| May 23, 2014 | Style & Beauty
Founder of Peace of the Action and Her Own Two Feet, Silbi Stainton launches a new shoe to benefit Pakistani women, and she tells her story of traveling to a region ravaged by extreme poverty.
Silbi Stainton exclusively sells the flip-flops she helps women in conflict countries produce through her charity, Peace of the Action, at O2 in Aspen.
After 22 hours of travel by plane, I arrive in the Dubai airport, where I will spend the next 15 hours on my layover en route to Pakistan. I’ve come here to empower native women with education and employment through the charity Peace of the Action. While in Dubai, I will see a cross-section of the world’s economic forces—from German businessmen to Saudi Arabian mothers fully covered in black abayas to bleary-eyed military contractors to the throngs of the laboring class heading to poor paying jobs. Dubai’s airport is—as they call it—the gateway to the world.
Tomorrow I will take yet another flight and end in a country I have come to love over the years: Pakistan. The people will all be so kind and welcoming, as Pakistanis are famous for their hospitality. Unfortunately, much of the world thinks of terrorism and dangers when they think of Pakistan, and they will never come to know this country is so much more than that.
Upon arrival in Lahore, the hums of motorbikes carrying families of five, cluck-clucks of rickshaws pulled by donkeys, and brightly painted trucks with horns that sound like elephants all welcome me. Immediately, I relax into my seat and feel like I am home.
Stainton with the Pakistani women she aids through her shoe line, Her Own Two Feet.
Several years ago, while leading Marshall Direct Fund, a nonprofit providing educational scholarships for women and children in conflict countries, I came to know the work ethic of the women of Pakistan. No matter if the temperature was 125 degrees, with humidity so intense that one is drenched in sweat the entire day, women are dutifully found in the fields harvesting crops from dusk to dawn or stitching clothing in the steaming urban streets for their neighbors and friends—all of this with a baby on her hip or back and three or four other children at her side.
Over the years, these women showed me their incredible tenacity and described the challenges they face. They live on less than $2 a day and routinely experience such dire hardships as childhood marriage, human trafficking, and poverty so extreme that suicide becomes tangible. Marshall Direct Fund can assist these women with vocational and business training to help them reach higher income levels, but more was needed for them to achieve their true potential. To succeed they needed access to the global economy—information about it, marketing and branding knowledge, logistical support, and connectivity to retailers.
Stainton says it’s exciting to work with the Pakistanis “in a way that economically empowers women so that a more peaceful future can be secured for all of us.”
It was then that I saw the niche for a social enterprise that would provide these services, and Peace of the Action was born. Peace of the Action links women entrepreneurs in conflict countries to the global market, giving the very people whose economic success helps build the groundwork for peace a “piece of the action” in the global economy, so they can lift their families out of poverty. The women are provided fair working conditions and paid fair-trade rates for their products, earning as much as four times what they made prior to working with the organization.
With the demand for socially responsible product lines at an all-time high, our first product line, Her Own Two Feet, is now available nationwide in the US. Her Own Two Feet is a line of handcrafted footwear for the ever-hip, globally inspired fashionista who wants to build a more peaceful world. We selected a base product that is in high demand globally (flip-flops bring in $2 billion in sales annually in the US market alone and $20 billion across the globe). We also wanted a product line that appealed especially to people under 40, as a recent study in The Wall Street Journal showed that the majority of that demographic is willing to pay a small premium for products that provide a social benefit. The concept is simple but beautiful: Stand a woman on her own two feet by what’s on yours.
A Pakistani artisan at work on women’s flip-flops, the inaugural product for Her Own Two Feet.
One of the master embellishers in the group, Mumtaz exemplifies how Her Own Two Feet works: Extreme poverty blocked Mumtaz’s dream for education as a young girl. And as a young bride, her husband’s untimely death created further hardships for her and her new baby boy. Lacking literacy and education, job opportunities were few and far between, yet Mumtaz is a fighter. She knew education, literacy, nutrition, and good health would be the key to her son’s success, and she needed income to provide that for him. Her Own Two Feet project has provided a source of income for Mumtaz and women like her.
Research has proven that as women increase their participation in the formal economy in the developing world, their countries become more stable, less violent, and less likely to resort to force to solve both external and internal conflicts. Furthermore, as the population at large attains greater educational levels, the threat of civil conflict is further reduced. Extremists are denied fertile ground from which to recruit when women and girls become empowered. The Taliban shot young Malala Yousafzai, the education activist, for this very reason. They know empowerment of women and girls will be their undoing.
In this way, every pair of Her Own Two Feet purchased is one step forward for women (by providing a job for a woman in a conflict country) and one giant leap for womankind, since 15 percent of sales is donated to educational and vocational scholarships for women and children in those countries. Her Own Two Feet shoes are available at O2 Aspen, 500 W. Main St. (studio shop), 970-925-4002, and 605 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-3161
photography by karl wolfgang(stainton); khalid faisal (pakistani)