Maegan Hawley, founder of Ethic, travels the world to curate and design ethical goods, partner with organizations who are already doing amazing work and bring those pieces to a global marketplace. Ethic currently sells a gorgeous line of jewelry handcrafted by artisans in Ethiopia. Their raw materials consist of thread from recycled tires, and beads repurposed from bullet casings from former war conflict areas in east Africa.
I was lucky enough to meet Maegan through a mutual friend and a friendship ignited instantly over our love of travel. By the end of our first conversation I knew I had to share her business model, passion for social change and travel stories in a traveler spotlight – she is a truly inspiring person and from her unique childhood to her work today, travel is an essential part of who she is.
To celebrate this spotlight, we are giving one reader my favorite piece from Ethic, an ombre arrow necklace. To enter, scroll to the bottom of this post and fill out the entry form. You can come back and re-enter each day. A winner will be chosen October 22 at random. Good luck!
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
I grew up on a sailboat and have so many positive memories associated with that. Some are living a simple life without many possessions (we collected experiences, not things!), the family-like community with the other “live-aboards” on our dock, and not being afraid to live life differently than what most people considered normal.
Not many people can say that about their childhood! Tell us a little more, what was it like to grow up on a sailboat?
Growing up on a sailboat was incredible! Some things that made the experience fun… Instead of having the typical tire swing in the yard, I swung from a bosun’s chair, which is basically a harness used to access the top of the mast when making repairs. I didn’t ride a bike that often, but I did have my own dingy and loved exploring the marina!
Some things I gave up were watching TV (aka Saturday morning cartoons and being culturally relevant), bathtubs, and having the mail come to our door – we had a PO box instead.
Most of the things I “missed out on” were really luxuries I traded in for a very unique experience that I cherish today. I still love being on the water, and one of my favorite things will probably always be wandering around a marina to see what people name their boats. Ours was called the “Happy,” which is how I remember that season of life.
When you hear “travel” what comes to mind?
Adventure! This question reminds me of the summer my dad took me camping in Glacier Bay, Alaska when I was 16. We camped and kayaked for 5 weeks, and I was FREAKED out of meeting a bear. We talked about it all the time… what to do if it happened, how to keep it from happening. About half way through, guess what? I came about 20 feet from a bear. Alone. I was headed to the food canister for a package of spaghetti. That’s a place separate from the campsite to keep food in… to avoid attracting bears! It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I did exactly what you are NOT supposed to do: I ran. Fortunately, the bear must have been more scared than I was because it didn’t follow me.
A good adventure is always in store with travel, and it doesn’t have to be extreme to be valid. Personally, venturing somewhere new helps me prioritize fun and maintain a posture of growth. There are so many hamster wheels in life to get stuck on, and fears to give in to that keep us from really living. The decision to travel is choosing an adventure over living in a controlled, safe environment. It’s empowering.
What’s your favorite destination and why?
Oh too hard! Aside from traveling for Ethic, which is primarily people-focused, one place I’ve returned to is3 Italy. I’m a bit of a foodie and Italy never disappoints. Did you know most preservatives are illegal there? They also export only their lowest quality wine and keep the good stuff in country. Yum.
Where have you traveled for Ethic so far? Any exciting travel plans coming up in the near future?
Right now my travels with Ethic are mostly to Ethiopia since that’s where our primary partnership is! We have an exciting trip to Haiti in the spring that I can’t wait for, especially since that will be a new destination for me.
You quit your job to run a business that works with women all over the world to bring their products to a global platform. How did that happen?
Traveling. Totally serious!
In 2011, I visited an organization in Thailand that helps girls come out of the sex industry. It’s truly the most important and inspiring work I’ve ever seen, the people who work there are heroes.
Up until that point, I loved fashion but had a difficult time reconciling it with more important issues, like sex trafficking. I felt guilty shopping: Was I vain? Did I spend money in the wrong places? I knew nothing about supply chain at the time… who was making my clothes, anyway? I carried around a subtle feeling of being a fraud. A well dressed fraud.
The Thailand trip fell over Valentines Day. The afternoon was spent in the organization’s small shop, and I was like a kid in a candy store. Honestly, it was a little embarrassing to contain my excitement as I shopped the jewelry and bags. The evening was spent in the bars (the “pick up spot”), befriending the girls who worked there. It’s easy to think of prostitution as a chosen lifestyle, but the reality for many low-income, uneducated women is they become trapped in an industry they never wanted to enter in the first place.
