Monica Snow and Carolyn Burton. Photo: Monica Snow
Service trips are often life-changing experiences. But it’s not often that they completely alter the course of your- and your child’s- career.
But that’s exactly what happened for mother-daughter duo Carolyn and Monica from Clarenville, Newfoundland.
After a trip with World Vision to Honduras in 2015, the pair embarked on a mission to bring ethically-crafted items to the Canadian market.
“It’s been the biggest learning experience of my life,” says 17-year-old Monica.
The change has come in increments. For Carolyn, that first trip made her look at her world with an entirely new lens.
“I was a financial advisor. After I came home, I sat at my desk and thought, ‘What am I really doing?’”
Ultimately, Carolyn quit her job, seeking part-time employment so that she can volunteer with her extra hours- and help her daughter with her burgeoning business.
Carolyn Burton poses with (Front L-R) Angie, Eduar, Juan, and Christian, whom she sponsors through World Vision. In the back (L-R) are Heidi, Carolyn, Paola, and Emerzon. Heidi, Paola, and Emerzon are sponsored by Monica and Carolyn's church at home in Clarenville, Newfoundland. Photo: Monica Snow
Monica, meanwhile, has been a World Vision Youth Ambassador since grade 8, and the idea for an ethical shop came soon after that first trip to Honduras, even before they saw an ethical workshop firsthand.
Monica had been learning through No Child for Sale, a World Vision campaign, about the issues in today’s supply chain- systemic problems like child labour, environmental destruction, and a lack of corporate transparency nagged at her.
“I remember her being frustrated because she didn’t know how things were made,” Monica’s friend and World Vision Public Engagement Coach Leanne Prescott says. “She had to look all over the internet to find ethical products.”
And so, when she was just a ninth grader, the idea for an online ethical one-stop-shop was born.
“One day, Monica came home and said, ‘After I finish school, I want to have a social enterprise,'” says Carolyn. “I said, ‘Why are you gonna wait?’”
The pair got their chance to break ground on a new business when their church visited Honduras again last May,2018. This trip was special. Carolyn had specifically requested that they visit Mi Esperanza, a skills training centre that sells handcrafted creations made by women in the community of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Carolyn says that she was nervous that the other group members wouldn’t understand the importance of the workshop. But as they stepped into the world of one of the sewing classes, her church members grasped the magnitude of what the women of Mi Esperanza were creating right away.
Monica, left, sits with some of the students of Mi Esperanza's sewing class. Photo: Monica Snow
“These women are being treated and paid fairly. People (from the church) are really invested in it and support it,” Carolyn says proudly.
“They were so sweet, and so happy to be there,” Monica remembers of the women in the sewing class.
When they returned home to Canada, Monica and Carolyn made an order from Mi Esperanza right away, and The Sol Company was born. Their family home in rural Newfoundland serves as office, warehouse, and communications centre for one of the few ethical accessory options available in Canada. It’s a whole new world for Carolyn.
This keychain in the shape of the map of Honduras is made at Mi Esperanza. The heart cut out is over Tegucigalpa, the city where The Sol Company products are made. Photo: Monica Snow
“I spent most of my life not giving a second thought to where my products are made. We don’t stop to think about where things are made,” she laments.
But her experience in Honduras, and her daughter’s passion, changed that. This season, when most families are scrambling to catch Black Friday deals to place under the Christmas tree, Carolyn’s family is taking it slower, considering their purchases carefully so that they have a positive impact.
“I approach Christmas differently now,” Carolyn says.
This is especially true when Carolyn buys items for Monica. “Shopping for her is harder now, but it’s so much more meaningful,” Carolyn says. And it’s not just Christmas that has changed for Monica, but her entire consumer behaviour. “She buys way less. We have to convince her to get things she needs!” Carolyn laughs.
Monica explains her reasoning: “We all have the responsibility to look out for our fellow humans,” the teenager tells me. “By shopping ethically, we can change things for a whole family.”
And what do her friends and peers think of her newfound career?
“They’re pretty cool with it,” she smiles. “They’re very supportive. A lot of them have even bought stuff!”
That may be the real success of The Sol Company. Monica and Carolyn have made ethical shopping accessible for Canadians, who usually pay a premium for fair trade and kindly-crafted accessories like theirs.
“Shipping for these ethical companies is crazy when you’re in Canada. So we thought, if we can’t find it, let’s create it,” Carolyn says.
In doing so, Carolyn and Monica are bridging the gap between consumers and creators. Their website tells not only their story, but the story of the women who craft the pieces they sell. And a portion of the profits from The Sol Company go right back into the community where it all started, through World Vision’s partnership. Now that’s a story worth changing for.