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From Fashion to Fair Trade, Rachel Kinley


This week, I’m chatting with my old friend with a new mission, Rachel Kinley. Rachel has seen a lot of change in her life with a cross-country move, a series of jobs, time spent being a stay-at-home mom and divorce being just a few major life events. But it was finding new meaning in a career that she wasn’t even sure she wanted in the first place, that led her to start her direct trade business empowering women, Meridian Lee.


[00:00:00] Kristin: Yay. I'm so excited to be here with you today, Rachel, how are you?

[00:00:03] Rachel: Great. Thanks so much for having me. I've been really looking forward to this.

[00:00:06] Kristin: We have both been looking forward to this because Rachel and I went to you as we would say in England university, but we went to college together and have not talked for 20 ish years.

[00:00:18] Rachel: I was looking back yesterday. I think it's, I think it's actually been 16 because I got 18 because I hung out with you for a minute in New York one time, but


[00:00:27] Kristin: That makes me feel a little better

[00:00:28] Rachel: Yeah.

[00:00:29] Kristin: saying 20 years sounds so scary.

[00:00:31] Rachel: Well, don't be weirded out by this, but I have an imaginary board of directors and you're on it. So I've been talking to you.

You might not have realized this, but you've been giving me some really good advice.

[00:00:45] Kristin: Probably way better than if the real me was sitting on a board of directors.

[00:00:48] Rachel: I don't know. I'll have to check notes with you later, but yeah. So keep up the good work,

[00:00:52] Kristin: I'm so not worried about that, that's one of the coolest things anyone's ever said to me.

[00:00:58] Rachel: I think you're on my imaginary board of directors because you are a serious organized person, but you're also, have a good sense of humor about life. And so I chose you to fill that role.

[00:01:10] Kristin: I would love to have that engraved on my tombstone. She was organized if I had a great sense of you.

[00:01:18] Rachel: It's a tough balance. I think you're a good mix of those qualities.

[00:01:22] Kristin: Well, thank you. Now I'm thinking about my imaginary board of directors. Obviously you have this for your company, but we'll talk about that in a bit, because I want to talk about well, we went to fashion school together. I'm intrigued about how you got into fashion to begin with, because I think both of us had lightly not expecting to be in fashion journeys.

[00:01:41] Rachel: Yeah,

I think I feel a little sorry about this, but I just, I think I just felt like that major at our school wasn't a very, it seemed like it was people who liked shopping. I just didn't take it seriously as a design, career. But when I, foundation year, when we had to submit our portfolios to see which area we would be in, I was like, I'm definitely going to graphic design that's my mom had been a graphic designer and it's just what I was going to do.

And the professors put me in fashion, the, board who decides those things put me in fashion. I think it was probably because my grades were not super up to par, but I was really disappointed about that, but it's really turned out to be such a good thing. And I still do a little graphic design.

It's not really my best area, but and I also do a lot of product development. So I feel like I just had a really good base from that school. And it ended up that fashion really was the best place for me.

[00:02:45] Kristin: isn't it funny? It sounds like they just were like, here's what you're going to do. It's not your choice.

I don't, I would not react well to.

[00:02:53] Rachel: Yeah. Did you go through that process?

[00:02:56] Kristin: So for me, it was, I was planning on, well, I started in a completely different major, had come in with a lot of high school credit or, AP credits. So I didn't have to take a lot of this stuff that you normally take at the beginning of college. And I was really bored. So all my friends were out, I was out partying and all the people that I really admired were going to studio late at night.

And I was like, why are these people so committed? And it turns out most of them were architects. So I thought I was going to be an architecture major.

[00:03:23] Rachel: Yeah.

[00:03:24] Kristin: And similarly, because probably I wasn't paying much attention in school at that point migrate. Well, I don't even remember if I had enough to recommend me, cause I didn't really have a portfolio.

[00:03:34] Rachel: It was a high bar. It was like architecture was like all the valedictorians from around the state.

[00:03:41] Kristin: Exactly. Or people who had done stuff like that, their entire

life.

And that was not.

[00:03:45] Rachel: yeah, totally. That was like a next level area.

[00:03:49] Kristin: So I got into pre architecture and really felt that's what I was going to do, and then realized I'm not an architect, not it's. So not me though. What you said about being organized and well sense of humor, I liked the idea of logic meets

creativity. So, I ended up thinking, well, what am I always loved?

And I had always loved fashion. So I went and with the full intention and foundation of fashion, and I thought, I couldn't talk myself out of it, but yet I also had the idea

[00:04:19] Rachel: I don't know what that came from, but

[00:04:21] Kristin: probably because it was mostly women.

[00:04:23] Rachel: That's a good point. Yeah, There were no women really, and there were very few women in architecture in very few in industrial design, but I also wonder, the George Costanza thing where he's I'm either going to be an architect or a Marine biologist, but those sound really cool.

And so I wonder how much of me was like choosing based on this is the kind of person I want to be and not really based on here's something that I enjoy. I think I would be good at it. It was more like here's the sort of profile I would like to have.

[00:04:54] Kristin: Yeah, that makes sense. Cause it did seem I dunno, it seems like you were really smart if you were an architect or a really cool if you're industrial designer, whereas fashion, it was like you said, there was this like, oh, mostly she likes to shop.

[00:05:07] Rachel: Yeah. But all are, I really enjoyed our professors and I still think about them sometimes when I'm deciding on something. Or Yeah, Margie might be on my board of directors, and Ms Meachem.

[00:05:20] Kristin: Yeah, it turned out to be, I'm really glad I made that choice despite not sticking with it for a long-term career.

