Hidden Heroes

HIDDEN HEROES: Local 'fair trade fashionista' making a difference in Africa

HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WIAT) - Dr. Mary Jones might look familiar to any of you who follow this segment.  She's actually been a Hidden Hero before, through a strange set of circumstances.  Jones wasn't nominated by anyone.  I happened to be on my lunch break, picking up a couple of things when I saw a crowd of worried people gathered around an escalator.  There was blood on the railing, and an elderly woman on the ground.  Jones was also there--along with another women--tending to the fallen woman.  A pediatrician by trade, she and a nurse helped the victim and her family until paramedics could arrive and take her away on a stretcher.  

Jones had been in the store that day, sitting in the cafe on a Zoom chat with her content marketer.  See--in addition to being a doctor and a mom of five--Jones is also a business owner. 

Maasai Chic started back in 2015.  Jones and her husband, Jeff, are both physicians, and in 2014 they started going with a local missionary group to Kenya.  "We do a medical camp and we crank out patients," she explained.  "You know, we can treat those illnesses, but the max we can give them is like--a month's worth of medicine.  It makes them feel better, but that's just a temporary thing."

Jones started thinking about ways that they could make an even more lasting impact--even when they weren't in Kenya, but she didn't connect the dots until they had made several trips back to Africa. 

Jones considers herself to be a fashionista (she is).  While in Africa, she loved picking up clothing, bags, and jewelry.  Back at home, she was constantly being complimented on her finds.  "I love color," she said.  "I love the story that what you're wearing can tell.  You're wearing something happy, wearing something sentimental--it makes a difference in your life."

She realized--most of the women in the villages that she visited had some knowledge of sewing.  Those who didn't--could be trained.  "We focus on women because women change the landscape of the communities that they live in when you empower them with work," she explained. 

Maasai Chic was born--a fair trade business importing and selling fashion from Tanzania and Kenya.  In 2017, Jones teamed up with a former Birmingham-native, Stacy Scott, who moved to Tanzania to start community service projects like Africa Integrated Medicine.  Together, they fine-tuned Maasai Chic's business plan and started vetting artisans to produce fashion lines. 

"I went from doctor doing a medical mission, to buying things from artisans in Kenya for a couple of years, to now having a sewing coop.  We now have 4 artisans that we employ--so now we're fashion designers," she laughed.  "I saw that so loosely, but it's just a miraculous thing.  It's so fun, and I just love it."

With the assistance of Maasai Chic, unemployed or under-employed women were able to learn and fine tune their skills.  "Our real goal is to train them and equip them and have them go out and do business on their own," Jones explained.  "Some of them have been able to get electricity in their homes that they didn't have before--but the most important thing is that it helps with their kids' school fees."

Jones says for a lot of families--it comes down to education or being able to eat.  "If you can't even buy yourself food, regularly, then you've got to make the choice.  What am I going to do?  Send my kids to school or feed them?"

Jones believes strongly that education is another means of breaking poverty.  As a mother, Jones says she understands that most moms want the same, basic things for their kids and communities.

Each Maasai Chic product contains a card that explains who made the product.  Jones says she's proud to bring both the goods and the stories home to the US.

Would you like to know more about Maasai Chic--including where you can shop?  Visit their website, here.  Products are also currently available at Kanzi in Homewood--and there will be other locations in the very near future. 


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