I’ll never forget that Mickey Mouse sweater.
It was January 2008, and I had just stepped out of the airport in Denpasar, Indonesia. I was embarking on a post-college backpacking trip and was looking for adventure. It was my first time in a developing country, and the first thing I saw was a middle-aged woman driving a scooter in the summer heat of Bali, wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater. It was well worn. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was tattered. It would have been tossed aside 40 washes ago if I had been home.
But I was so far from home.
I leaned in to my friend Nikki, who I had convinced to spend a month in Southeast Asia with me, and said, “Look at that woman. It’s a million degrees out, and she’s in a sweater!” I thought about her strange choice of clothing and knew it was not some avant-garde fashion statement. She was wearing this sweater because it was what she had.
“I thought about her strange choice of clothing and knew it was not some avant-garde fashion statement. She was wearing this sweater because it was what she had.”
Later in my travels, I trekked for three days to the hill tribes of Northern Thailand led by a guide with holes in his sneakers. I visited Peruvian women who wove beautiful sweaters of Alpaca wool but could not afford to wear them. I specifically remember exchanging glances with a young woman in Laos who was carrying her naked baby. There I was, traveling the world, while she was struggling to provide clothing for her newborn. I offered her my scarf to cover her child, and her expression as she accepted it was one of both connection and appreciation.
Sometimes we focus so much on the differences: the spicy flavors only found in Asian cuisine or the architecture only found in Europe. And while it’s great to celebrate diversity, it’s equally important to recognize commonality. The night sky is beautiful no matter what hemisphere you’re in. Sunrise is peaceful. People are kind. We all gather for mealtime with family, work to earn our keep, want our children to learn, and hope our elderly will be cared for. We all smile when we’re happy and cry when we’re sad. We are all more alike than we are different.
Though our cultures differ, languages vary, and religions sometimes conflict, we all have basic needs. We all seek to have roofs over our heads. We all need food and water to survive. We all wear t-shirts.
I started to connect the dots.
Incited by those realizations, a fire sparked within me that eventually led to the founding of a charitable clothing company. Now, in 2014, I proudly call myself the owner of World Clothes Line (WCL), a “buy one, give one” apparel company with a philanthropic mission: we match every item purchased with a new item for someone in need. You buy. We give. Together, we clothe the world.
“Sometimes we focus so much on the differences: the spicy flavors only found in Asian cuisine or the architecture only found in Europe. And while it’s great to celebrate diversity, it’s equally important to recognize commonality.”
I spend my days working in Michigan but I am fortunate to be able to travel to different corners of the globe several times a year to distribute new clothing to people in need. I meet face-to-face with the recipients and share in moments of generosity and happiness.
These deliveries are certainly the greatest adventures I’ve ever had. In an attempt to reach victims of a natural disaster in Peru, I crossed an active landslide on a makeshift cable car. I sat with bundles of clothing in an oversized milk-crate and pulled myself, hand over hand, across a rope that was stretched between mountains. I was shaking in fear, but the hugs and kisses from the villagers on the other side were worth it. On another occasion, I traversed the African continent, driving north to south from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa. I spent 100 days handing out clothes to orphanages, schools, and villages in need. It was absolutely incredible.
So, the next time you travel, while you soak up new sights and experiences, also take note of the similarities between your destination and your home. It puts the world in a whole new perspective. After all, if you stand in Orlando, Florida and drill a hole straight down through the center of the earth, you’ll pop out on the other side in Bali, Indonesia. And I bet you’ll still find women wearing Mickey Mouse sweaters.
Watch highlights from Mallory’s Delivery to Africa Video: