A Textbook Example of Commerce and Justice
Categories: Boots With Roots: Tree Planting, Making Our Difference: TBL CSR
I walked off Bryant University’s commencement stage in May of 2009 with a diploma in hand, a wealth of fundamental marketing knowledge and an internship getting my feet wet in the boot business. Like every graduating senior, I thought I knew exactly what to expect from the “real world.” I’d read the textbooks (or at least the chapter summaries), listened closely to my professors and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could. Excited to start my career, I hoped that my internship at Timberland would put those fundamentals to the test.
Once I got into the swing of it, working in corporate America wasn’t all that bad. My college education had given me a good start and for the most part, I found that this “real world” was fairly controlled. But in January of 2010, that sense of control seemed to vanish.
As a true millennial, I don’t read the newspaper, so I first heard about the earthquake in Haiti through social means, followed by a Google search. The boot makers I worked with were passionate about helping Haiti, and we had committed to reforestation projects there just months earlier. Word of the earthquake spread fast around Timberland headquarters and, naturally, rumors started swirling. But one outstanding question left me profoundly worried: did the Haitian artists that designed the artwork for our Yéle Haiti t-shirts perish during the disaster?
The “Five Musketeers” — FOSAJ artists that designed the artwork for Timberland’s Yéle Haiti t-shirts.
To say that I worried about the lives of the artists is an understatement. I had been working with Flo McGarrell, the director of the Fanal Otantik Sant D’A Jakmel (FOSAJ) art center in Jacmel, Haiti, to coordinate payment for the artists’ designs for several weeks. Due to many different barriers that exist with sending money to a country as unstable as Haiti, having money delivered securely was a long process.
Flo shared his frustrations with me. The artists were hungry and could not afford food. They needed their money – fast. After what seemed like an eternity, we were able to come up with a plan to safely deliver the funds to the artists via Flo, and a week before the earthquake, the check was delivered to Flo’s mailbox in Vermont. He never had the chance to cash it.
We soon learned that Flo tragically lost his life in the earthquake. And along with Flo’s life, the connection between Timberland and the FOSAJ artists (if they had even survived) was now gone. I must have looked at Flo’s e-mails about the state of the starving artists ten times. The artists might have died, and I had failed in getting them the funds they needed to fill their stomachs. I secretly blamed myself for the suffering they may have endured in their last days. As a recent college grad and boot maker in-training, how could I possibly help? How could I find out if these artists were still alive? And if so, with downed phone lines, limited electricity, and utter chaos in Haiti, how would I contact them?
So I did what any young twenty-something would do – I turned to social media. I remembered seeing a comment on a YouTube video from the launch of our partnership with Wyclef Jean and his NGO, Yéle Haiti. The comment was signed by Ambroise Anderson, one of the five Haitian FOSAJ artists that I was looking for. I sent a message to the account asking if they knew if he was alive. I received a response from Ruth Goldman, a kind Haitian woman who would soon become the only hope I had of paying the artists.
She informed me that Ambroise and the other four artists were indeed alive, and began to act as a translator for the Kreyol speaking artists. My contact with Ruth became the beginning of a true success story in collaboration at Timberland, kicking off a multi-departmental, multi-national and multi-organizational mission to not only pay the artists, but to help them recover from this disaster.
Ruth Goldman and Ambroise Anderson at Men Nou Les Artisans d’Haiti.
Ruth and the FOSAJ artists lived in Jacmel, Haiti, far away from the mass of donations that poured into Port Au Prince. In our numerous conversations, Ruth explained to me that food, water, clothing and other needed supplies simply weren’t reaching them. And the rainy season was on its way, plaguing our artists, “The Five Musketeers” as Ruth affectionately called them, with fevers and intense shivering. She also shared some of her excruciating experiences with me. She told me stories about watching children being trampled while trying to get food and what it was like to dig through piles of rubble. She said that she had never begged for anything in her life, but in this time of desperation, was now begging me, “Kinbé atisan nou yo nan ké nou”, to “keep our artisans in your heart.” She shared photos with me of the artists with a sign issuing a plea for help, and of the pile of debris that once was their art center and of the place where Flo McGarrell passed away. It’s hard to imagine what it was like to be in Haiti after the earthquake, but Ruth tried very hard to show me.
With college student activism still deep in my veins, I wanted to do something more than just send them their funds. I wanted to send supplies directly to the artists of Jacmel. And so, with the help of Timberland’s licensing, customer fulfillment, facilities and global marketing teams, as well as non-profit organization Partners In Health and the Timberland International Design Centre, we were able to send a collection of clothing, hats, raingear, luggage and the like directly to Jacmel. The willingness to help from all parties involved was truly remarkable, a textbook example of pooling resources to make a difference — or, as we say at Timberland, a textbook example of commerce and justice.
But there was still some unfinished business to attend to. Earthquake victim, Flo McGarrell, had been a key player in our Yéle Haiti t-shirt campaign. Many Timberland employees worked with Flo to showcase not only the designs of the Haitian artists, but to share their stories with our consumers. After Flo’s passing, I corresponded with his mother, Ann. To honor the life of someone who worked with our team, we wanted to do something in memory of Flo. Given the large-scale tree planting project – -Yéle Vert — that we’re supporting in Haiti, what would be more Timberland appropriate than to honor Flo through the planting of trees?
Flo’s mother shared with me that Flo had always wanted an apple orchard, which he started with one tree planted for his birthday last year. With the help of Timberland colleagues Scott Landry and Gary Porter, we were able to add 10 beautiful little apple trees to Flo’s orchard in Vermont, which one day will produce a sustainable fruit harvest. And some day, the trees that Timberland is planting in Haiti will do the same.
As part of Timberland’s Values Marketing team, I’m usually on the receiving end of the unique stories from our colleagues across the globe, which we often share to inform, inspire and engage consumers. But this time, I was able to become a part of the story. It was truly remarkable to witness what a few open hearts and a collaborative mentality could achieve – a lesson no textbook can teach.
Amanda Dunne is Timberland’s Global Marketing Associate, a member of our Values Marketing team.