[00:05:25] Rachel: I just, I feel like it really was a great school because of the co-ops and everything. I still have a handful of friends who really were able to stick with that and carry it through.

[00:05:34] Kristin: Yeah. So we ended up working every other quarter. So we ended up graduating with tons of work experience, which was super helpful.

[00:05:41] Rachel: And life experience like that, the time in New York. I know you lived there after graduation, but I just had a couple of internships and just the other day I had to deal with sort of a difficult person. And my friend said, you need to get your new Yorker on because I had interned there, seven months, I was like, yeah, I'm going to get my new Yorker on now and switch out of my, like my nice,

you know,

Kick some ass now.

I could channel that, I knew what she was talking about.

[00:06:07] Kristin: Yeah, exactly. Every once in a while I am like, don't make me get my NewYorker out.

[00:06:13] Rachel: So I will do it.

[00:06:15] Kristin: So, your childhood, it seems like it didn't really set you up for, what we're talking about. This side of fashion that is this sort of, I don't know, how do I even say it? The superficial side of fashion.

[00:06:27] Rachel: Yeah. I really was growing up. I had a lot of great people in my life who were doing interesting aid work and going on mission trips. And I had pastors and people in my family who were just really helping people. So I remember being little and thinking I'm going to be a scientist and I'm going to come up with a cure for something.

And then, so to be placed after all this hard work in a pretty superficial place, I just, it was really hard like, great. My skill is choosing pretty colors. That's really disappointing, but I feel like it has really taught me to. To keep taking the next right step. And that was really important for me to learn fashion.

design for the work I'm doing now, that is actually helping people, and just to know that, whatever you're good at, you can use, not that everyone needs to have a bleeding heart, but just it's okay. To just be good at choosing pretty colors and matching zipper tapes. There's value in that too. And we live in such a weird time where I remember a few years ago, my dad's saying I was trying to explain to him, like I want to have a meaningful career.

And I, he understands that, but he's, I think it's a new idea. It's a luxury. We have to be like, oh, I want to, I want my life to mean something instead of just I'm gonna take care of my kids and pay my mortgage and be part of my church and call it good. There's honor in that too. So we live in a funny time where people have this new idea, I think, where they could have the desire to save the world or, grandiose in some ways too, but

[00:07:55] Kristin: Well, yeah, sometimes when I think about, oh, I'm really pushing this idea of, w we can do the things we want to do and being self-fulfilled and all this. And I'm like, well, when did we come up with this idea? Like, why is it now? And it's great. Of course I want to do good things and I want to be fulfilled, and I want to love what I'm doing.

And, but that, wasn't a thing until fairly recently.

[00:08:19] Rachel: I've actually thought about this a lot because I've wondered, I think there were some celebrities maybe 10 or 15 years ago, like I think of Angelina Jolie or different people who it's almost like poverty, tourism, where they took photos of themselves, like helping poor people. And it's almost like you have to be so privileged to be in a place where you could, have time, take some time off and think about, what you want to do, or follow your heart. And so, I don't know I kind of wonder if we'll realign or rebalance or the pendulum will swing the other way where maybe having a good life is just being good to the people around you and learning how to make a really good dinner and enjoy those, like have The Hobbit, second breakfast, collect pretty rocks.

I don't know.

[00:09:00] Kristin: but

and in a way people are going back to a certain I don't know, I don't want to say back to the land kind of values, but I guess that's the best way to describe it. That there are people that it's like hipster to make goat's cheese and you live in Portland.

I don't know.

[00:09:13] Rachel: Oh, yeah. I don't even, it's just the water we swim in now. I don't even notice it. Like I'm actually going to go out later and collect Cottonwood buds to make a salve. And that's just totally normal. That's maybe my Portland

friends will make fun of me for saying that's normal, but

[00:09:28] Kristin: The keep Portland weird thing is weird is normal.

[00:09:32] Rachel: A few years ago I had like a miniature pink cowgirl hat and I just decided I was going to wear that around town, to run my errands for the day and no one even looked at me twice. It was awesome. No one was like, oh, are you celebrating something? Or no one gave me the side-eye.

It was just like, yeah, that's it it was like boring to people that

[00:09:48] Kristin: Yeah, of course you're wearing a miniature pink cowboy hat.

[00:09:51] Rachel: maybe I got some eyerolls, but I just love that you can really do whatever you want.

[00:09:55] Kristin: So going back to university college fashion, of course, I always think of your senior thesis because as somebody who didn't decide initially that's what you wanted to do. Like your stuff was so cool. You had like, no, it was so cool. It was like, Judy Jetson. If she like dropped the kids and went to the club or something.

[00:10:14] Rachel: I don't know. I feel like it was a massive failure, but I wish I could go back and do it over, but it was fun. And I was just thinking about that project because I went through sort of a, a course lately where you, I guess it's, I hate the word life coach, but she was walking me through some different exercises and she was like, I want you to this week, just make something for yourself just to be delightful for yourself.

And I realized that's such a basic assignment, but I haven't done that in so long. It's hard to remember what it felt like to just make something that I thought was cool. And I was around other creative people like you in studio who might walk by and be like, oh, what are you doing?

They're like, have you thought about this? Or, just to have that collaborative spirit to,

[00:10:53] Kristin: That's something I do really miss, just about, being in the creative industry like that, where, when I was working or even more so being in school and just working together and,

[00:11:02] Rachel: We visited sometimes too. Or we're like got on each other's nerves, but it was, I wished that I had a space. I could go to that now and just be like, what are you guys working on? Here's what I'm working on.

[00:11:11] Kristin: yeah. But the creative, collaborative collaboration kind of thing, cause people always have, I don't know, ideas. They're always better in a group. I feel

[00:11:18] Rachel: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I miss that.

