Wanderlust: Philanthropic shopping

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I twirl and pose like a fashion model, to the apparent delight of a dozen women gathered in this airy workshop in the hills above Rabat, the capital of Morocco, then sashay into a dressing room across the hall. As I pull off one hand-embroidered caftan and slip into another, tears stream down my face. Once they subside, I head out in another tunic, entering their studio with a determined smile on my face.

These women before me arrived at Orient-Occident Foundation (orient-occident.org), a non-profit job training initiative for refugees to Morocco who have arrived from across Africa, often on foot, with horrific stories but few transferable skills. The foundation reached out to a Parisian couture pattern cutter and stylist, who helped these women apply their embroidery talents to create Migrants du Monde, a line of embellished linen and cotton caftans. Some profits are reinvested in materials, but the majority goes to the women. 

I get truly inspired when my relationships with some of the globe’s finest hospitality establishments open a world of opportunity for people like the women of Migrants du Monde. Today, with support from my global Rolodex, their boho chic beach cover-ups sell at the Marrakech outposts of Amanresorts and Four Seasons, and as far away as Manhattan and Peru. 

However, I also like the booty involved – and indulging myself to help others makes me ridiculously happy. My sky-blue linen tunic with orange and pink fairy-floss embroidery has island hopped with me from the Maldives to Bali – and, in fact, goes exceedingly well with recycled newspaper necklaces by Salvage (salvagesrilanka.com). This Sri Lankan community initiative empowers victims of sex trafficking and the civil war by teaching them to create objects of desire from recycled materials. 

Nowhere in Asia have I found more self-indulgent opportunities to help others than in Siem Reap. Carol Cassidy’s Weaves of Cambodia (weavesofcambodia.com) sells world-class silk scarves and textiles handwoven on custom-built looms by Khmer artisans who are also landmine victims. Around the corner, Louise Loubatieres (louiseloubatieres.com) stocks must-have homewares, such as ancient Khmer-inspired Lo Yuyu ceramics from the non-profit Prolung Khmer Pottery and Weaving Training Centre.

However, by far the most exciting news in philanthropic shopping can be found here on the first Saturday afternoon of every month at the recently launched Made in Cambodia Market at the Shinta Mani Hotel Siem Reap (shintamani.com). At this quaint street fair, I found covetable items like Saarti candles (saarticambodia.com) made from organic soy wax sourced from the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, smile-inducing spider toys handcrafted of wire by the impoverished women of WOW Cambodia (wowcambodia.org) and recycled Pirelli truck tire handbags by landmine victims turned artisans called Khmer Independent Life Team (kiltjewelry.weebly.com). Just as often as personal introductions help these talented hands, by writing about them I find a little good can come their way too. I hope to see you on the first Saturday of next month in Siem Reap.

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