This is our story, we are only at the very beginning of what I hope will be a big journey, but I thought it would be a great chance to reflect on where Beyond Sustainable began. Me, I’m a traveller, photographer and permaculturalist. I’ve lived in the Amazon and jungles of Northern Sumatra, I’ve seen so much of the destruction that happens to our planet behind the scenes. More importantly, I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve met, those wanting to create real positive changes. This is my part of the story, but I’m not here just to talk about me.
On my most recent trip to South America, I was lucky to visit many indigenous groups living along the Andes mountain range, the backbone of the continent.
In particular, I met with women, matriarchs of their communities, who shared with me the struggles of their people and the creative solutions they have begun to implement in an effort to save their environment, culture and improve the lives of the people around them.
One woman stood out in particular, Lucelly, an Arhuaco indigenous woman or the Sierra Nevada in Colombia and founder of Wirakoku. She along with 80 other women from her community started a foundation to provide an alternative income for families to growing illegal cocaine crops, a particularly dangerous, however, profitable industry in Colombia. Living in the remote mountains, growing their own food, speaking their own languages and for the most part being cut off from the rest of the world; it’s truly incredible what these women have achieved. By making their traditional woven bags, crafts and growing sustainable rainforest crops such as cacao and coffee they have completely changed the lives of their fellow villagers. Now studying medicine and living with her children in a nearby city, Lucelly tells me how the women of her community now make more money than the men and this lead to them being empowered. Giving them equal status in an otherwise patriarchal culture. Hearing stories like hers and others I wanted to support this kind of sustainable development and entrepreneurship.
When in Peru I travelled to the city of Chinchero a small town high in the Andes, famous for its colourful clothes and indigenous textiles, unlike anywhere else on earth. The women of Chinchero still practice a method of spinning their own wool, using plants to colour their thread and by hand, creating some extraordinary clothing. The attention to detail and meticulous work of these women is evident in the artwork and clothing they produce. The art of natural weaving is however like many indigenous practices around the world, at risk of being lost to the modern world. With factory-based industry making vast amounts of machine made and chemically dyed fakes, the income for small indigenous communities is at risk.
To counter this threat, they have begun to welcome people into their culture, to connect people to the importance of their traditions and to what is at stake. Many female owned cooperatives have opened up, teaching the next generation the skills they need, empowering young women and building an income for local families. This is the kind of integrated community development that NGO handouts just can’t compare to. It’s so refreshing to see these initiatives popping up and what a great chance to support a good cause by working with these amazing community leaders.
What I hope to build, is an online marketplace, one that is different from the usual profit-driven venture. A place where, you know who made your products, the positive impacts they make and ripple effects that the money you buy them with will have. A brand you can be proud of, the kind that empowers women, creates meaningful development and regenerates natural environments.
Long gone are the days where we can continue down a path of unequal opportunities for those who make our clothes and possessions. Now is the time for real sustainable and regenerative change. The internet allows us to connect as a global community I want to make the most of that opportunity. Companies have no excuse not to be 100% transparent about their supply chains. Connection to the stories behind what we buy makes them all the more precious. This is the kind of value money can't buy, but storytelling can create.
Connection to source is so important for our understanding of our place in the world. It’s a huge reason why I started Beyond Sustainable. I want people to love and value what they own, by connecting through stories to the people who made them and the earth that provided the materials. In this disconnected world it’s so hard to know where we fit in, let alone our belongings... When was the last time you asked yourself who made the things you own, who grew your food and what impact did that leave on the planet?
-Written and photography by William Verschuur