[00:11:21] Kristin: So after school, where did you go? What happened next?

[00:11:24] Rachel: So after school, I basically just knew where I didn't want to live. And so it just I felt like I wasn't right for New York. Even though I really enjoyed being there and I interned in Chicago and a little company in France, but my brother was doing an internship at Adidas out in Portland. And he just said, I think he would like it here.

So I packed a duffle bag and bought a one-way ticket, which I thought was really special and cool, but it turns out pretty much everyone I meet from the Midwest out here is yeah, I just packed a duffle bag and bought a one-way ticket.

[00:12:01] Kristin: cool.

[00:12:02] Rachel: yeah, until you realize like everyone from Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa also did the same thing.

There's a group of us out here. Who bought their one way ticket

[00:12:11] Kristin: Okay. So you have your one way ticket. You decided, you're not buying the other one-way ticket

[00:12:16] Rachel: saying,

[00:12:17] Kristin: And where, what happened with work? What happened with life?

[00:12:20] Rachel: well, it's interesting because I knew I could move out here and just walk into a Starbucks and get a job. So I didn't really have any money, but I just walked into the Starbucks downtown and filled out a resume and pretended like, I love coffee and people which are both true. And then I just worked there for three weeks until I could get a job at a backpacking store as the clothing buyer.

And it actually paid less than the Starbucks job, but it was, a step forward. And then I found an ad in the newspaper and it was for Hannah Anderson, the children's wear company.

[00:12:57] Kristin: Yes.

[00:12:58] Rachel: It was just funny. I just remember like circling the little ad and it was, the designers were right below the dancers, the classified.

So I was just remember being like, just keep going you can do this and don't be a dancer and all that was ever an option for me. But because I can't dance, but anyway,

[00:13:15] Kristin: if it was like,

[00:13:16] Rachel: like a little bit like, oh man, Yeah.

just alphabetical. so I circled the little ad and went down and they hired me.

But that was, that was a really good job. Like I remember calling our professor and it's embarrassing, but she was surprised that they had hired me. So she was like, well, I guess if they're hiring, she wasn't like gradually, it was like the backhanded compliment.

There was somebody who graduated a couple years ahead of us who had worked there and she was the rock star, so I think I was not the rock star.

So I think she was trying to be nice, but it was like, she was surprised, but that was an awesome job. And I still keep in touch with some people and the owner, the founder of Hannah Anderson was she had started a part of their profits, went to helping children going through the adoption process.

So that was probably the first time I encountered someone who was, had a really successful business who was also giving back. That was a new idea. So that was really instrumental in, it was this thing, I thought about a ton, but it just introduced that idea that businesses could be a source for good.

[00:14:19] Kristin: I do think having somebody that is, I don't know, having somebody that you can look at it's like now we talk about representation and even something like that, having somebody who you can be like this person is an entrepreneur they're very successful, but that

doesn't stop them from being a good person.

[00:14:35] Rachel: That was just part of it wasn't even talked about as an option. It was just like, this is who we are. And she, I don't think they even talked about it a ton, but it just was part of their brand, and it was just, yeah, it was a new idea for me. That was a really great job just out of school. And then my next move was down to Berkeley and I worked for another children's wear company there.

[00:14:54] Kristin: And were you enjoying children's wear as a

[00:14:57] Rachel: I, you know what I realized, the reason the co-ops were so good for me, the internships was I realized a lot of people were working like to late at night. For fashion design. And I realized, I felt embarrassed about this, but I didn't want to be spending, I didn't want to stay at the office until midnight.

even if I got the fancy dinners or the cars home, it just wasn't exciting to me. And children's wear it was an area where people were not even that people weren't really necessarily had kids, but people tended to leave at five or six.

that was a good fit for me. Like I wanted to have a life outside of my work.

[00:15:31] Kristin: It's funny because in New York it wasn't like that. Cause I was doing children's wear and it felt like, I don't know. I really had to make conscious efforts to be like, I'm going to, that's how I ended up doing triathlon is cause I was like, I have to do something that's not work.

I have to meet people outside of work. And thankfully triathlon came along because that was the only way I ended up making non-work friends in New York.

[00:15:52] Rachel: That's an interesting idea that yeah, I remember thinking like how would I meet people? I don't want to just go to a bar and meet friends that way, but it's cool that you found a community that way.

[00:16:03] Kristin: Yeah, definitely. And it just it was so important to me. Cause I do think now we can say, yeah, I don't want to work till midnight every night, but it feel very much I don't know. It just felt like the culture

[00:16:14] Rachel: Yeah. I don't know. I just felt no, I'm not really dedicated enough.

[00:16:21] Kristin: to not have a life.

[00:16:24] Rachel: I just could never fathom that. And maybe because I never worked for anybody that was that much of a rockstar, but I don't know. It just wasn't. I just did not get it.

[00:16:33] Kristin: So what took you back up to Portland

[00:16:34] Rachel: My husband got a job at Nike and the kitchen there. It's the, it was the like advanced experimental group there in Nike.

[00:16:43] Kristin: So at that point, did you have, in your mind that you were going to start thinking about doing your own thing or

[00:16:48] Rachel: I actually wanted to ask you about this because I started working for a textile design company they sold prints to, I think the office that you worked in, which if we had had social media at that time, I think I would have connected with you. But I was designing prints for children's pajamas and bathing suits for Foliage..

[00:17:06] Kristin: yeah, Yeah. They definitelyused to come in. I was like, I won't remember. And then you said that. Yes, of course.

[00:17:14] Rachel: Michael and Natalie, and yeah, they were really fun to work for. It was the first time I think I'd worked basically for myself and it wasn't really full-time, but it just introduced me to designing textiles.

