Michele Dudley: when fashion meets compassion
Fashion & Compassion is a nonprofit that connects mindful consumers here to at-risk artisans from around the world. When you purchase a beautiful, handcrafted piece of jewelry or art, you change more than one life. Fashion & Compassion helps support women here in Charlotte who are recovering from trafficking, abuse, and economic hardships while providing spiritual and educational support. The women of Fashion & Compassion help these vulnerable women regain empowerment and confidence. So when you purchase a piece of art or jewelry from this nonprofit, you help at-risk women near and afar.
Fashion & Compassion creates empowerment communities where vulnerable women connect with God, one another and resources as their lives are transformed.
Now let’s learn the story behind the organization from Co-Founder, Michele Dudley.
What event provided the initial spark for your nonprofit, Fashion & Compassion?
A trip to Africa in 2008 sparked an idea and a calling. The wheels began turning during a church vision trip with African Leadership & Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM). I asked myself, how can I help, how can I get involved? As I thought it through, I wondered, do we partner with ALARM, do we get involved with the organization? All I knew is I wanted to take action somehow, some way.
Storytelling had a profound impact on you. How so?
In Rwanda, we met survivors of genocide. Learning 11,000 people were killed in only five hours at a church where they had taken refuge was heartbreaking. I listened to a young man recount his story of survival. It was a story I knew I would never forget.
Upon arriving back home in Charlotte, reality hit me in the face. I had been involved with different organizations and volunteer work but had never experienced what I had while in Africa. Survivors forgave their perpetrators. Their courage was inspirational, their stories stuck. I had to help and learn more to share with the world what they overcame.
When you traveled back to Africa, did that trip provide additional clarity of your vision, your calling?
During trips back to Africa, my husband and I led marriage conferences in partnership with Nationals. We also helped girls find a way to attend school. This opened the door to my interest in women’s empowerment and women in poverty at the same time.
How did you get involved with human trafficking?
Shortly thereafter, I met a survivor of human trafficking in Charlotte and knew that I wanted to help women who are impacted. The numbers are astounding.
And how did the story of Fashion & Compassion officially begin?
The story of Fashion & Compassion began with African paper beads and Ethiopian crosses. At the same time, local work started with young women overcoming trafficking. Fashion & Compassion was founded in 2013. Through a conference, I met a former pastor and his wife from Northside Baptist. We began providing part-time transitional employment to women at risk and those overcoming trafficking while providing them with a supportive community and connections to resources needed to become self-sufficient.
Does Fashion & Compassion work with other organizations in Charlotte?
Women are referred to the Jewelry Project at our Boutique in Dilworth from local organizations serving women overcoming trafficking, addiction, incarceration, abuse as well as refugees and immigrants. The doors then opened to international groups in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ecuador, and Mexico. Additionally, we run 2 weekly Jewelry Projects at Project 658 where the focus is on women in East Charlotte who are most often refugees and immigrants. Through Project 658, we bring in a rotation of 12 women for 12 weeks to connect them to local opportunities and help them build a diverse support community.
As I look around the table, I often see many countries represented in each seat; right now we have seven countries represented at these Jewelry Projects.
Other organizations partner and refer to you. Who are your Ministry Partners?
Dove’s Nest, the YWCA, Florence Crittenton, and others all refer women to Fashion and Compassion. A full list of our Ministry Partners can be found here.
How can readers get involved with your work at Fashion and Compassion?
Please visit our Boutique in Dilworth and our website to learn about volunteer opportunities. We also host events like book clubs, girl’s night out, after work get togethers, and make & take events.
Any upcoming events?
Yes! This Saturday, April 6th, we are having a huge sale from 10AM - 4PM!. Come shop with us and make a difference.
The boutique's regular hours are Monday through Friday from 9AM - 5PM and is located at 1717 Cleveland Ave., Charlotte.