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“Teach a woman to fish…”
Creative Women of the World’s Loreli VerLee puts her passions to work
By Gloria Diaz
Fort Wayne Reader
The old saying, “give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime,” gets a new twist from Lorelei VerLee, executive director of Creative Women of the World. She says, “teach a woman how the fishing industry works and she'll change the world.”
And that's what the shop at 125 West Wayne is helping women all over the world to do. The store sells handmade items made by women. The items range from handbags to jewelry to paintings to home décor, and food items that are locally produced. The women who make the items have been in horrible circumstances, but not so beaten that they can't work. As the song goes, sisters are doing it for themselves, and it's saving their lives.
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VerLee has been involved with artistic endeavors for years—all her businesses have been art-related. Creating murals and selling cards in all 50 states has prepared her for Creative Women of the World or CWoW. But a woman named Valerie Mossman-Celestin, the director of Haitian Artisans for Peace International, or HAPI, gave VerLee her start. Celestin sent an email, which caught VerLee's eye. Someone was needed to go to Haiti to help artists there get their start. VerLee said her passions of art and helping people were a perfect fit, and she took off back in 2007 and helped the artists get started. But, there was a minor problem: “little did I know—they had no distribution plan.”
So VerLee used her home, then a church basement, before moving into a warehouse on the northwest side of town. In 2011, it was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit, which means they can accept donations.
“We are a local business helping to change the world,” says VerLee. CWoW moved into their current location last October.
“We help them gain access to markets,” says VerLee.
In a world where everything seems to be made in China, those purchasing items at CWoW will not only get a unique work of art, but they will also find out about the person who made the item. “Everything has a green tag on it—who made it and who benefits,” says VerLee. Also, a lot of the items are Earth-friendly—like the handled box made out of Fanta bottlecaps. It could be used as storage or a very interesting handbag. Materials used are things that would end up in a trash pile, but instead are repurposed to live a new life, and to help change lives.
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“Traditional charity is not empowering,” says VerLee, and it's something lots of people would seem to agree with—better a hand up, than a hand out. The business is interested in helping the women become free of slavery, abuse, poverty, or all three. It's capitalism with a conscience, something that seems at odds with the seeming mindset of outsourcing or eliminating benefits. The women creating the items become both artists and businesswomen. VerLee talks about fair trade, creating a fair wage based on where the women are. She talks about the concept of scarcity vs. abundance, comparing it to the old keeping up with the Joneses cliché.
“It does not matter what the amount in your checkbook is—it's thinking you have so little compared to others,” says VerLee. “I've been volunteering for this since 2007. It has become a successful business, but I couldn't do it by myself.” Nicole Moore is director of retail operations, and Kayla Wieland is inventory manager. Hope Sheehan serves as co-director. VerLee feels her co-workers do a great job in creating attractive displays. “We really showcase the products in a way that reflects the dignity of the merchandise.”
Greeting cards (blank on the inside) at the back of the store are displayed in a rack. At first glance, they look like cards, but you look closer and realize every one of them was embroidered. Few people save old greeting cards, but these are pretty enough to be framed. And with the amount of detail that goes into them, they deserve to be.
CWoW is located at 125 West Wayne Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The phone number is 260-267-9048. The store hours are Monday through Friday, from noon to 7 p.m. and Saturday noon to 4 p.m.
Creative women of the world.com
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