When I first meet Shannon Reisenfeld, mom of four children at Arnold Elementary, local and international activist and new business owner, it is at Bean Rush Cafe in West Annapolis. Although it is just 9:00 in the morning, like me she has already been up for several hours, brought her kids to school and crossed several items off her To-Do list. I know I am an item on that list, so I try to keep my curiosity about her story at bay, a task that’s nearly impossible largely because Shannon’s path to realizing innovative and profitable philanthropy through her new Fair Trade wholesale/retail company Mango + Main is both intriguing and brave.
“There is such a need to help these entrepreneurs who just want to work and to provide for their families. I formed Mango + Main in an effort to create more work and to open new markets to producers.”
Shannon launched Mango + Main in September 2016 and the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The business sells goods via an online shop as well as through area retailers like Here A Pop Up Shop, mobile fashion truck Tin Lizzie and Twisted Sisters. Her current assortments include skirts sewn with fabric personally curated by Shannon and made by a cooperative of artists in Rwanda, striped cotton hand towels made in Ethiopia of Egyptian cotton, one-of-a-kind textile and baby alpaca pillow covers from Peru, scented candles poured into hand-painted bowls from South Africa, paper jewelry made in Haiti as well as handbags, wallets and other goods made by women in Senegal and Kenya.
She’s facilitated manufacture of custom designs for her local clients and frequently hosts area fundraisers through the sale of Mango + Main products. When she sold blue and white necklaces for an Arnold Elementary PTA spirit wear fundraiser, she created jobs for women in Haiti who support a local orphanage. The home isn’t for children who don’t have parents, but rather for children sent there by parents who aren’t able to provide for them. “These women are making jewelry so they can feed their children, so they can send them to school and not have to give them up. They can make any color, any style and I helped facilitate that while also rallying our kids around a great product and idea”.
“I have these artisans who are asking for work and I am helping them design products that will appeal to the Western woman. I help them choose colors and styles that will sell well here in the West. If you come to me and say I need 50 pink bracelets for a girls running club, I can get these for you and the artisans will rejoice and be so happy to get that order.”
At this point, Mango + Main operates out of Shannon’s dining room. “This is all new to me,” Shannon says, “but I feel like I am building a business for other people. It’s not so I can grow in wealth. I know people are counting on me, literally to put food in their mouth.” She’s had to learn how to build a website, modify HTML code, create her own marketing materials on a nonexistent budget, familiarize herself with tariff schedule codes and has spent hours learning about customs. In the space of just a few months, business is doing well and Shannon says she has faith that Mango + Main will prosper. “I‘ve been able to earn back my initial investment so I can break even and have money to invest for the next season. My goal was to tell my husband we don’t have to pull any more money out of savings and that’s where I am at.”
In a world where most of what we use on a daily basis is sterile, mass-produced and utterly disposable, fair trade goods are hand-crafted with locally sourced materials such as straw, leather, fabric, paper and even recycled plastic. The sale and purchase of fair trade items –fair in that workers are paid a just wage for their work and a just price for what they produce—empowers producers to change their own lives.
“When I was able to see the impact that I could have on the everyday lives of the women I met—their ability to feed their family, to educate their children, to earn some sort of security in a very insecure world just by selling the bowls they made, I knew I wanted to create solutions that could change their lives.”
Shannon is building her business on good will. On our basic human desire to express compassion, to make a difference. As I listen to Shannon I can’t help but think that we in the West are naturally generous but also cautious with our prosperity. We have money but we want to know where it will go and what impact it will have. Mango + Main is a thoughtfully founded business that helps make a difference by creating opportunity not only here at home for entrepreneurs like Shannon and her local retailers, but also abroad where there is a valid argument that it is needed most. Shannon is right when she says that Mango + Main in particular, and Fair Trade goods in general support local businesses, in a way that makes your money, and your goodwill, go global.
This article was originally posted in GreenBook magazine, a publication of YellowFin Marketing. Click on the link to read more and to view more photos of Shannon and her goods. To learn more about Shannon and Mango + Main, visit her website. Note that she can arrange for free local delivery and is looking forward to doing more fundraising and wholesale projects as her business grows.Feel free to share...