[00:17:25] Kristin: Rachel, this is your life. Look back. Tell me what happened next.

[00:17:29] Rachel: it's boring and terrifying, but so my son was born in 2004 and my daughter was born in 2007 and I basically just kept freelancing here and there just to try to keep my foot in the door. But mostly I was a stay at home mom. Which I enjoyed and I would probably do it again, although it wasn't probably the best at it.

I wasn't really doing the Martha Stewart stuff I enjoyed it though. Yeah. I would do it like that again.

[00:17:54] Kristin: I think it's interesting. Cause I do think it's it's one of those things, cause we were talking before we started recording about the narrative, and what the narrative is you're supposed to follow. And I feel like we're in a time where it's okay to start saying you were happy to be a stay at home mom again,

[00:18:07] Rachel: Yeah. That's a really good point.

[00:18:09] Kristin: It is a, it's a difficult thing because it's like, you wouldn't be like I was working and I'm so cool. And, I was the breadwinner or whatever that is, whatever that looks like, whatever it sounds like. But I think there is a real ownership in also saying we should have the choice to stay at home and be proud of it.

And, and not necessarily be Martha Stewart, but just it was cool hanging out with my kids.

[00:18:29] Rachel: I really feel like that was, I feel really lucky I got to do that and I feel like I have a good bond with my kids because of the time we spent together then. But yeah, I remember feeling sheepish about it , even though I knew it was right for me, I remember going to some parties like designer parties or whatever.

And I remember people just being like, what do you do? And telling them, and basically them just like walking away For boring. But I just, it was just funny. I remember at one point telling someone that my grandfather had invented the paperclip so I don't have to work. Just to mix it up a little bit and they didn't really have anything to say about that.

But.

[00:19:08] Kristin: For a split second, I was putting that together in my mind, like did her grandfather invent the paper the paper clip?

[00:19:13] Rachel: What they're saying there is, like, what is your value? Can you help me get ahead? How much money do you make? Are you an interesting person or not? And just to be written off immediately oh, you're a mom. That's so boring, but I don't know. It's it was interesting to grapple with that.

[00:19:29] Kristin: so something that's really important to you obviously is giving back and, talking about the Hannah Anderson thing and how that kind of got into your brain. So what kind of transition did you make from being a stay at home mom and starting to, I don't know if you went right into

[00:19:43] Rachel: Yeah.

[00:19:43] Kristin: linear, if there was something in between.

[00:19:45] Rachel: Yeah. So I was basically working as a contractor for different companies and through that process and also the, some of the other companies I've worked for part of my job was to l ook over cost sheets, which was really boring. I don't know if you've ever had to do that

at your

[00:20:01] Kristin: avoid it at all costs.

[00:20:02] Rachel: awful. Yeah, it was so boring, but I realized after the first couple of seasons that the numbers actually told a story. So when I was looking at what it costs to make something I naively thought, wow, it's so inexpensive to live there. People must have such a great life because they only need, like 10 cents an hour or whatever to live.

And the more I looked into it, the more I realized that people were making subsistence wages. So, and it just seemed like when I would talk to people about it or the people that I worked for, they were like, yeah, but you should see the line around the corner when we are hiring or when that factory is hiring.

And I just felt like at first I tried to accept that, but it just seemed like that's not good enough. So, I decided I would try to look for ways that I could support fair trade companies. And the first Christmas I was into this idea, I tried to find Fairtrade gifts for all my family, but they were at the time, this was like maybe 10 years ago.

Everything was really Crunchy Is that a word you can?

[00:21:03] Kristin: Crunchy like hippie granola.

[00:21:05] Rachel: Yeah. Yeah.

But like my dad doesn't want to crunchy Christmas present. So I realized, I just feel like there was a gap in the market for more classic minimal designs that were also where women were being paid fairly or the people were being paid fairly.

So that was the start of Meridian Lee. And then from there I started volunteering for a nonprofit who was doing product development and that's how I kind of dipped my toe in the water of Fairtrade. So I started out working basically as a volunteer and then launching my own business with some of the people I met there.

[00:21:34] Kristin: when it came to meeting the people to actually, cause I know that you collaborate in other countries and, they're there free trade making

making things, at a good wage. And how did you connect initially, was it through that the people that you met at the volunteer organization or.

[00:21:50] Rachel: Yeah. And so I've started working with them. And then I also connected with a couple other organizations because it seems like an interesting problem right now. Well, not a problem. it's a good thing. But charities are going in and helping people get back on their feet and maybe buying sewing machines for everybody or sending them through a training or through a lot of the women I work with have been through human trafficking. So maybe they've been through some rehabilitation work or they've basically gotten to a stage where they've gotten some aid, but then they have good skills. They want to support themselves and their family. So then what happens after that? And so, I don't have those social work skills, although I've had to learn a few, I am able to just come in and work with whatever skills they have and the best materials that are available in their local market.

It's I don't know if anyone will get this reference, but it's remember the show Iron Chef where you had to use like really weird I shouldn't say weird, but pretty random. Like here are the ingredients

and

[00:22:49] Kristin: a banana and a.

[00:22:51] Rachel: salmon or something. So it's not that extreme, but a lot of times it's ... okay, how can we?

And sometimes it's like some of the women I work with have diminished fine motor skills. So we might we'll change the design based on, they don't need to be doing this, like really using like particular motions. We can change the design. So it can be something that has like a bigger circle or it's to their abilities, which I think is it's really fun.

It's really interesting puzzle to try to create something based on the needs of the artisan

[00:23:23] Kristin: and

how much,

[00:23:25] Rachel: to them.

