November is Adoption Awareness month, and we can’t think of a better way to kick it off than with a post by our friends Parker Clay. Not only are they passionate about adoption, but Ian and Brittany are making a practical difference through their business, and in their homes. This family of seven is killing it in so many areas…read on for some inspiration as you jump into your Monday (and for an awesome giveaway, in case you’re already in a Monday slump).
How did Parker Clay come about? What’s the story?
Back in 2008 we were moved by the number of orphans living in the world. Some statistics place the numbers at 163 million orphans worldwide. While those statistics are alarming, and we looked at these numbers and said, “What if that was Parker or Clayton,” our two biological children. From that moment, the journey to Ethiopia started and in 2011 when we brought home our Ethiopian daughter, Selah who was 5 months old at the time. While in Ethiopia we spent time with a number of organizations looking for ways to address some of the root causes to poverty and the disruption of family. It was soon after this that we packed up our lives and moved to Ethiopia to help with development work centered around job creation and capacity development with vulnerable women.What is the meaning/story behind the name Parker Clay?
Parker and Clay are our first born children and only sons. As we just mentioned, our boys were a huge catalyst towards our adoption, our adoption was a big part of leading us to Ethiopia, and then being in Ethiopia lead us to the creation of Parker Clay. We have built the company on the idea that relationship and community is the foundation to what we do, and as we thought of many other creative names to call our business we felt that this was the most personal way we could do it, plus we think they are also great names!
HOW do you make this work as a family of seven?
Lots of coffee…_There was a saying in Ethiopia, _“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not break”. Flexibility is key, but it’s even more important to set priorities and stick to them. For us it’s God, our marriage, our family/friends, and then business and in that order. We have been tested on this in so many ways and it’s not always something that we can say we are perfect at, but when you don’t have firm priorities in place it’s easy to get lost in the journey. An example of this is the story around why we moved back from Ethiopia. We moved to Ethiopia in 2011 without an end date on when we would move back, we purchased a one way ticket to Ethiopia and it was our new home.
There was a saying in Ethiopia, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not break”. Flexibility is key, but it’s even more important to set priorities and stick to them. For us it’s God, our marriage, our family/friends, and then business and in that order. We have been tested on this in so many ways and it’s not always something that we can say we are perfect at, but when you don’t have firm priorities in place it’s easy to get lost in the journey.
Fast forward to 2014, things are really starting to click on a number of fronts, we have built some incredible relationships and in September of 2014 we realized something was wrong with our daughter. After a quick trip back to Los Angeles we confirmed a diagnosis that our daughter had a brain tumor. After trying a few options before considering surgery, we ultimately found ourself packing up “home” and moving back to California with the unknown of what was ahead but willing to put everything else aside because our priority was our daughter. I think our family has grown so much closer together because of all we have done and been through as a family. Sure we have some crazy moments, for instance breakfast time from about 6:30am to 7:30am is like a tornado in our house, coffee (going back to our first statement on how to make it work), lunches for all 5 kids, breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth….all that times 7 in an house takes a lot, but while it might sound crazy, we have learned the thrive with the pace. We would also add, that it’s also key to stop and disconnect at times. You have to feed your soul. If you’re not feeding your soul, then you can’t continue to give your best.
Tell us about your time in Ethiopia and how that impacted your family and business.
Kidist was less than 10 years old when she was forced to leave her rural home in the countryside and head to the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. She fled an unhealthy and abusive home life for the promise of a greater life in the capital city of Addis Ababa. But that hope was quickly stolen. With no support system or people to trust, she was caught up in a line of work that would ultimately take her to the lowest point in her life. Within days of arriving, her virginity would be auctioned off to the highest bidder, she would be raped, and any piece of dignity and self worth would be stripped away by the shame of a life in prostitution.
