Monday, December 21, 2015


photos courtesy of Melissa de Mata

I fall mute over Malena. In a rapid-fire paced world where our conscience is detached from our capitalist consumption, this line is an awakening. Marrying modern design with styles embedded in ancient rituals, Malena's goal is to support everyone’s right to dignity and agency by providing the global opportunity for fair labour. Malena empowers artisans economically by growing their commercial enterprises, giving them a global market for their goods, and sharing their skills, their craft, and their stories with you. It's built on the premise of acknowledging the knowledge and dignity of people in developing countries rather than determining their needs from external perspectives. ​Malena's mission is of creativity that perseveres local culture and investing in investment in them for investment in all. ​​Here is Flynn Coleman, an international human rights lawyer, yogi, and a woman full of heart. Fostering a community ​of conscious consumption with intention​ . . .​

F L Y N N   C O L E M A N  |  M A L E N A 

Q: Tell us a little bit about you and what led you to create Malena

Hi! I’m an international human rights lawyer with a background in behavioral economics, international trade law, war crimes, reconciliation, economic development, and improving access to justice through innovative approaches to education and empowerment. And my conversations with people around the world have taught me me that we can have a huge impact on people and their communities by supporting their economic automony, so that they can make their own choices about their lives and futures. Investing in people and their creative and entrepreneurial endeavors is the foundation for Malena. We source beautiful, unique goods from all over the world. 

Each item tells the story of the people and process behind the product, and how it supports people’s economic empowerment and uplifts communities worldwide. We partner groups of people who have come together, often overcoming enormous odds, and who create gorgeous designs and empower their artisans economically. 

We support these groups and individuals through growing their commercial enterprises, giving them a global market for their goods, and sharing their skills, their craft, and their stories with the world. Ultimately, economic empowerment is the capacity to bring about economic change for oneself, including a fair, sustainable income and a raised standard of living, which are crucial for diminishing inequality and poverty, and increasing dignity. It’s about people being able to make their own choices about how they live their lives, using their hard work and creativity in ways that bring them security, self-expression, and joy, on their own terms. 

Malena is a way for people to join us on this adventure! And we will continue to invest in creative ways to support dignity and economic agency in communities worldwide. When you shop at Malena, you help provide our partners with global market access for their gorgeous work, a fair, sustainable income and dignified livelihood, and support for their communities, changing lives worldwide. We like to call it (em)power shopping!

Q: What inspired the name and what is the meaning behind it?
While living, studying, and researching for my thesis in Chile, I worked with a women’s cooperative, helping to create an international market for their “arpilleras,” tapestries that depicted the era of dictatorship, and allowed a group of women to come together to heal as a community, create beautiful goods rooted in cultural traditions, and learn business and leadership skills. When I brought these arpilleras to the U.S., and shared their story, they were immediately embraced by people enthusiastic about the beautiful designs and the way to support this community. Working with this cooperative showed me the power of communities coming together to heal and work together, while also learning business, leadership, and other skills that support their empowerment.

I have seen that we can best support people when we can facilitate their own economic agency, so that they can invest in themselves and their local communities. That may mean advocating for trade policy changes, breaking down barriers for entrepreneurs in the developing world, creating more transparent supply chains, using technology to empower people, upholding an artistic tradition passed down from generations, or bringing local goods to new markets so that community members can better afford healthcare and education for their children, so those children can go on to choose among yet more opportunities.

Thus , the word “Malena” comes from the indigenous Chilean word for “girl.”

Q: Why is it so crucial to ethically source goods + simultaneously build community? How are Malena purchases empowering others?
My life’s work revolves around my core value that we are all equally, and intrinsically valuable. And we all deserve to have our basic human rights protected, and to have a life of dignity, freedom, and agency. My conversations with people around the world have always shown me that everyone has a story to tell, and one that deserves to be heard, which is one of the foundational concepts of Malena. This (very) short film about our story shows you some of the beautiful faces of the incredible people and stories behind our work, and why where we source our goods matters, and how the empowerment of the people behind what we wear and use every day builds, supports, and uplifts communities worldwide.

Q: How did you choose the countries that you are currently working with?
We choose our partnerships based on principles of human rights, supply chain transparency, economic empowerment, and ethical sourcing.  And we collaborate with our partners to create gorgeous, innovative designs and goods that celebrate a melding of their ancient traditions with modern design. For example, you can see exactly how our scarves are made here!

Q: What keeps you going? Do you have a daily routine, ritual, or a mantra?
One of my favorite daily mantras and quotes is: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~Vivian Greene

Q: In addition to perusing the Malena shop, what are some other ways you would suggest Thirlby readers could support conscious consumerism?
Get curious and ask questions about where what you eat, wear, and buy comes from. As Rainer Maria Rilke says, “live the questions.” Find the causes that you are passionate about, and align your choices, decisions, and purchases around these values. Because ultimately we are not talking about “labor” or “consumerism” or “supply chains” in the abstract, we are talking about people, just like us, and we all deserve the same rights to freedom, dignity, opportunity, equality, justice, and joy.