[00:23:26] Kristin: and how much are you in these factories? And it seems like, you know these women personally, it's not just oh, I opened up a factory and they make stuff for me. They're artisans

and you have a relationship.

[00:23:37] Rachel: Yeah. It's a, it took a few years to build those relationships, but I think most of the places where I work the relationship is really important. You trust people because, you know, their family, you get to know their kids. And I think I have seen that a little bit in America, but I feel like that's something that's more common in Kenya or India or Haiti where you build a long-term relationship on trust and friendship.

And some of the ladies I get to talk to every day, like yesterday, I got to chat with people in Uganda, Kenya, India, and China. And it, I know that's a lot more common now, but it just totally makes my life. It's so fun to just see this person is in the market. Now they're sending me a swatch and I have to be careful to not work into the evening because it's just so fun, to see like they're sending me pictures and I can match them to my Pantone book.

It's just feels like I get to be on an adventure still, even though the travel is so much more limited, obviously the past year or two,

[00:24:32] Kristin: Yeah.

[00:24:32] Rachel: Because we built that relationship. I know they're not going to send me something that's a little off just So they can move on and get paid or get that contract. We're in it together,

[00:24:40] Kristin: so there are actually, you know, I am in the market. This is what the fabric is, and then they send it to you and you work with what the design should be or how does it piece together to become one of the bags on your website?

[00:24:51] Rachel: It really depends on the place and the product, but most of what we do sending pictures from the market is color. Since I can't feel the fabric, but I'll ask them to send a swatch to me. It's funny. Cause obviously we're in such different time zones. So sometimes I'll set my alarm to wake up at three in the morning so I can just, So they don't have to wait around, like they can go to the market sometimes that stall might not be open until, you know, it's not like they can just come back later and they maybe there's a woman going to Kampala today and it's, it's like a four hour bus ride.

So, it might seem like a little bit of a pain to wake up at three, but it totally energizes me. It's I think it's really funny and fun to do.

[00:25:30] Kristin: I try to stay on top of these kinds of things. To an extent, but I feel like I know that, a woman in a community that maybe is less, th that might be making 10 cents in a factory. If she's given some power over, her future, her income, her family, it changes things a lot.

But you sent me a couple of statistics just about how it really works. And I was so intrigued.

[00:25:54] Rachel: It's so fascinating. And I'm not sure if it's a gender thing or if it's a, who's not used to having power. I want to believe it's someone who's getting power for the first time, they're going to use it for good. But across the globe, it tends to be women who are the change makers in their community.

And when they are paid a dollar, studies have shown they're going to put 80 cents of that dollar back into education, food, clothing, medicine. So yeah, not to throw men under the bus, but for some reason it's 30 cents on the dollar for men. And I don't know why that is. I really. Tried to look into it, but all I know is the best, most efficient way to lift up a whole community is by.

investing in the women who work there and to just make sure they're being paid fairly.

my hope is really that organizations would start to learn that and instead of coming in to build a well, or, donating bed nets, they would just pay people fairly to do the work they're doing so that they can decide for themselves what it looks like for their family to survive and be thriving.

[00:26:56] Kristin: That's true. Cause there is, I always struggle when it's oh, somebody going into a community, there's this white savior kind of

thing.

And part of me goes why is it a bad thing if somebody is coming to help. But if it's this is what I've decided you need,

versus people know how to make choices.

we shouldn't assume that because we live in a quote unquote, first world country, we know better.

[00:27:17] Rachel: yeah. It's really backwards. And people really, especially women, know the best use of their time and money. So I'm hoping that we'll start to move more toward that. I think we're sort of just stuck in a weird time where charities exist to support themselves. I think if charities were a successful charity might put themselves out of business because they would do such a good job.

They would be able to move on like, okay, we've eradicated that problem. And I think some, like of course the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing amazing work and some others. And I think there are places where, especially now with COVID people, sometimes people just need some money to get back on their feet.

Maybe they don't even need job training. At this very moment, I think we need to stop the bleeding and then we can talk about, okay, what skill would you like to learn? Or do you need a loan so that you can start your micro enterprise? But it is, it's a difficult time. Like people just need to be bailed out sometimes. But my hope is that, a hundred years from now, I'd love to be alive then and see what it looks like because I can transfer money on an app on my phone in 10 minutes to somebody in Kenya, I don't have to go through an organization. I don't have to even pay. If there's a fee it's very minimal, it's just seems like the world is becoming so much smaller and more connected.

So I don't have to go through the government or an aid organization. I can just work directly with that person and direct trade is I think and even better word than fair trade. Is just working directly with that person.

[00:28:41] Kristin: That makes sense. Cause I do feel like, we say fair trade, but what's fair.

[00:28:44] Rachel: Yeah. It's Yeah, In some ways it's, it reminds me of organic food. Of course you're paying people fairly, or like these, this is the food that has chemicals and this is, I don't know. I just feel like that it should be like, obviously these are the, this is the food that doesn't have pesticides sprayed all over it.

And it just, I hope it will just be like, this, these are the vegetables. I feel like it should just be normal to pay people.

[00:29:06] Kristin: Yeah, exactly. It

shouldn't be called out. It's just like,

[00:29:08] Rachel: doesn't have to be like,

a special label. It just should be normal.

[00:29:11] Kristin: On your website, it also says that your goal or your dream would be that charities don't exist except for in times of crisis. Like actual natural disaster type crisis.

[00:29:20] Rachel: I know, even in Portland last year we had a power outage and I feel like people in our neighborhood even mobilized to make sure okay, this elderly couple had hot water and, you know, people figured it out. And if somebody from another country had tried to come in and assess what we needed, I really doubt they would have known.

