With all the wisdom and certainty of recent college graduates, Jess and I knew for certain that, if you want to do something to make a real difference, then, of course, you have to work for an aid agency or donate to a nonprofit organization.
So we became aid workers.
That decision led to several wonderful years full of personal growth and life experiences. And, yet, in the darkest hours of the night and the deepest recesses of our minds there grew a nagging doubt. Why do we feel surprisingly little satisfaction from doing something that is supposed to be so satisfying?
Perhaps, it was because the projects often seemed to be more about achieving the funders’ ambitions than satisfying the beneficiaries’ needs, and because those projects seemed to produce dependence and entitlement rather than resilience and self-sufficiency. In short, we often felt like we were doing more to perpetuate the aid regime than to empower vulnerable individuals.
Now, our critique of the ‘aid industry’ begins and ends there because a) we have many friends and former colleagues of whose continued sacrifices and successes we are in awe and b) although flawed, aid is critical for so many and we haven’t come up with a better way to do it. Nevertheless, our experience, which led us to seek another path, is what underlies our mission for Ruff on the Road and how we engage with our artisan partners.
So what is Ruff on the Road’s mission?
It’s to produce amazing dog apparel through dignified work that celebrates artisanship, empowers the artisans, and pays fair market prices. There’s no charity here and no donations; but there’s plenty of hard work and dedication that earns a good income and contributes to a sense of personal identity, purpose, and growth.
What is our role in bringing this beautiful, rugged, handmade dog apparel to market?
We design all the products, color schemes, and patterns. We don’t do anything that’s already being done and we don’t sell in local markets where we might compete with indigenous peoples. We financially support the artisans during the prototyping phase and then we maintain routine, reliable production orders and always pay in full immediately upon delivery. We assume all the risks to keep our artisan partners as fully ‘employed’ as they can and want to be, and in a manner that enables them to work from their homes, on their own schedules, and available to care for children and elderly parents.
We also strive to help them with some of the trickier bits of being an independent craftsperson – with the business side of it. We help them to account for their time and materials; to plan for an illness that might strike; for village festivals, family commitments, and school events that arise; and for the power outages that are an all-too-common feature of rural Guatemalan life.
To make sure our efforts are well invested, we look to partner with artisans who demonstrate a dedication to their traditional crafts, display a desire to learn and grow with us, and, of course, whose eyes give a sparkle when we explain, “we make things for dogs, not people!”
What does this mean for you, our dear customer?
It means we will only ever encourage you to buy from us because Ruff on the Road’s is the very best and very most beautiful, rugged, durable dog apparel that you have seen anywhere. We’ll never ask you to buy something because of who makes it or what life challenges they’ve faced. But we won’t be shy to point out the additional satisfaction you get when you support a brand that’s all about creating a win for everyone involved.