grateful, as always, for your support and joy, shared. Let's stretch out those hands in joy and grace. . . and together dance.
With great anticipation,
Susan Hull Walker