But because of our little community, we were able to fill in the gaps and make sure everyone was going to be okay.

[00:29:44] Kristin: Yeah, that's a really good analogy because I think, even I wasn't there when it happened, I was actually traveling for work, but I know in New York there was a massive power outage like took over, but it really highlighted how small communities are

in New York, because it was like people were

checking in on each other to make sure they were okay.

If somebody, I lived in Brooklyn at the time. So my ex was like staying at a friend's in Manhattan because she just knew that he would have had to get back to Brooklyn and why go by yourself. And

there was a lot of really interesting communal things that happened.

[00:30:14] Rachel: Yeah. I think it's honestly, that's human nature is to be able to see the needs around you and fill in where you can and where it makes sense. So I hope that the world could maybe go in that direction in small communities, but

[00:30:27] Kristin: Don't take this the wrong way, but looking from the outside at your business, and you can get this small business, you focus on bags at this point. It's a small company in non COVID times, you're traveling to all these places. You're, you are empowering women.

From The outside, it could easily look like what you're talking about with the Angelina Jolie thing. It feels very you're really lucky in a way, or really privileged to be able to do something like this. So what kind of, I guess what happened that you can do this?

[00:30:55] Rachel: You mean financially or?

[00:30:57] Kristin: a little bit of both. Financially mental, like any of it, cause it really, I think it's, I think a lot of us say we would like to do these kinds of things, but money holds her back or fear holds us back. Or, there's something that, that stops you from doing it.

[00:31:12] Rachel: Yeah. That's a good point. Well it turns out it's actually Not that expensive to just most of the things just to pay fair wages. The end product, isn't that much more expensive. So I know if I were working for one of the companies I used to work for where we would check on every penny, if I'm okay, adding an extra dollar onto something, that's that part hasn't really been too difficult, but I think the fear aspect one thing that's really helped me is I was part of a founder's round table.

[00:31:43] Kristin: Not an imaginary board.

[00:31:47] Rachel: very real, but it was a local, it was started by two local serial entrepreneurs who were I don't want to say older, but. Maybe middle-aged white guys. And they, I think to their credit, they saw that they'd had the success because of their privilege,

and so they were, their idea was to bring in, it was mostly minority, small business owners and to create a round table where we could all trade advice.

And so that was really a safe place to be able to, it was also a kicked my butt. But there were, people would just say oh, okay, you better do that by the time I see you next week. They would hold you accountable for your ideas. so even though it was scary, I felt like there was a group of people who had my back and could point out some basic, more business skills that maybe I hadn't gained in college just to fill in some of those areas that I was lacking.

Their mantra was fail fast, fail forward. And so it just, and maybe it's cliche, you jump off the cliff and then you build your parachute, which is terrifying. But yeah, I've had a lot of friends give me good design advice to, and I think the first year I was in business, my aunts bought probably more bags than they actually wanted. That helped. Just my main advice is just have a lot of cousins.

[00:32:58] Kristin: Everybody has to, oh, this is my Meridian Lee bag.

[00:33:01] Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. The first few times I saw a stranger carrying something , I definitely freaked out.

[00:33:07] Kristin: I actually remember the first time I saw a kid wearing a hat that I designed and I just was like, oh,

[00:33:13] Rachel: oh yeah, Oh yeah. Pretty much non-stop for two years my son wore a Buffalo sweater that you designed.

[00:33:18] Kristin: oh yeah, I got my PR I'm almost 99%. Sure. I know exactly what

you're talking about.

[00:33:25] Rachel: He had a free, good. Yeah, it was amazing.

[00:33:28] Kristin: I love it. I love it. This is Gap. So it was like, the chances of me seeing somebody wearing it was like, a good chance versus you have this small business and being the owner and the originator of this business must have been like,

[00:33:43] Rachel: Yeah. That's, it's really fun to see that.

[00:33:47] Kristin: I'm still intrigued what you were talking about, with like your mom having, this is what my career will be, and this is what my life, and then it'll lead to a little bit of this and then it'll

[00:33:55] Rachel: Yeah.

[00:33:56] Kristin: and, whatever.

[00:33:58] Rachel: I wanted to say this in the beginning. I'm really thankful you're shining a light on this topic because I feel like we live in a, a weird in-between time where people have had a linear narrative up until now. And I believe that the future will be, it's going to be normal to have 10 chapters and to be constantly getting to reinvent and play with your trajectory and think about all the possibilities.

But I think we live in a kind of weird in between time where there's maybe a little shame in, okay. The narrative I had planned out at 22 is different. And now I'm proud of that. I feel like this, I couldn't have seen my job that I have now did not exist when I was growing up. So I've, made the best decisions I could as I went along.

But in my mid thirties, I felt really ashamed of having to start a new chapter. Whereas now I would embrace that. So I'm really glad you're having these conversations in this podcast, because I hope it, I think it's an encouragement to other people who are going through this also,

[00:34:54] Kristin: Yeah. And maybe to some extent, it's also me kind of, I dunno, it's making myself feel better in a way too, because I'm so "multi-hyphenate", as they say now.

[00:35:03] Rachel: which is something it's really cool.

[00:35:06] Kristin: Sometimes I do feel like it's sorta like the party that you said that people are like, what do you do? And the minute I try to answer that question.

I'm like, these people don't have an hour to listen to me. Say, sometimes they do this and

sometimes they do this.

[00:35:21] Rachel: story, you can have, you can

[00:35:23] Kristin: I'm borrowing that because at least that way. I can just be like, oh yeah. Here's my quick answer.

