This Business is Shinning Bright to Transform Lives
There’s a lot of talk among current day culture about socially responsible businesses. While that can have a variety of descriptions, one particular business defines it through a global adventure. Inspired by a missions trip as a teenager and her love for jewelry, Noonday Collection founder Jessica Honegger designed a business that uses fashion to create meaningful work opportunities for artisans worldwide; many of which have gained the courage to stand up for rights of women in places where those rights are at risk. Artisans in countries including Peru, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Uganda and more, create handmade jewelry from local materials of metals, beads, leather, marble – even used artillery. Each piece of jewelry carries a story; many which include previous struggles in poverty. Today, those same women are successful and thriving with sustainable income for their families. Risen caught up with Honegger to talk about her son’s adoption that motivated her to start the company, her unique business approach using ambassadors to create a marketplace, and her faith that is the cornerstone to the company’s name.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Jessica, you seem to have a unique passion to combine jewelry and fashion in a way that helps poverty and communities in need. How did that develop?
Jessica Honegger: As a little girl I loved jewelry. I remember playing with my grandma’s jewelry. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was growing up in a family of women who enjoyed the unique style that accessories can bring [to their self]. When I was 15 years old, I visited Kenya with my church for the first time. I had never seen such poverty. As I was walking through a marketplace, I saw a colorful, vibrant fruit stand. One of the men from the local church who was guiding us around, pointed to it and said that the woman selling there was given a little money from the church to start this fruit stand. He explained that the men in her family had been drinking away their money and with a micro loan from the church, she was able to buy a few bananas, oranges and now she has a thriving fruit stand in the middle of the [Kibera] slums.
That was my first exposure to idea of entrepreneurship and creating an opportunity for others. I didn’t necessarily know that this is what I wanted to do with my life, but it was definitely one of those moments that God used [for me]. If God writes our stories, when we get older we oftentimes look back and see how things were woven together. So being in Kenya and then later working for the organization of Hunger International, I really valued the idea that God calls us to create opportunity for others. Being born in America and with a certain amount of privilege, we all need to create opportunity for others. From that church missions trip I had a calling. I was in Latin American studies in college because I knew I wanted to do something to use the opportunities I have been given to create that for others.
RM: How did Noonday begin and what is the significance of the company’s name?
JH: I started Noonday six years ago. I had been visiting some friends living in Uganda who were working to help empower poor people by giving them an opportunity to start their own business. The local people were making some beautiful pieces of jewelry, but had no marketplace to sell them. My friends asked me if I’d be interested in helping to create a marketplace. My initial response was, “No way,” I didn’t know how to take that on. At the time I was in real estate and things were not going well with the [economy]. Also around that time [my husband and I] we were trying to adopt a son from Uganda. I decided to gather some of my friends for a trunk show of the jewelry I had collected from the artisans and sell it to help with adoption costs. I didn’t know if anyone would show up. But people came and brought their friends. It showed me that we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Once I decided to take the leap into a business, I wanted a name that connected God and symbolized light and hope. I recalled a verse in Isaiah that says, “and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” [Isaiah 58:10]
I really valued the idea that God calls us to create opportunity for others.
RM: With a company name being taken straight from Bible scripture, faith must be a big part of who you are. Share with us what your faith journey has looked like.
JH: My parents always taught us that there wasn’t a “favorite”. That Jesus was for the people and with the people and that He called us to help others. I wasn’t raised in a family that had family devotions, in fact my dad came to faith when I was in college, but my mother’s faith was from the Baptist church, and I definitely grew up in a church that pointed me to a Jesus that was attractive and I stayed within margins. Honestly, I was fascinated with Jesus.
RM: It would be logical to think that your business would be set up as a non-profit, because of the way it runs in third-world countries. But you actually have a unique business model. Tell me about it.
JH: I strongly believe in power of entrepreneurship and idea of capitalism where you can have bottom line profits. We are a company around a stakeholder model with our ambassadors, our artisans, and an office crew. Everything is a relationship and we are dependent on one another to have a business that is valuable in the market place.
