Empower Her World: A Celebration of Fashion and Culture
VerLee said this fashion show and fundraiser was an exciting and highly successful event. It featured special occasion wear from around the world as well as showing off the spring 2015 lines of clothing and footwear sold at the boutique. One highlight from April’s event was the auction for $700 of a beautiful dress worn by glo Magazine’s own lovely Lynn Keefer. Also, Danel Michelle Nickels-Didier won the design competition with her African-inspired wedding gown, finger-woven entirely from organic natural materials (cotton, silk and hemp) and embellished with tiny river rocks. VerLee said the fashion show and fundraiser will be an annual event.
Lorelei VerLee, executive director of Creative Women of the World, spent her early years living in Japan with her missionary parents. That early exposure to international travel and Japan’s artistic culture was a constant influence as she maneuvered from one successful business venture to another. When volunteer work offered the chance to assist a group of Haitian women artisans in the launch of a greeting card company, her passions and real-world experiences came together to reveal what VerLee calls her “life’s purpose.” Her success with the group in Haiti, her years of real-world business experience, and her appreciation of artistic creativity brought her to the attention of a variety of organizations around the world that work to empower women through artistic endeavors and business development. VerLee founded Creative Women of the World—affectionately referred to as CWOW by staff and supporters— here in Fort Wayne. The organization runs a boutique that markets beautiful and unique home and fashion items from the many artisan groups with which it works (Creative Women of the World, 125 W. Wayne Street, Fort Wayne).
The heart of CWOW is its commitment to teaching business skills to help women use their creativity and find ways out of the desperate situations caused by civil strife, natural disasters and cultural challenges. Of the 1.3 billion people in the world who live on less than $1.25 a day, 70 percent of them are women. In the parts of the world where CWOW works, girls have the least access to education and least opportunity for advancement beyond the constant struggle of living and providing day-to-day for their families. VerLee explained that most of these women live in cultures and circumstances that encourage them to “accept what is.” CWOW’s mission is to “allow and empower them to dream about what could be.”
CWOW affects this change through its six-module training program, which is customized for each group of women with which it works. Training materials are translated into the local language. Still challenges arise, such as teaching without electricity or training illiterate students by using visuals and dramatizations of the lessons from the written materials. Two constants drive the training: “We always listen more than we speak,” said VerLee, “and, we focus on the women’s assets, not their problems.” It’s a process of self-exploration—and education about business principles—encouraging women to figure out how creativity can bring success and freedom, both financially and personally.
The modules take participants through lessons that help them understand financial management and the universal concepts of running a business.
“We don’t want to just teach and then leave,” explains VerLee. CWOW identifies a local advocate who becomes a liaison with the artisan groups. CWOW makes sure that the advocate has Internet access so she can maintain regular communication and support. The advocate meets regularly with the women to assess their progress and assist with any problems.
This program has undeniably changed hundreds of women’s lives. But its reach goes far beyond that. In developing countries it is estimated that about 30 percent of a man’s income goes to benefiting his family and the community. For a woman in similar circumstances, 90 percent of her income goes to support her family and the community. Each woman’s success raises the standard of living for those around her.
Interested in helping? Shopping the lovely boutique is one way, but the organization’s website (gocwow.org) describes a number of other volunteer opportunities. See the website, “like” Creative Women of the World on Facebook, or stop by the store for more information.
VerLee is the living embodiment of “creative” and “empowered”—she took her childhood love of international travel and artistry, and through her years of business experiences and volunteer work, created an international force that successfully empowers women around the world.
Photos by Ashley LeTourneau Photography