Extraordinary People

Have you ever thought about the person who made the clothes you’re wearing? Here’s why you should…

Handmade Stories sells items created by disadvantaged communities

Fast-fashion is fast becoming toxic; with items stacked on landfills, dyes polluting our water, and the appalling factory conditions that people are expected to work in.

Yet how and where do we go to combat this? We have the store just for you!

Handmade Stories not only aims to promote ‘slow-fashion’ but also help disadvantaged people find work again to support themselves and their families.

Offering a stunning collection, including jumpsuits and jewellery, founder Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez aims to shine a light on the quality of products AND the person who made it.

[Credit: Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez]

Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Elena revealed how she kickstarted her business and why she believes it’s important to gift a lifeline to those who struggle to find work.

Elena said: “I grew up in Spain and moved to London to do a postgraduate degree in brand management, before I started working in advertising agencies.

“After a while, I started struggling with my mental health and decided I had to take a step back and think about what I wanted to do going forward as I couldn’t carry on like that.”

While reflecting on her future, Elena embarked on an adventure to Peru to volunteer in communities not too dissimilar to the tiny Spanish village her mother grew up in.  

[Credit: Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez]

Elena said: “It was something that aligned with my values and seemed like a good opportunity to step out of my world and try to gain some perspective.”

Yet once Elena arrived, the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world and the volunteering organisation she had travelled with closed down and told everyone they needed to go home.

However, Elena didn’t feel ready to go back and boldly stayed behind.

Elena explained: “I felt there was a lot more I could do, and it wasn’t fair to leave these women now that things were getting tougher than ever, and they were even more isolated. So, I got in touch with them and offered them work. They were so happy.

“The idea was to create modern clothing that incorporates their traditional motifs and create a platform where we can tell people about their culture and their crafts and the importance of keeping their traditions alive.”

[Credit: Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez]

Elena added: “Now, I pay them a fair income for their work and provide a flexible way of working where they can still look after their families, land and animals. I’m also helping them set up their own businesses, so they don’t have to depend on me.”

The clothing is made in small family-owned factories with good working conditions in Lima, all beautifully handwoven by the women to create items with the traditional motifs on them.

Elena also works with a family of traditional jewellery-makers on a beautiful line of trinkets, including earrings, rings, and necklaces.

She said: “The family had to close their workshop in lockdown. We’ve created a jewellery line and they were so happy to be able to open their workshop again instead of having to look for jobs elsewhere. It means they can work from home and spend more time with the family.”

[Credit: Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez]

In addition to this, Elena is also helping men in prison to rehabilitate through craftwork.

The aspiring humanitarian does this by working with them through their families, who take the materials to the jail as part of the Productive Prisons programme, where inmates are taught a trade and are creating a homeware range with Elena using traditional textiles.

While she is a big advocate for creativity and productivity, Elena also believes that having a purpose and something that aligns with your values is crucial to bringing meaning to life.

[Credit: Elena Brook-Hart Rodriguez]

Elena concluded: “Creativity and productivity were part of my job in advertising agencies, and that alone didn’t bring me peace, I also needed to feel that I was putting that creativity and effort into something worthwhile.

“The most useful exercise for me was to look at my values and try to see the things in my life that didn’t align with them, the things that were causing me that internal friction, then look at ways and things I could do to live a life that aligns better with my values. And that’s not easy to do!

“In my case, it meant quitting my job and completely letting go of the way I was living. That can be stressful and daunting on its own, but sometimes, you just have to take that first step, jump, and figure out how to swim later.”

As well as providing income, Elena also wants to dedicate some of the profits to development projects in Peru – whether training, infrastructure, or funds to send kids to university – and hopes her employees will help her choose how to invest the money as “they know what they need best”.

To check out the collection, click here: Handmade Stories.

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