RM: How do you decide where to find the artisans, and once you select a region, how are the individual artisans engaged?
JH: We started with small orders and we grew up with one another [artisans] together. We’d order like 20 necklaces and 30 bracelets, not thousands every month. The groups that I partner with now need capacity to produce at a high level. We are now in a place where we have to meet market demand and ordering in high quantities. My desire is to take on more. We have a commitment to who we partner with and we are very careful who we work with. We currently have 30 artisan businesses who employ 4,000 people.
RM: With products from all over the world, I imagine it can be challenging bringing them to a marketplace. I know that your sales people are referred to as ambassadors and you don’t use brick and mortar stores. How do people see and purchase your jewelry?
JH: Our ambassadors are their own entrepreneurs who are excited about creating opportunity for artisans. They are women stepping outside of their comfort sphere to bring women together at a trunk show in a home. They can have fun and be creative with jewelry display and women can try on the pieces.
Noonday has now given away almost a half a million dollars in support of adoption and helped more than 1,600 adoptive families.
RM: Trunk shows just sound like fun! While there are a variety of companies that sell through an in-home, party platform, what makes the Noonday experience different?
JH: Everything we sell is handmade and by purchasing the jewelry [and accessories] women know they are contributing to help empower women from communities that Noonday supports. Also our price points range from $15 to $180 making items very accessible and affordable.
RM: I know that in addition to jewelry, Noonday also includes scarves and purses. Does Noonday design the products and then look for artisans to make them or do the artisans design the pieces?
JH: It is actually a collaborative process. We are constantly working with our designers and the artisans to help them have an understanding of the American customer; what they will be wearing [and trends] and then we work with them regarding style and materials. It is a very collaborative process.
RM: You have stated that storytelling is a big part of your collection. Tell me how the artisans share their stories and your ambassadors help with that.
JH: Connecting is a big part of our brand. My marketing team and I are continually visiting our partners and hearing their stories. With their approval, we oftentimes share their stories at the trunk shows and in our catalogs. This is a big part of what Americans want to hear and know. We also invite our artisans from around the world to visit our Shine Conference [for ambassadors] held annually in Austin, Texas, in January. It’s a time to applaud them as they share their stories with the ambassadors who sell their pieces.
RM: Obviously Noonday is the name the public sees and all distribution and sales are through it. What kind of quality control and timeframe for making the jewelry are required of the artisans?
JH: We work so far ahead, usually a year, for new designs, so it’s a long process. Both our designers and the artisans work on designs. We then have the artisans make design samples and we evaluate samples and wear them. We may look at production samples and make design adjustments.
RM: In looking through your collection, you seem to coincide with the seasons for news pieces and specialty items. Does that mean that if I saw a piece last year, it might not be available now? Creating sort of a limited- edition strategy?
JH: We are constantly improving our products and what is in the marketplace. We have fall and spring collections and then mini collections in other months. If something thing is really selling well and the artisan can keep making it, we will continue to offer it, but we are constantly coming up with new designs.
RM: I read that Noonday is supportive of adoption and orphan care. What does that involvement look like?
JH: When I first started [selling jewelry] with the idea of helping fund my adoption, I realized that if I carried this out in a bigger business, I wanted to build that support into our program. As such, a person can host a trunk show with a portion of the proceeds going to help a family bring a child home. Noonday has now given away almost a half a million dollars in support of adoption and helped more than 1,600 adoptive families.
RM: Where do you see Noonday ten years from now?
JH: Ten years from now, I want Noonday to be a household name, where you can be stopped by someone at the grocery story admiring your jewelry and be connected by sharing the story behind it. It is powerful to connect people; to bring women physically together across the globe. It’s a connection that won’t happen on Facebook. I love idea that Noonday is bringing people together in trunk shows and creating conversations.
I see Noonday with 10,000 ambassadors helping people around the globe and creating opportunity for each other.