While waiting for my daughter to finish her skateboard lesson, I strike up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me on the bench.
She’s a tall, willowy blonde with movie-star sunglasses, a chic natural style, and—perfect for Los Angeles—a husband who’s a film director.
The judge-a-book-by-its-cover side of me would normally go into hyper-drive except that we have an instant bond: her daughter, like mine, was adopted from China. And so we sit and talk.
And life—not out on the road where I’m looking to be surprised and delighted but right here in suburban Burbank, California—up-ends my judgment and gives me a much needed smack on the head.
Kirsten Dickenson isn’t some Hollywood wife worried about fitting in a massage before the manicure appointment. No, instead Kirsten Dickerson is worried about how she’s going to save the world.
While some Hollywood wives may entertain you with behind-the-scenes gossip, Kirsten’s more likely to tell you that 70 percent of the world’s poorest people are women and that 100 million girls are expected to enter forced marriages in the next 10 years.
Moreover, she’s determined to do something about it. That’s why she and her partner, Sophia Lin, have started a non-profit called Raven and Lily. Their goal is to help impoverished women get their goods to a larger (make that Western) market by marrying high-end fashion design and quality with crafts that are organic, locally produced in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, and India and that pay the women who make them a fair and decent wage.
Not bad for a woman whose only worries growing up were big hair, football and who would take her to the prom. In other words, Kirsten is from Texas. (Katy, Texas, to be exact.) And until college, she didn’t know anyone who looked or thought differently than her neighbors or herself.
But at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Kirsten dove into a study of cultures different than her own. Her first trip outside of the United States was to Africa, a place that Kirsten says, “changed my life.”
Kirsten’s junior year was spent in Estonia and while she loved it, she realized that the relative comfort of this Westernized country didn’t feed her soul in the way Africa had.
Returning to Baylor for her senior year, she cut off the big hair—“I saw it as a physical manifestation of the way I had changed”—and volunteered to work in the inner city. “I spent every waking hour in the projects mentoring kids, serving food to the homeless, learning everything I could about a world that was so different from my own.”
When a group called Mission Waco offered to send her to India, Kirsten jumped at the chance. Working in Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying and the disabled and with groups trying to help women make their way out of poverty, she understood at the deepest level that this would be her life’s work.
But how? Traveling through Africa and India, Kirsten saw groups everywhere already in place and doing amazing work to try and eradicate poverty. “I didn’t want to come in with ideas about what should be done. I wanted to partner with these groups to get things done,” says Kirsten.
Having already made a living doing wardrobe and art direction for music videos and commercials, Kirsten finally had her “aha” moment. She and her partner realized they could empower women in need by developing well-designed, high-end fashion and home decor using African and Indian women’s artisan skills.
Hence Raven + Lily. When it launches its first collection this fall, Kirsten and Sophia hope it will provide a new life for the women in the fair-trade co-ops of Africa and India that their non-profit supports. It’s a big dream. But one that that little girl from Katy, Texas isn’t giving up on. If she can remake herself, Kirsten believes she can remake the world.
“I realize I can’t solve the big picture problems,” she says. “But I can help an individual and every time I do, I’m changed in the process.” I’ll say.
For more information visit www.ravenandlily.com.
By Jamie Simons for PeterGreenberg.com.
- The Miracle Magnet
- From Tourist to Traveler on A Journey to Uganda
- George Carlin and the Road Not Taken
- Little Miracles from Punta Mita
- From the West Wing to a War Zone
- Color My World
- Journey On, Dorothy Green