Nestled in the former Continuum Art Gallery on West Wayne Street is a beacon of hope for women around the world. Creative Women of the World (C-WOW) has made it its mission to inspire creative and business solutions for women seeking to rise out of extreme poverty, human trafficking, and disasters.
Walking into the cozy storefront, visitors are greeted by an assortment of handbags, jewelry, and other accessories – trendy, contemporary items, all available for purchase. But there is a story behind these items and a story behind this organization.
Founded in 2011 by creative entrepreneur Lorelei VerLee, C-WOW has empowered women from around the world by teaching them viable business and marketing solutions to assist them in their start-up efforts.
VerLee grew up internationally, studied art in college, and liked the idea of working with people from different cultures. At the age of 56, VerLee found herself in a primitive, rural community in Haiti where she was invited to assist an artisan-based start-up develop a business plan for distributing their unique products.
Soon artisans from other countries were asking for similar business development assistance, which led to the incorporation of C-WOW as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2011. Since that time, the organization has offered consulting in nine countries worldwide and represents 40 countries in the shop. But, VerLee does not do it alone.
“An amazing team of people have joined us and made it all happen,” said VerLee, currently the executive director of the organization.
With a team of ten staff and scores of volunteers, C-WOW typically spends two weeks to a month providing in-country consulting with artisans from these countries.
Artisans are trained on a range of business areas, such as product development, marketing, and record-keeping, and are encouraged to develop high-quality products that reflect their culture.
These new business owners may sell their products locally or export them internationally. If appropriate, they are trained to design items for a western perspective, which can vary from local sensibilities.
In the past, C-WOW has worked with tsunami survivors in Japan, HIV survivors in Kenya, and recently traveled to India where they were able to notice the stark contrast between the country’s sprawling technology sector and the rural desert area near the Pakistani border. Here, they met with women living in small, spotlessly clean, rustic homes with floors made from dung.
“Our organization finds giving people access and empowerment is far more effective than charity that leads them to assume help is found outside rather than inside themselves”, said VerLee.
Through these activities, the women express an inner strength and dignity that finds voice through their arts.
As for the eye-catching products of the store, “we want our patrons to buy something because it’s well designed, well constructed, beautiful and connects you to the artist,” said VerLee.
C-WOW is located on 125 W. Wayne St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802. For more information, please visit www.creativewomenoftheworld.com or call (260) 267-9048. Hours are Monday to Friday, 12 am – 7 pm and Saturday 12 am – 4 pm.