And even though I know it's way more acceptable now, most of the time, if you're at a party and it's small talk, people just

want you to be like, I'm an accountant

because they're like, yeah, I know what that is.

Versus

I do some acting and I'm a triathlon coach, or, I do direct trade bag design,

[00:35:43] Rachel: yeah.

[00:35:44] Kristin: and manufacturing.

[00:35:45] Rachel: I realized for a while I was saying. Something about human trafficking and it would make people really sad. But to me, that was the most interesting yeah, I get to work on helping women come out of human trafficking and they were like, oh, I got to go use the bathroom now.

Like goodbye.

I feel like it's almost a better question to say, how do you like to spend your time? because it's not connected as much to income. Cause I feel like also I know a lot of really interesting people who maybe they're driving for Uber right now or waitressing , but they're really passionate about ceramics or baking or, you know, I feel like that's kind of a more respectful question or interesting question is how do you like spend your time instead of how do you make money?

[00:36:25] Kristin: Realistically, if you say to somebody, what do you do that should mean? What do you do with your time? Like what, What is, do you fill your time? But what it equates to in our society is do you make your money and how much money is it?

[00:36:39] Rachel: And can you connect me on LinkedIn to somebody I want to connect to, or it's a little bit self-serving maybe I should give people more credit, but

[00:36:47] Kristin: Yeah, but if it's like you can't talk to somebody at a party about human trafficking and the fact that you're doing something about that,

[00:36:53] Rachel: Yeah, I don't know. I sometimes I just lean into it if I'm in a weird mood and cause I just want, I'm not good at small talk. I want to talk about death and the cool, like the interesting obituary I read this morning and not a lot of people really want to talk about that sometimes. Although you find your people .

[00:37:10] Kristin: One of the women I talked to for the podcast. One of her things is grief and she has a death cafe where people can come and talk about, grief

[00:37:21] Rachel: Does she live in Portland by chance?

[00:37:23] Kristin: She doesn't, but you would think so she's actually English, but the idea of it, when she first talks to her and talking about it, I was like I don't know about this, but it's fascinating because there are people that want to talk when they're feeling grief and she has leaned into it and she's it's part of life.

And it really changed, my thoughts about it talking to her.

[00:37:43] Rachel: I'm really glad that she exists. I mean, We just haven't had spaces for hard conversations before, so I try to be respectful And have good manners, but sometimes I like to just push people over the edge into those awkward subjects. It's makes for more interesting conversation for me.

[00:37:58] Kristin: So, I want to ask about your quote...

will you share it with me and the listeners, please?

[00:38:02] Rachel: " To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive." Robert Louis Stevenson.

[00:38:11] Kristin: I love it. Cause I do feel like you are, you're living that quote, keeping your soul alive.

[00:38:17] Rachel: Have you heard that one before?

[00:38:18] Kristin: I haven't. And I've had such an extensive between the podcast and the reason I started doing the quotes after my divorce was like, positivity. And I feel like I have searched high and low.

It's such a good quote.

[00:38:29] Rachel: Yeah, it's one I always come back to, I actually had this is another crunchy thing, but I went to an Abbey maybe seven or eight years ago when I was going through a rough time and I just tried to do some meditating and fasting and stuff. And this was a quote that they had up in the Abbey.

So it must've been a place where people were coming to figure some stuff out,

[00:38:49] Kristin: Yeah, hold on. I can't just skip over. Like I went and meditated and fasted in an Abbey.

[00:38:55] Rachel: It's, there's a group of Trappist monks, a couple hours south of here and they have this place. You can go. It was formerly a Native American place where you could go and. I'm not sure channel different spirits, but it's not really something that has come that's easy for me, or that wasn't an easy thing for me to do, but I was just sort of like in a place where I was like, I'll just I'll try anything, so, and it was, so it was really good.

I would recommend it. I don't think I can do it every year, but

I remember my friend from my grandmother who I think of as a really spiritual person telling me one time, she tried to have a day of praying and fasting. And after an hour she got bored and went down and made a sandwich

and

[00:39:34] Kristin: That would be me.

Fasting's making me hungry.

[00:39:39] Rachel: all I can think about is that sandwich.

[00:39:41] Kristin: How long were you there?

[00:39:42] Rachel: just three days,

but.

[00:39:44] Kristin: of meditating and fasting sounds long.

[00:39:47] Rachel: It's weird. After the first day, this is the only time I've ever done it. So I'm not an expert, but you forget the first day I was like, I'm hungry that the I'm hungry, like every couple of minutes.

And then by the second day, you that voice is quieter and quieter, so it gets easier. I would recommend it. Have some sandwiches ready in the car for afterwards.

[00:40:05] Kristin: you also mentioned when you sent your quote about your daughter and your son, and how they're, just interestingly the narrative, because we've talked about the narrative, how they're showing you how the generations have changed.

[00:40:17] Rachel: I can't even. Sometimes I try to give them advice or wisdom and it's just so different from what they're actually going through, but I just, I'm really encouraged to think that they, I think they'll have just a lot more freedom or options to think about what they're good at and where they want to go in their life and not feel bad to change courses.

I just think that's going to be a lot more normal. But specifically I think about my daughter and she's said from the time she was pretty little, probably not going to have kids, I just have a lot, I want to do. I want to be in a rock band and I want to be an artist and a writer. I just really love that that's just one of many choices for her. And of course, if she decides to have kids, that's awesome.

[00:40:59] Kristin: I remember saying, almost my philosophy or why I haven't ended up having kids is I I had the same opinion. Like I have a lot I want to do.

And it was always if I felt I got to that point, but I did what I wanted to do then maybe it was time, but there's a lot I want to do still.

