Dress 4 Love

A Little Black Dress is Opening Big Doors for a Group of Indigenous Women in Panama

Fashion + Stories We're Obsessed With
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October 2, 2013
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Lindsey Parry claims she is not a designer. And she’s right. She’s much more than that. She is a creator and she’s literally a Godsend to a group of indigenous women in Panama.

Life as Lindsey knew it would never be the same the minute she opened a book called Half the Sky by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. There were several times she wanted to close it (some chapters were just too hard to read) but she just couldn’t put it down.

The book chronicles women and girls in Africa and Asia who have been beat down generation after generation, fighting poverty, being sold in to sex slavery, and suffering devastating injuries during childbirth among other horrific things. It’s a painful read, but it was the glimmer of hope and inspiration the book offered that kept Lindsey powering through the tough images. These women who had been oppressed for so long were offered an opportunity—an opportunity to work, to become empowered, and to create a ripple effect of positivity in their communities. In the end, their lives changed for the better because one person opened a door for them. Check out this book in our Books section.

“The book lit something up inside of me,” says Lindsey. “I didn’t know what my plan was in this world, but I knew I wanted to be part of this movement, so I put it in my collection of dreams and kept going.”

Lindsey continued to work in Orlando and volunteer in her community. But that book. It never left her mind. “Something was calling me,” she says, “something so much bigger.” She felt the pull to go overseas and help children. But it was a huge risk to leave a job she liked, and for what? She didn’t even know. But the feeling kept getting stronger and stronger. Lindsey asked, “God, where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do? Open some doors for me and show me.”

And that he did.

Having lived on a military base in Panama, Lindsey had a special place in her heart for Central America and decided her mission would be to go there and, somehow, help the poor. In the indigenous communities, men struggle to support their families so they look to the women to provide for their children. The women make and sell baskets, jewelry and other arts and crafts in order to provide extra income for things such as medicine, school supplies and other necessities. Things we typically take for granted. There is a lack of clean water and sanitation, so malnutrition is prevalent in these communities, especially in children and expecting mothers. A steady income is hard to come by, but it is imperative for these families to survive.

Lindsey sold all of her possessions and moved there in 2011 where she started a nonprofit organization, Sowing Seeds of Love, focused on empowering indigenous women and children through education, creative arts, reading programs, and sports. She soon found herself immersed in the culture and the community, and starting to get to know the women and their families. One day she was sitting in church looking around at the authentic dresses the women and girls were wearing called naguas. Lindsey has always been a fan of fashion design, and the intricate detail and bright colors intrigued her. And then it hit her like a ton of fabric. She thought, what if I took this amazing design and put it on a modern dress?

The proverbial doors flung open. She ran home and started sketching. She doesn’t have a design background, but she definitely knows clothes and what fashionable, trend-setting women want. Lindsey recruited one of the women she had befriended and soon they were sewing authentic nagua along the bottom of a modern, black, racer-back maxi dress.

“When I finally put that dress on, I thought, this dress is amazing. I knew at that moment everything was coming full circle,” she says. “If this idea could work, I could see how I could tie my passion for design with my desire to help others.”

Her idea was to create a clothing line that empowered the indigenous women through stable employment and pay them fair trade wages. She wanted to highlight and preserve the authentic nagua that signifies their traditional dress by incorporating it onto modern clothes for women. The line would be designed and marketed to women who were looking to contribute with their purchase without sacrificing fashion. Check out Lindsey’s dresses in our store, and we will give $5 for every dress sold to other organizations making a good impact.

She went out and about in the community, trying to recruit women to become involved. She had some resistance at first, as the women have little self-confidence and have never been offered an opportunity like this, but soon the women started opening up to her and she found several who wanted to join her. Read more about each of the women involved and their families.

The women have since become like family. They’ve learned how to use sewing machines (most of them had never seen one) and other trades they can pass down. The women express themselves through their art, and each woman is actively involved in selecting the colors and patterns for their dresses. Now they are earning a stable income, making decisions that benefit the entire family and creating a ripple effect of positivity in their community.

“These women are confident, cracking jokes, it’s a neat environment,” says Lindsey, “and they are getting respect from their husbands, who are excited for them and proud of them, which is not common in these communities.”

Now 4Love has gone from having sewing classes in Lindsey’s apartment to having their own facility called the 4Love and Sowing Seeds of Love House. The house offers the women an opportunity to come together to share ideas and help one another, and provides a comfortable, clean, and safe working environment. The additional space offers a classroom, a play area and a yard for the children to run around in when they join their moms at work.

4Love plans to expand the line to include tank tops, scarves, and even bathing suits in the future. According to Lindsey, the possibilities are endless.

When we asked her what she’s learned through this process, she answered, “I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve learned that doors open when we need them to, and sometimes doors get slammed or slowly shut. But now that this door has opened, I have never felt more alive or passionate about anything in my life.”

So you see, Lindsey is much more than a designer; she’s a creator. She’s a creator of clothes, a creator of opportunity, a creator of possibility and a creator of hope. And, much like the glimmer of hope and inspiration Lindsey found at the end of Half the Sky, the lives’ of these indigenous women in Panama changed for the better because one person, Lindsey Parry, opened a door for them.

For more information on 4Love Clothing, please visit www.4loveclothing.com

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