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Flynn Coleman

August 21, 2016

I connected with Flynn through social media and it was very apparent that the two of us had a lot in common. Flynn is an international human rights lawyer who has travelled all around the world. I couldn’t wait to tell her story and learn from her. My first phone call with Flynn I promised not to interview her but the questions came flooding out. I understood her passion and purpose from the experiences I’ve had working in Rwanda and I wanted to know everything.

While doing her thesis in Chile she was working with a women’s co-operative. Women’s co-operative’s all over the world allow women to come together, create beautiful goods and support each other as a community. This particular co-operative were making arpillers, when Flynn brought these goods back to the united states with her and told the story of the women in the co-operatives she noticed that people were very enthusiastic about purchasing these goods as a way to support the women in Chile. This is how Malena was born.

I am so excited to be able to share Flynn’s story with you. I hope that the interview below inspires you to take action on an issue that you are passionate about. To drive change and to help make the world a better place. The links to Flynn’s social media and Malena’s website are at the bottom of the post. Please take a moment to browse through the beautiful section of goods made by women from all around the world and follow her on social media.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

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 that we can have a huge impact on people’s well-being by supporting their economic autonomy, 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 have started by sourcing 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 the economic empowerment of the makers behind the goods.

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 and their stories with you. 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, pride, 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 beautiful work, a fair income, and support for their communities, changing lives worldwide.

Why did you choose to start Malena?

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.

The name “Malena” actually comes from the Mapuche (indigenous Chilean) word for “girl.”

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.

I have seen that can 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.

What inspires you?

People. I have met so many incredible people along the way who have inspired me with their resilience, creativity, perseverance, courage, and humor amidst it all. I’ve seen that everyone has a story to tell, and one that deserves to be heard. This (very) short film about our story also shows you some of the wonderful people and stories behind our work.

What is your personal mantra or mission statement?

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

What are your hobbies?

In addition to wandering the world and talking, laughing, exploring, trekking, rock climbing, and adventuring with people in far off lands, I adore reading in libraries, cafés, and parks (preferably with a huge mug of tea), Japanese book binding (book worm alert), spontaneous dance parties (daily), laughing and chatting around campfires (with s’mores), volunteering with animals, and anything with live music or disco roller skate dancing. And playing soccer is one of the great joys of my life.

What are a few things you do every single day to keep yourself on track.

For me, it’s all about remembering why I do what I do. It’s all about helping people, and investing in them so they can make their own choices about their lives, and live with dignity and joy, on their terms. When I feel lost or really challenged by something, that is what I try to remember: that life is about connecting with people, learning from them, and trying to help when you can.

How do you connect with suppliers?

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!

If you could give advice to someone looking to get into your field what would it be and why?

No one has your voice and your unique perspective. Find out what matters to you, find your community, find your purpose, and the causes that make you feel alive.

As Rainer Maria Rilke says, and I often reiterate in the classes I teach, “live the questions.” Find what you are passionate about, and always align your decisions and collaborations around these core 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 happiness. This is what we are advocating for.