It’s estimated that over 150,000 women in Addis Ababa are involved in some sort of prostitution. They can earn as little as $0.10 per client, and from many of the women we have spoken with, they often are taken advantage of and never even paid. Kidist is a real woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Kidist is a young woman we met early upon moving to Ethiopia in 2012, her name has been changed to protect her identity, but she represents a story that we have heard all too often. Foundational to Parker Clay is the idea that great business can do great things beyond just the products or services they offer.
It’s estimated that over 150,000 women in Addis Ababa are involved in some sort of prostitution. They can earn as little as $0.10 per client, and from many of the women we have spoken with, they often are taken advantage of and never even paid.
We started Parker Clay because of our passion to see the opportunity and potential in situations when others would just see problems. While living in Ethiopia we worked firsthand with vulnerable women such as Kidist, who had been caught up in the commercial sex industry. We partnered with an organization called Women At Risk (WAR) that operates across Ethiopia to help with rehabilitation and job placement opportunities for these incredible women. WAR has been going into the streets of Ethiopia reaching out in to these incredible women offering them the opportunity to restore what has been taken, and they have been wildly successful at it with over 94% of the women graduating their program never going back into prostitution.
What about your product? Why leather?
Ethiopia is the largest producer of livestock in Africa and is consistently listed in the top 10 worldwide, with over 100 million cattle, sheep, and goats. Ethiopia has been producing and exporting prized leathers since the days of Pharaohs along with luxurious spices like frankincense, incense, and myrrh. As a result, leather has been at the core of Ethiopia’s economy for many centuries.
Parker Clay is hand selecting each piece of leather to ensure that only the best quality is used in every product. We are also using hand woven scarfs from a group of women in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. Each piece that makes up a Parker Clay product is carefully selected to make up a world class product.
What are you values for Parker Clay, and how do you shape your business around them?
Our values are to make the best products possible, to create economic and social empowerment, and to be good to one another. We believe in ruthlessly focusing on the details, taking no shortcuts, using the best global partners. Being vigilantly creative. Bringing high fashion down to earth. Developing good business systems and practices. Meeting people’s needs and create opportunity. Partaking in ending poverty and injustice, in Ethiopia and across the globe. Being grateful and humble and always being in relationship with those we serve. Constructively challenging each other to grow and encouraging experimentation. While we love sharing the story of individuals behind our products, we believe that the story of community is just as significant. The connectivity has a beautiful thread throughout it all. From the rural farmers, tanneries, artisans, to the shipping companies that are all involved at every step even before the products leave the port in Ethiopia, there are literally 100’s of people involved in the making of Parker Clay products. We have seen the group of artisans we work with double in just over a year, and while it’s not easy to build an international brand in an emerging and still developing market, we feel that the potential is great. One of the most rewarding things to see is the talent developed in our artisans, to give them opportunities that challenge them and watch them step up and exceed your expectations. It’s all about people ,and we consider it a privilege to work with every one of them.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to start a product with impact?
One word for me and it’s simple to say, but hard to do: relationship. I respect brands that have relationships with those that are behind the brand. What we produce is a luxury good that has people and stories behind it. Parker Clay deeply values those stories, know them, and care about them. We have lived with them, cried together, seen their children born, been to funerals, and consider them family. Since moving back from Ethiopia we have gone back at least 4 times per year, because you can’t build a thriving relationship when you are not with that person. So if you want to start a company with a product with impact, then be willing to go deep into relationship and be prepared for a messy process that comes with developing relationship. If it’s an international brand, don’t invest a bunch in the beginning and then expect auto pilot to kick in, you have to continue to be there and that’s often more than we have seen people willing to invest. Let your vision guide you and be aware of mission drift. You might start with great intentions but find yourself compromising the very purpose and impact you are trying to make. For us we have held ruthlessly to our vision even perhaps at a cost for short term gain. However, we have a long term vision and so far it’s been an amazing journey.
P.S. Parker Clay is so awesome, they’re giving away a leather tote bag from their shop to one lucky lady!
Interested? Head to our instagram for giveaway details!!
Huge thanks to Parker Clay for today’s post!