[00:41:18] Rachel: Well, when I feel like, why would you owe that to anybody? I'm probably, I have, I miss hearing this, but did you hear the thing the Pope supposedly said last week about people who don't have children are selfish?

[00:41:30] Kristin: Yeah. If they have pets instead of children, I think,

[00:41:33] Rachel: I I don't know. I just, mostly, I just enjoyed the memes that came after

[00:41:38] Kristin: yeah.

[00:41:39] Rachel: but.

[00:41:39] Kristin: I think we need to embrace the fact that like having kids or not having kids or being a stay at home mom or not being as it's not about selfishness. And if you have kids, when you don't want them, that is far more selfish and far more bad for the world.

How am I helping the world if I have a kid like that, you know? oh, well, your kid might solve cancer. Yeah, well maybe, but I also might be a shitty mom cause I don't want to have a kid.

[00:42:02] Rachel: Yeah. I'm just excited that it's even a conversation right now. And I think my son, I don't know. I think he'd be a great stay at home dad if he chooses that someday, or I just think it's just nice. Everyone gets to choose their own adventure now instead of having sort of one box or one narrative, they have to squeeze into.

[00:42:19] Kristin: So what's next for you and Meridian Lee?

[00:42:22] Rachel: Well, I'm always reassessing that, but right now I've been working with a nonprofit to create period supplies. So it's like washable kits that women can actually make in their community and then sell, or there's sometimes donated and subsidized by other groups or businesses. That's something I never thought I would think was interesting, but I know one of our professors worked on pads for Procter and Gamble.

Do you remember this?

[00:42:51] Kristin: I do remember this,

[00:42:52] Rachel: Yeah,

[00:42:53] Kristin: put it, it would've never occurred to me.

[00:42:54] Rachel: I just remember thinking like that's so boring. Why would you use your design skills for that? And now I'm the person who's oh, we could use like this weight of organic flannel. And it's interesting. Cause I think, I feel like it solves a real problem. Just going back to what I said earlier about not feeling like I had the skills or, I had these boring color skills, like, how's that going to help anybody, but to be able to use fashion design, to help with a problem is really fun.

And life-giving, I think. So of course I never thought that would be possible, but yeah. I feel like everybody has a little something they can put towards a little better world.

[00:43:31] Kristin: The phrase period poverty isn't even something I'd really encountered until fairly recently. And it's just so obvious

[00:43:39] Rachel: yeah.

[00:43:39] Kristin: you're living in a situation that you can't afford supplies,

you can't go

to school. You can't

go to

work.

[00:43:46] Rachel: It's really debilitating and I'm, I wish I had a chance to work on it more in the U S because it's also surprisingly a really big problem here. Also, I think maybe one in five girls in the U S misses school every month because of that. It just seems like we have the resources and skills to solve that problem.

We're just, we just need to get our heads together and reallocate some of those resources.

And the longer a girl can stay in school, obviously the more money she can make, the more self-sustaining she can be. And

[00:44:16] Kristin: And

as we know, the more we'll be contributed to the society

because 80 cents on The dollar.

[00:44:22] Rachel: maybe they'll be able to help their neighbor or their sister, it just seems like there is a ripple effect there. So yeah, that's something I'm really excited about.

And then, I have some new products coming in the spring. I think the last year has really forced me to look at just reevaluate where I'm getting some of my materials and, the whole supply chain disruption issues, but it's, I feel like it's really good and I'm not the biggest or most successful company, but I remember I was on this really bad soccer team in high school and we were pretty bad, but for some reason when it rained, we either won or came close to winning. And I don't know what that is, but I feel like there's something about like, I'm used to struggling with some hard things. And the women I work with are, I think I was baffled by how hard COVID has been for other countries, because they're just really used to overcoming, you know, being a refugee or living with HIV.

And they're used to really just really difficult things. So they've taught me a lot about resilience and anyway, all of those things have just been running through my mind about how I can. You know how those things will shift my business and my focus. So a nebulous answer, but

[00:45:28] Kristin: No, it makes sense. And I think because you've already, come up with these solutions and it seems like you're doing other things like pads ,

[00:45:35] Rachel: yeah,

[00:45:36] Kristin: you'll continue to be creative in how you can make it better

[00:45:40] Rachel: Yeah. I realized I don't even care exactly what I'm working on anymore. As far as the particular type of product, I just, if it can solve an interesting problem, that's what I really want to focus on is how does this help somebody? And sometimes it's just a pretty thing. Like some of the earrings were pretty and they gave a good income to that group of women, so that's awesome.

But yeah, I just want to keep interesting problems.

[00:46:04] Kristin: I really think ultimately that's what design should be about anyway.

[00:46:07] Rachel: That's a good point. Yeah.

[00:46:09] Kristin: I don't think people look at it that way most of the time, but if you can combine aesthetics with solving the problem, you definitely,

in my opinion, you have more esteem a designer, so you've done it.

[00:46:19] Rachel: Thanks. Can come back to bed.

[00:46:24] Kristin: Just, don't forget to set your alarm for 3:00 AM.

[00:46:26] Rachel: Okay. Okay.

[00:46:28] Kristin: Well, I really appreciate you coming , it's really interesting to talk about, to talk to someone who has continued with the same career, but really changed how they look at it

[00:46:38] Rachel: It would maybe disqualify me once. Like you can see my background has, the measuring tape and some, and if you can see the patterns I was grading, but I'm just still using a lot of the same things and just applying them in a different way. But I like the idea that this isn't my last chapter either.

I'll have something else I don't even know about yet. That's going to come up and it's just fun to think about life on those terms.

[00:47:00] Kristin: I absolutely obviously agree.

Thanks,

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