The next morning that guilty feeling popped back up again. How was it possible to experience such a high high and a low low on the same day? Then it clicked; these two things could work together. I started to dream of connecting customers in the US with the products that incredible organizations like the one in Thailand were already making. I had been thinking about fashion too superficially. Fashion could actually be the source of economic empowerment these women needed to thrive.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned or obstacles you’ve had to overcome doing business abroad?
In 2007, I spent the year in Australia volunteering for a non-profit. We found ourselves in a pretty bad business situation that has shaped my mindset now: I only do business with people I trust and enjoy.
This means getting to know people we work with personally, their families, and learning a lot about their business and programs. It’s also important for our partners to trust and enjoy me, that way they know I care about them as people and want their businesses to succeed.
What’s it like being your own boss and making this passion project a full-fledged business?
‘Freedom of place’ is its own kind of currency. I deeply value the freedom to work from anywhere and set my own schedule. I also believe that work is intended to harness the things each of us are good at to make a contribution to the world. I am lucky to have both in Ethic, but there is no way around the fact that it is a team effort. Ethic is made up of a group of incredible people I value both personally and professionally.
The countries you work in go beyond the beaten path. Were you ever nervous to travel to these places?
I don’t get nervous traveling solo but I don’t enjoy traveling alone. I believe anything that is worth doing is more fun with somebody. Experiences are better when shared because that’s how authentic relationships are built. I’ll be honest and admit that I get nervous flying!
Any tips or tricks for overcoming the nerves associated with flying?
I don’t actually overcome being nervous! I do fly anyway and there are a few things that help me cope. The first is knowing that I’m only uncomfortable during takeoff and during turbulence. For takeoff, I close my eyes and remind myself that air travel is truly amazing and I get to do it. This lifestyle is a privilege, not a “have to”. Turbulence is more of a challenge! That’s when the “it’s not worth it” thoughts start to pop up! When traveling internationally, being strategic about sleep helps a lot. Depending on the time difference at the destination, I’ll intentionally sleep less the night before the trip to be tired enough to sleep at the right time on the plane. Oh, and Melatonin gummies. Sounds silly, but I don’t fly without them!
What are you dying to do next?
Start a blog. I’m excited for Ethic to contribute to a broader conversation about ethical fashion and bring attention to the stories of the women we employ.
Is there any story you’d love to share that you’ve acquired on the road?
I fell in love with traveling when I went to Myanmar/Burma in 2006 during my senior year of college. The country was facing civil strife by the military Junta. A longtime family-friend and retired army ranger lived there and trained teams to help Burmese refugees access the Thai refugee camps safely.
The trip highlights rank as some of my most memorable:
– I visited a captain in the Karen army (the Karen are a people group displace by the military Junta) and were served RAT curry. So yucky and crunchy!
– I had a single-entry visa, but sneaked back on an invitation from the Karen army. At the time, I was just learning about the conflict and so I spent the afternoon peppering them with questions and chewing their version of tobacco called betel nuts (which makes your mouth incredibly dry and stains it red).
– Met Dr. Cynthia Maung, a doctor who provided care for so many people wounded in the conflict.
– Visited the Mae La refugee camp. I met people who were smart, talented, and accomplished and would probably spend much of their lives in the small camp. They turned the camp into a city worth living in as best they could. They held school, gathered for church, and did business among themselves.
The trip was a game changer for me because the people were so inspiring. They became examples and heroes, which is how I see the women we work with now. They are people who have experienced really difficult circumstances but haven’t given up. For me, it redefines success and helps prioritize what is really important.
To celebrate this spotlight, we are giving one reader my favorite piece from Ethic, an ombre arrow necklace. I wore this necklace with everything all summer long (so much that it really needs to be cleaned up with a little soap and water to bring back the shine – ew #sweatysummer) and it is transitioning nicely with my fall outfits. I rarely pack jewelry when I travel unless its a favorite and versatile. Guys, this necklace is it!
To enter follow both of us on instagram, then leave a comment and/or like a photo. You can come back and re-enter each day. A winner will be chosen October 22 at random. Good luck! Update: The winner has been emailed, thanks for participating!
But if you missed the giveaway, don’t worry. Maegan is kindly offering readers 20% on her site through 10/31 at midnight with the code TOGETHERTRAVELER.