An Interview with Rhonda LaBatt of Redemption Market
Tell us about family background — geography, culture, language, and religion.
I’m a wife, mom, and founder of Redemption Market, an ethical boutique based in Phoenix. We have three amazing teenage daughters who also help with the business. I love camping, gardening, and spending time outdoors.
What is your personal story — education, prior work, and so on? How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?
Redemption Market was founded in 2013. We had just adopted our youngest daughter from Peru, and she was ten at the time. Previously I had been a middle school Spanish teacher, so I quit my job to stay home and teach our new daughter English and get her caught up in school.
I saw an advertisement online from Sak Saum, an organization that was helping women rescued from trafficking. They were looking for ambassadors in the US to carry their products and share their message. So, it all started with selling one small box of purses and jewelry, and has now expanded to over fifteen organizations!
How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?
My travels in South America as a college student really opened my eyes to the plight of workers worldwide, and I wanted to choose a career path that would somehow better the lives of people.
Artisans from around the world
What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?
If no one stands up for the rights of workers, fast fashion will continue to reign, with lowest prices and cheapest quality being the most important factors in production. Someone needs to share with the public the truth of how items are made and share resources for producing clothing in an ethical manner.
Sometimes it’s a hard road to travel, because profit margins are slimmer and turn-around times are longer, but it’s worth it for the workers to be able to do dignified work and receive fair wages.
What is the importance of fair trade?
I think that the term “fair trade” is something that a lot of people throw around but don’t really understand what it truly means. Someone might praise their coffee as “fair trade” just so they can feel good about the purchase. I think more and more companies are realizing that more and more consumers care about where their product comes from, especially among the younger generation.
Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?
Muhammed Yunis was the first person who introduced me to the idea that poverty is a problem that could actually be eradicated. Until that point, I had assumed that there will always be those who are marginalized, but by listening to him speak, I realized that it really doesn’t have to be that way, that there is hope for a world without poverty.
On a more personal level, Melody Murray, the founder of JOYN India, is a hero to me. I am so inspired by her business and personal life, and especially her theory of “purposeful inefficiency” in which the most lives are changed by having many people participate in the fabrication of a product.
Purpose Jewelry at Redemption Market
What is Redemption Market?
Redemption Market is a curated boutique where every purchase supports a cause. We are currently in partnership with over a dozen organizations, both locally and internationally. Some of our items are fair trade, while others are “products with a purpose.”
What inspired the title of the organization?
I love the idea of a marketplace of all good things, like a general store of giving back. Redemption is a heavy and beautiful word. It is the idea of taking those dark issues like trafficking, slave labor, and poverty and redeeming them or bringing them into the light.
Redemption Market touches lives around the world
What are some of its feature products?
There are two major factors for us when we consider a new partnership for our store. The first of these is the mission behind the organization. Is it something we believe in and want to support? Our second consideration is the quality and beauty of the products. We want to sell the best of the best. Our best selling lines are JOYN (India), Pebble Toys (Bangladesh) and The Tote Project (California).
What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?
Our focus is always on sustainability so we carry items with handwoven fabric, organic cotton, and sustainable wood.
What is your customer base — the demographics?
Although we carry products for men and children, we are truly a boutique catering primarily to women. Our customer is educated, interested in craftsmanship and owning something unique and of high quality.
What topics most interest you?
I’m passionate about serving the people on the earth who have been the most neglected and marginalized, who are simply in need of a voice to represent them.
Did you have a mentor in this work?
Yes, I have the benefit of working with some amazing women in downtown Phoenix at the Arizona Women’s Entrepreneur Center. It has been so encouraging to have these remarkable mentors give feedback, encouragement and insight.
Have you mentored others?
I think in life one should always be helping others along on the journey. As a mom and teacher, my life has always been about sharing my little bit of wisdom with those younger than me.
What are the importance of mentors in the fashion world for professional, and personal, development?
The beautiful thing about being a social enterprise is that those companies who would traditionally be seen as “competition” instead are your brothers and sisters in the fight for sustainable fashion. We can inspire one another and keep each other on track.
There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?
Because of the great amount of publicity that this event garnered, especially through the documentary The True Cost, many eyes were opened to the realities of workers’ lives in the third world. However, it is unfortunate that events like this are quite common, to the point that the media doesn’t spend much time covering them. It needs to be a record-breaking crisis for the tv channels to take notice. It surprises me that many of our customers are quite unaware that tragedies like this happen.
Who is a women’s rights and children’s rights activist or campaigner hero for you?
I love the work that artists like Bono are engaged in- how it is possible to be a musician or actor and still spend time working for organizations like Red to end AIDS.
Two factors seem to matter in the discussion of gender equality in societies: economies and rights. Many girls and women, especially in developing nations, face disadvantages unknown, or less well-known, to boys and men. Women face discrimination in education, health, the labor market, legal status, political representation, and reproductive rights. When women lose, everyone — boys, girls, men, and women — loses. What might bring this basic fact, with ubiquitous positive consequences, into the public discourse in ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations?
I truly believe that awareness is growing among developed nations, perhaps not at the rate we would like, but certainly more than say, ten years ago. A large component of what we do at Redemption Market is educating the public on some of these issues, to get the conversation going and to offer some tangible steps we can take to help.
What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?
I think it would be amazing if everyone’s passion and career were one and the same. Currently, I’m really loving what I do, because it’s hard to tell where my “work” ends and my regular daily living life begin. I love what I do!
What other work are you involved in at this point in time?
My family and I are actively involved in the localist movement, social enterprise movement, as well as adoption support and awareness.
Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?
Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline was quite inspirational to me. In terms of business, I was also impacted by Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia.
Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, Redemption Market?
We are easy to find using the search terms “Redemption Market” across any platform. Feel free to drop us a line any time through our website redemptionmarket.com.
What has been the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?
For me the biggest challenge has been to have patience with my growing business. It’s so easy to compare oneself to long established organizations and expect to have the same volume of sales or same amount of followers. Deep down, I understand that slow growth builds a healthy foundation, and so I continually have to remind myself of that truth.
The biggest challenge that I still currently face is to educate the average consumer that the cheap fashion we are accustomed to buying actually comes at a very heavy price in terms of slave labor and the environment. It’s challenging to present ethical choices as both fashionable and affordable.
What philosophy makes most sense of life to you?
Living a life of purpose is crucial to fulfillment during our short time on this planet. For me that is a life filled with nature, music, stillness, serving others, and loving God.
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and to support Redemption Market!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.
Originally published at www.trustedclothes.com on March 27, 2017.