Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fair Trader Antoine Didienne Making a Difference

Antoine Didienne and his company have been a part of San Diego and La Mesa Fair Trade for many years.  His company, Vavavida has tabled each year at the annual La Mesa Fair Trade Gift Faire. 

On July 28,2015  Union Tribune reporter Carla Peterson,  featured Antoine in her "Making a Difference" column. 
Antoine Didienne, center, who helped start a jewelry-making class for refugee women as part of Project Concern International's Women Empowered Initiative, sat for a portrait with Lisa Bain, PCI program manager, left, and jewelry designer and volunteer teacher Jennifer Housman, right. — John Gastaldo


He has been a tech-company worker, an account executive in a communications firm and a web entrepreneur. But the job that sent Antoine Didienne’s work-life path in a whole new direction has a one-word title and contract that will not be running out anytime soon.
“It sounds corny, but since I became the dad of a daughter, I wanted to make the world a better place for her and for all women,” said the 38-year-old Didienne, the father of Nyla (who is almost 6) and the expectant father of a daughter due in November. “I thought that I really wanted to be an example for my daughter. I wanted to be someone she could look up to.”
The world-improvement plan started three years ago with the launch of the online shopping site Vavavida. The site – which Didienne co-founded with his University of San Diego classmate Daniel Amaro and Daniel’s mother, Linda – specializes in jewelry and accessories made by fair-trade companies, most of which employ and support women.
Next, Didienne and the Amaros began donating a portion of the company’s proceeds to Project Concern International, a San Diego-based nonprofit that has been working with the world’s most vulnerable communities since 1961. Then Didienne and his company took their relationship with Project Concern to the next humanitarian level.
Last year, they partnered with San Diego jewelry designer Jennifer Housman to launch a weekly jewelry-making class for local members of Project Concern’s Women Empowerment Initiative which gives women the tools and resources they need to support themselves and their families.
Project Concern provides the meeting space, Housman provides the instruction, and Vavavida and Housman pay the expenses. The plan is to create a line of jewelry and accessories that the women can make at home. They will be paid by the piece, and Vavavida will sell the goods online. Didienne and his partners are working on a Kickstarter campaign, and if all goes according to plan, the line will launch in the fall.
In the meantime, Didienne attends the classes, too. He is fluent in Spanish, so he helps translate for the students, most of them immigrants from Mexico. He also provides marketing input and interviews the women about their lives, so their stories can be featured on the website along with their handiwork.
The jewelry project is a work in progress, but the program has already produced some rare treasures.
“Antoine has been consistently coming to meet with the women, and for them consistency is so important, because consistency has been missing from their lives,” said Jessica Rossier Uribe, who manages Project Concern International’s United States and Border empowerment programs. “These women have had a lot of trauma and abuse in their lives, but they feel comfortable enough with Antoine to tell him their stories. They have developed a strong relationship with him, which is amazing.”
Born and raised in Lyon, France, Didienne got his ambition from his hard-charging father, an executive in the plastics industry. His respect for women started with his mother, who faced workplace discrimination in her administration job, also in the plastics industry. His empathy has its roots in the year he spent as an exchange student at Williamsville East High School in East Amherst, N.Y.
“I loved the feeling of being a pioneer. Being there took me away from the part of me that was French, French, French and made me want to be a citizen of the world,” Didienne said during an interview at the Claire de Lune Coffee Lounge in North Park. “And it gave me an openness to other people and cultures that I would not have discovered otherwise.”
He returned to the United States in 1999 to attend the University of San Diego. Didienne graduated with a degree in business administration in 2001, worked for Yahoo for a year, then moved to Madrid. He worked for a communications agency and got married. He and his wife, Glenda, returned to San Diego in 2008 and he began studying for his master’s degree at San Diego State. It was during a class in global ethics that another piece of Didienne’s puzzle fell into place.
“That class really shook things up for me. It was in the aftermath of the BP oil spill (of 2010) and the banking meltdown, and I thought, ‘I just can’t. I can’t work for people like this.’ And then I thought, ‘I can’t talk about this anymore. I have to do something about it.’”
In addition to supporting small fair-trade companies, Vavavida donates products to charity auctions and sponsors the Row for a Cure fundraiser benefiting Susan G. Komen San Diego and its many breast-can hem as women who can make something of themselves, as opposed to women who need something.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

Tabling at The Vitamin Shoppe!


Many people stopped by to check out fair trade products that are carried at the Vitamin Shoppe.  Two years ago, only two fair trade products were on the shelves.  We salute the Vitamin Shoppe for offering more fair trade products to their customers.

Products include:
Zhenas Gypsy Tea Organic Coconut Chai Green Tea, 
Tera's Whey Grass-Fed Proteins,Navitas Foods, 
Cocoa Nibs and Cocao Powder, 
 Rishi Teas, Runa Teas and Dr. Bronner Products.