Meet Landmine Design – a social enterprise based in Denver, Colorado that’s using fashion to help women in Cambodia. In this interview we chat to their Creative Manager, Kristie Dunnigan, about their purpose, impact, the power of dreaming and her own journey. Enjoy and be inspired!
Hey Kristie! Tell us about Landmine Design:
Landmine Design is a job creation program employing vulnerable women living on a former minefield along the border of Cambodia and Thailand, one of the most sex trafficked borders on the globe. Landmine works preventatively, equipping women to be self sustaining in an effort to elevate them from their impoverished lives and protect them from potential horrific results of such vulnerability. We elevate women by offering dignified work, providing them a chance to safely earn an income, some for the first time in their lives. Landmine Design also leads every woman through a curriculum covering literacy, financial management, health and hygiene, and Christian discipleship. We seek to equip women to be self-sustaining contributors to their families, community, and generation to come.
What change and impact can employing women out of their situation have?
Oh gosh – so many things!
To start, my biggest heartache in this work occurred during my very first trip to The MineField Village. I was helping someone interview children and when posed with the question “What’s your dream” every child stared blankly. We’d reframe it and say “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and they’d stare blankly. The answers came as I continued to listen, “Can you tell me why you weren’t you at school today?” one response, “I need to run the rat traps or my family won’t eat.” My heart physically ached. Here I was, asking about their dream, only to learn these innocent children have only ever had the option to survive, to live day to day – because how can one dream of tomorrow if they’re not here to see it? The difficult reality was made clear.
The issue in The Minefield Village, prior to Landmine Design, was the unfathomable vulnerability of the women and children. The land is scarred and difficult to farm. With little options to survive, women would subject themselves to the border in search of work in Thailand leaving their young children alone and vulnerable for months at a time.
Landmine Design brings the mother home, and beyond that – ensures she is safe, educated, taught the importance of clean water, provided the opportunity to save for a filtration system, earn an income to support her family, and learn how to manage her new finances. It’s truly transformative, not only for the woman, but for the children and community at large.
In first learning the hard reality that to dream is nothing but a luxury when survival is your everyday battle, the most monumental difference I’ve witnessed thus far is hope – today there is a contagion of hope running through The Minefield Village… and that is a “pinch me” kind of reality throughout my visits today.
How did your story become intertwined with Landmine’s?
My sister and I grew up being raised by our fashionable mother who effortlessly exudes poise in almost every waking moment. We found fashion to be an outlet of such freedom and creativity, which we can easily attest to her. Throughout college, we both worked for fashion houses and began chasing the dream to climb the ladder. My sister moved to Milan; I worked in NYC for Oscar de la Renta. Our experiences collided into an unavoidable reality that set in deeply leading us to pose the questions: “To what end? What are we chasing?”
We found the traditional fashion trajectory to be void of meaning, heart, and saw it stomp on women more than it served itself as a tool to elevate them. It was everything our hearts were not, and I believe our eyes were meant to see it in this light so it may be a catalyst for change, I don’t ever spend time condemning the fashion industry collectively – I still believe it produces brilliance and beauty; our eyes were just meant to see another story.
We found ourselves both home one summer and ended up co-founding a jewelry company, The Ammo Woman. The Ammo Woman was a fine jewelry collection stylizing bullets and parallelling the composition of a bullet (lead) to that of a woman – this metal is the toughest on its exterior, yet the most radiant on its interior. Rooted in purpose and driven by design, we set out to provide tangible reminders to women of their innate strength in who they are, in who they were made to be. We built every component on purpose, employing individuals with mental illness and obstacles to employment to produce our packaging (side note: at the time, I don’t think we even knew what a social enterprise was! We just liked helping people.)
Fast forward, one day Landmine Design, a new Denver based social enterprise, needed some help with design to get them going. They asked my sister and I to help. A couple weeks later we were on a plane to Cambodia to meet the women and train them on the first collection we designed together. It was an answered prayer and dream come true for us both, to serve women deeply in such a way. Following our first trip, my sister jetted south and chased her dream of living in San Francisco and I got my hands dirty figuring out how we could make the story of these deserving women soar. I’ve never left since! And what a ride it has been.
How has seeing the need and work first-hand in Cambodia impacted yourself and how you work with Landmine Design?
Well, it broke my heart and reeled me in. I had never before seen eyes so void of hope. I think we think about our passions and ideals so much in our culture, we forget the beautiful privilege that it is to be dreamers. I saw a beautiful village of people just trying to survive and my mind began racing about what I could do personally to ensure that one day we redefined that word as thrive – to see was to act. And as you can imagine, I was personally humbled.
What my eyes have seen has changed my heart altogether. The way I work with Landmine Design is very much the way I play with the children or serve the women during my time in The Minefield Village; it’s a humbling journey of joy and courage, I never feel adequate and I constantly question if they got the right girl. The need before us however, does not let one stagger in self doubt too long – there’s always work to be done, and the work is vitally important.
For those who want to pursue, create and do something for good, what piece of advice would you give them?
Start! The very best advice I always give is to start. Start where you are with what you have, if you’re waiting for the perfect set of circumstances you’ll be waiting a lifetime.
There is something you are passionate about, and that something doesn’t need to be world changing – it’s your heart that will lead you to world change and the passion is just meant to draw you in. So let it! Let it draw you in! Get your hands dirty; get busy trying and failing; remember it will take sacrifice, and if you really want to do good – if you’re intentions are really there – I think one day you’ll open your eyes and wonder how your love of clothes got you to a minefield on the border of Cambodia!
The victory of doing good belongs to the doers, not the talkers – so get busy doing!
How can people support Landmine Design?
Well, buy jewelry of course! All our sales go back into the further development of the program and the employment of additional women. I just share that to say – when you purchase Landmine Design you’re truly making a difference, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
You can share this story! Just like there’s a contagion of hope present in The MineField Village, our dream is a contagion of storytelling on behalf of these transformed women would ensue. Their story is worthy, and our staff is humbled to be a part.
You can also donate! And if you’d like to know specifics on what your money could go towards please reach out, I’d love to share – Kristie@LandmineDesign.org
And last but not least, you could maybe come someday! We take teams throughout the year, if you’d like to inquire further shoot an email to info@LandmineDesign.org.
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