The Story Behind Noonday’s Market Print Bags
The season of gifting is here! One of the perks of purchasing a gift from Noonday is that many of our products come pre-wrapped in beautiful bags crafted from brightly printed cotton fabric. These bags, with their varied and colorful patterns, are such a delightful surprise! Add a gift tag appropriate for the season, and your work is done! I remember when my very first Noonday purchase arrived in the mail, I was just as thrilled with the colorful bag it came in as I was with the necklace itself. After that first order, I was hooked on Noonday’s mission and I became a repeat Noonday customer. With every order, I eagerly awaited the new bag as much as I did the earrings or necklace it might contain.
The origin of Noonday’s unique packaging is as beautiful as the bags themselves. In her memoir about founding Noonday Collection, Imperfect Courage, Jessica Honegger shares that during Noonday’s earliest years, when they were just beginning to commit to orders with Artisan Partners, she “wanted Noonday accessories to arrive in packaging that befit the contents – something handmade and special.” The most simple and economical way to package Noonday pieces was no doubt an easily sourced plastic bag or cardboard box. However, instead of a disposable package, Jessica envisioned a small drawstring fabric bag to hold Noonday treasures.
As she was exploring options to source such a bag, she called her friend Jennifer in Rwanda to ask if she knew of any sewing groups looking for orders. Jennifer challenged her to take a risk on a group of twelve women in her community who needed to find work. Although they had no sewing background, these women were motivated to learn new skills to support not only their own families but also children in their village who were orphaned during the Rwandan genocide. Investing in seamstress training for a group of women half way around the word was a risk, not only for Jessica and Noonday, but also for the women themselves. They were being asked to commit their time and energy to a project that had no guarantee of success. Remember, at this point in time, Noonday Collection was more of an idea and hope than a profitable business.
However, Jessica judged that “the risk to do nothing felt much greater than the risk to do something.” In a spirit of sisterhood and collaboration, these twelve women learned to sew with foot-pedal sewing machines. Taking pride in their selection of colorful Dutch wax-cotton print fabrics from the market in Kigali, after six months of training, they launched Noonday Collection’s signature product bags.
Noonday Collection’s relationship with the sewing group in Rwanda has now been strong for over eight years. This group of twelve women who were once in need of skillful work has grown into a co-operative business that they have expanded beyond their partnership with Noonday Collection. They now take orders from other clients and have their own market shop.
In Imperfect Courage, Jessica Honegger shares the direct impact this opportunity has had for Grace, one of the group’s original seamstresses. After just three years of working with the community sewing workshop, she was able to replace her home’s thatched roof with tin, better protecting her family during rains. She was also able to install a well, providing a safe source of fresh water which before had required a walk of several miles. These two simple upgrades can have a profound effect on the health and well-being families in vulnerable communities. When I personally reflect on how my choices as a consumer matter, stories such as Grace’s are a reminder that I can use my purchase power for good.
Just as there are many pieces in Noonday’s jewelry line that are made from upcycled materials, such as the paper beads from Uganda or the upcycled artillery shells from Ethiopia, so too can these brightly patterned bags be repurposed into other pieces of fabric art! The size of the bags reminds me of quilting squares my grandmother used to use. In fact, one Ambassador transformed her bags to form a pattern for a patchwork quilt which she then in turn sold in a fundraiser.
I have a friend who uses quilting squares to make fabric drink coasters; since I don’t have sewing skills of my own, I plan to ask for her help to transform some of my bags into these cute little coasters. Another Ambassador, Evan Kearns, received an apron made for her by her family from their repurposed Noonday bags! If you have enough bags saved up, and the sewing skills to accomplish one of these projects, upcycling your Rwandan bags is a wonderful away to honor the sisterhood of women around the globe who make up Noonday Collection.
Even if you do not sew or have the time to re-purpose your Noonday bags, there are still plenty of ways to keep them useful. The Rwandan bags come in a variety of sizes which are perfectly suited to hold many different small items. The possibilities are truly endless. As my personal collection of Noonday bags has grown, they have become an invaluable tool to bring organization to my daily life.
In my Rustic Leather Wallet, a small bag acts as a coin purse, while another keeps my Ambassador business cards ready to pull out when asked about the accessories I am wearing. In my work bag, I stash my phone charger and ear buds, for quick access to my electronic devices.
In my gym bag, I keep an assortment of personal hygiene items ready for a quick refresh. Contact lenses and refreshing solution fit in one, hair ties in another, lip gloss and lipstick in a third bag, and Kleenex with hand sanitizer in another. When traveling, I slip a scented dryer sheet in a few of the small bags to create fresh scented sachets that keep my luggage smelling good! If I am heading outside in cold, snowy weather, hand warmers also fit snuggly into the small bags, which can then be tucked into jacket pockets for easy access.
When you receive Noonday accessories in these hand-sewn bags, I encourage you to keep them and use them in whatever way suits your needs best. May their bright and cheerful prints be a daily reminder of our connection to women around the world, and may the story behind them be an inspiration to live a life of imperfect courage.
Meet Jessica Ange
Apart from being an Ambassador, Jessica is also a full-time family physician, as well as a mother, wife, and caregiver. She joined Noonday as an Ambassador last year when she was looking for a creative outlet with a purpose. She found the perfect fit, wouldn’t you say? She’s also an avid outdoorswoman who recently rock climbed in Joshua Tree!