The Trip of a Lifetime – ABBY ALLEY

The Trip of a Lifetime

The Trip of a Lifetime

The dream of inviting women to come with me to East Africa probably started the moment I returned from my teaching experience in Tanzania back in 2014. You don't fully understand the magic of Africa until you go and I wanted everyone to have the experience I had. When I started my business in 2016, I thought it would be so cool to invite people to come with me on one of my business trips, and almost 8 years later, the opportunity presented itself. 

I've been working with Natalie Borton (Natalie Borton Designs - amazing minimalist jewelry) and Conni Jespersen (Art in the Find - don't miss her Style 101 class) for several years. Natalie and I did some consulting work together and they have both been incredibly helpful in sharing and spreading the word about Abby Alley.

Last summer, sort of in passing, I told Natalie she should come with me on my next trip. She had recently been through a lot and I thought Kenya would do her some good. We both kind of laughed, but the seed had been planted.

A couple months later, I took a trip to CA where I got to see both Natalie and Conni in person. Natalie had re-opened her Natalie Borton Designs business and on this trip she and I firmed up plans to collaborate on a bag design (the first one is coming in April!). That evening we had dinner with Conni, who had long been telling me how much she wanted to come to Kenya with me. It seemed like the perfect timing for us all to go together!

There is nothing quite like the first time to Kenya (and I imagine anywhere in Africa if you're from the west). I've now been to East Africa a dozen times and it feels like a second home to me. To get to experience the magic through their eyes was so special. 

The main objective of the trip was to give Natalie and Conni an up-close view of how our products are made, introduce them to my parters, and work on the Abby Alley x Natalie Borton bag designs. But since this was Natalie and Conni's first time in Kenya, we squeezed in some tourist activities as well. We visited local markets and shops, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (an incredible organization dedicating to rehabbing elephant and rhino orphans), visited a Maasai village, and went on a 3 night safari to the Maasai Mara. 

The trip couldn't have gone better! Apart from the obvious amazingness of being in Kenya, it was such a pleasure getting to know Natalie and Conni on a more personal level. To no surprise at all, both of these women are just incredible people. We share many similar values and I admire them both for the way they conduct their businesses and personal lives. In a world where it's easy to be really inauthentic and self-focused, it is so refreshing to connect with women who truly live our their value of supporting other women. If you don't follow them on Instagram I highly recommend it! @natalieborton @artinthefind

I wanted to give you a chance to hear from Natalie and Conni and they graciously agreed to answer a few interview style questions.

Question: What made you want to come to Kenya/ on this trip?

NB: Africa is a place I've always wanted to visit, but always been intimidated by. When Abby and I decided to design some bags together and she invited us to join her on this trip to meet the artisans, it was such an easy yes for me!! 

CJ:  I met Abby 3 or so years ago and when she spoke about how she began working with Kenyan artisans to make her bags, I wanted to better understand how it was all connected.  I was inspired by Abby's brand values of ethical production and as a stylist, I try to connect my clients to brands that are ethical and sustainable.  But in order for me to truly understand how it all works, I wanted to see it on a personal level, so I could share that understanding with my clients. 

Question: What was your biggest takeaway from visiting the workshops? 

NB: I was so inspired to see the artisans in action! They were all so kind, warm, talented and inviting, and I was also so impressed by the owners of the artisan businesses. They both have such big, beautiful visions and I love knowing that by owning Abby Alley bags I am supporting those people and their lives directly. 

CJ: I was blown away by the production process. The fact that each bag is made by hand at the workshop using local source materials or even materials that are made at the workshop directly is the true definition of ethically and locally made.   That was one of the things I was struck by traveling to Kenya that most, if not all, of their goods are locally made.  Their economy is built upon small makers and businesses, just trying to make a living selling a handmade craft.  I really respect that as a business model.

Question: As women who care about ethical manufacturing and believe in small businesses, how did this trip impact your values?

NB: This trip absolutely confirmed the direction I've been headed with my own personal style values over the past several years. I've continued to be more and more intentional about the brands I purchase from and support, and this confirmed that "less but better" is the way to go for me when it comes to fashion. There are so many steps and so many specific skills involved in making clothing and accessories, and by prioritizing products that are made ethically and responsibly, we get to DIRECTLY support the livelihoods of the people who make them. 

CJ: The US is such a consumer culture and that benefits us in many ways when it comes to accessibility to products.  But what we don’t see is the interworking (both negative and positive) of the production process.  We don’t have transparency from start to finish. We order something, it arrives, we consume.  But visiting these workshops has shown me the beauty of the handmade production process from beginning to end.  You see the actual humans who produce these goods, sew the lining into the bags.  They’re real people, earning real, livable wages for a beautiful product they can stand behind.  That transparency was so meaningful to me.  Understanding the process of how the pieces come together and meeting the people who are responsible shows me that small businesses matter, both in the US and abroad.  

A Bit About Natalie:

Natalie is a fellow jewelry designer based in San Diego, CA. Her brand, Natalie Borton Designs creates minimalist, California-inspired jewelry for your everyday adventures. Natalie's thoughtful and authentic approach to life is no doubt what has made her a widely respected and trusted source for style and business.

Natalie wore the Black Sling Bag, Gardenia Sling Bag, and our new Black Croco Sling Bag. The last photo is a sneak peek of the first AA x NB collaboration coming in April!

A Bit About Conni:

Conni is a wardrobe stylist based in San Diego, CA, but has clients virtually all over the country. Conni's Style 101 class is a must - it's short and sweet, but really helps hone in on your personal style. One of the things I think women (myself included) struggle with is knowing whether something (a trend, a piece, a color) fits into our own personal style. Conni is SO GOOD at helping you sift through the chaos and simplify how you define your style. I know you'll love learning from and/or working directly with her!

Conni is graciously offering 10% off for this class by using the code STYLE10

Conni brought her Olive Sling Bag and Gardenia Big Sling with her on our trip and of course styled them impeccably! She also tried out our new Black Croco Sling Bag! 


For our full trip itinerary, click here!

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