A Moment with Mel Murray of Joyn Bags
Here at Dressember we are excited to be entering into a unique collaboration with an organization that shares our passion for fashion and creating support for those that are oppressed and marginalized. JOYN started in 2011 from the vision of advocate and entrepreneur, Melody Murray, who spent a decade working with companies such as Procter and Gamble and Walmart. Moved by a desire to create locally owned and self sustaining businesses in marginalized communities, Mel and her family moved to rural Asia. 7 years later, JOYN employs hundreds of artisans and sells hundreds of thousands of bags a year. This fall, JOYN is joining in with the vision of Dressember by creating a line of hand-stamped accessories, (a tote, wallet and a clutch). Be sure to check out this beautifully crafted line on their website.
To understand this collaboration and the work JOYN does, let's take a moment with founder Mel Murray. She has some poignant and empowering words about what it means to live fighting for the dignity of humanity in the world today.
What has drawn you to collaborate with Dressember this year in creating a line of hand stamped accessories?
Mel: Because I’ve chosen to live in proximity to some of the world’s most at-risk women, I am passionate about collaborations that fight for dignity for all, everywhere. I wish I had more time for collaborations like this one. Because I live and work in rural Asia full-time, it’s often difficult to feel like collaborations are an option. I’m so thankful for this partnership, and hopeful that this exposure will continue to bring to light the challenges that our world is facing, and the hope that we have when we create things of beauty and good - ventures that fight for justice and dignity.
Organizations such as JOYN and Dressember are not borne overnight. Often, they are the outcome of a series of encounters with a need or wound in this world that weaves slowly into the narrative of one's life. For you, how did the vision of JOYN begin to emerge?
Mel: I had a dream of changing the world by the age of 14. My parents and teachers exposed me, at a very young age, to people in the world that have had very different lives than me. I am forever grateful for this exposure to the “real world.” As I have the very real privilege of traveling and living in crazy places, my desire to see dignity, opportunity, healing and transformation for communities has exploded. Living in proximity to those who are very different than me provides me with a unique perspective and an ever growing drive to create change. What a privileged life I live.
You state that your ultimate purpose is to, “change the fashion industry from the inside out,” how do you see the work of JOYN as doing this on a daily basis?
Mel: I think every industry that struggles to promote good and right and dignity should seek change and progress. If we don’t stand up for what is right, good, real and authentic, then evil and darkness and brokenness will continue to prevail not only in our industries, but in the U.S. and around the world. JOYN seeks these changes daily - mainly through our relationships, where change occurs. We love those that come to us, desiring to help those who need it most, learning how to love in spite of our major differences and the challenges we face together. Its messy and real. It works. Change will only come through real love, a motive that no one can question. Finding potential in each human and drawing out that potential is what makes JOYN unique. Learning to love others, for who they are and for what they are created for will drive us all to becoming full humans, reaching our full potential.
What was the process of creating JOYN like for you compared to the positions you have held in the corporate retail world?
Mel: Oh my. Where to start? JOYN is a creative engine of redemptive entrepreneurship that has deeply changed me and grown me into the wife, mother, entrepreneur, boss, friend, sister and daughter that I am today. You always get more than you give - JOYN has given me much more than I have given. Starting something that matters has been worth every second, every dime, every laugh and every tear. The challenges have been great, but the reward is much, much greater, more than I can express in words. But I love corporate America, because I love business. Every business, every person, every job, every desk can have its purpose - as long as the individual, the business, the corporation fully grasps their responsibilities to make this world a better place. It doesn’t matter whether you live and work among the poor in rural Asia or sit behind a desk at Procter & Gamble, each of us has the potential to make this world more right and good and beautiful. We must each take on as much responsibility in this cause as we are willing to bear. For me, I’d much prefer hopping on my motorcycle and heading up the mountain to a nearby Burmese village to ask questions, dig deeper, fight injustice harder, face to face, but that’s for me. It's not for everyone.
What has you excited and fired up right now? Is there a particular goal or focus that is inspiring you to continue on with this work?
Mel: It doesn’t take too much to fire me up. I’m mainly excited about all the phenomenal people I get to work alongside of here in Asia. I wish you could meet them all. They are the most impressive people I’ve ever met - survivors, fighters, phenomenal humans with huge potential to change the world. THEY get me fired up to work my butt off and do more good.
You are bringing change to the fashion industry, but you have also said, “The more hands it takes to produce a product the more lives are changed.” What changes have you seen in individuals lives and also the communities they are a part of as they work with JOYN?
Mel: I have seen so much change, but you should ask my friends their perspective. I find it most insightful and rewarding to ask them directly. They have such great answers to this question. I’ll never forget one of my very first artisans’ responses to such a question. When asked, “How has your life changed by working at JOYN?,” his response was simple - “How has it not changed?” When me and my husband chose to live in rural Asia, we were choosing proximity to people whose lives were very challenging. Because of this, JOYN’s efforts, resources, time, talent went very far, very fast. My artisans have lived challenging lives and have had to face injustices of all kinds, so a steady job brought much, much more than just income. Their lives now include purpose, dignity, work, community, friendship, health - we have the privilege of having an on-site daycare, (one of my favorite things about JOYN), reduced hours for mom's, retirement benefits, adult education, scholarships for college, we eat lunch together every day, we have a boiled egg and tea together in the morning. We are a family. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Clearly, JOYN has been impacting so many lives - how has JOYN impacted you as you work with individuals in the collaboration and hear their stories?
Mel: I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Most days I have to pinch myself to believe this isn’t a dream. I said yes. I hung a yes sign around my neck and said yes to the adventure of throwing myself at some of the world’s problems and making whatever change I could, big or small. Anyone living that kind of life faces huge challenges, setbacks, sacrifices, grief, loss, sickness, disease, burnout, stress - but I would venture to say that anyone willing to live life with purpose has been more greatly impacted personally than those they seek to help. I feel that way. Every day.
To learn more about JOYN and to shop their gorgeous items,
click the “Learn More” button below!
This year, do something different. Take on the Dressember style challenge and pledge to wear a dress or tie every day in December. You'll challenge yourself, learn more about the issue of human trafficking and have a viable impact on those trapped in slavery around the world.
Registration opens October 1st, 2018
About the Author
Grace is a survivor of human trafficking that is working on a degree in professional psychology. She is passionate about being a part of the movement to end slavery by providing trauma-informed services to fellow survivors after her schooling is finished. She also is an avid reader, loves to create art and music, play with animals, and take note of the little bits of beauty that make up ordinary life.