Dignify’s origin story has long been included, in brief, on our about page, and I refer to it whenever I’ve done interviews or podcasts or if I meet someone in person who inevitably asks, how did you get into this?
I'd like to share a bit of a wider panorama of the story, and an update. I have heard some tremendous stories from customers about the meaning that their blanket has had in some aspect of their life or a relationship. I'm so inspired, I would like to share more of mine, too.
The story of dignify is very intertwined with my friend, Kathy.
In June 2008, I was early in my first pregnancy, due in January 2009. My husband, Wayne, & I had just left for a vacation to Spain — flying in & out of London, UK, where we have relatives we planned to visit for a few days. The first night after arriving, we woke up in the middle of the night (of course, jetlag) to an email from a friend that said, “Please phone us when you get this.”
After steeling ourselves, we called & found out that our good friend, Julian, had died in a car accident; leaving his wife, Kathy (who was also pregnant) and their two children to mourn his way-too-young passing (age 33).
We flew home a few days later and grieved with our friends & community. During the funeral, Julian’s father-in-law, a retired Christian pastor, spoke. Something he said had a lasting impact on us; amidst, of course, crying out the sadness & injustice of it all, he said, “God, you have our attention. What do you want us to hear?”
What did we hear? Unsurprisingly, a premature death certainly leads you to take stock of your life. Wayne did not like his job & felt like he was wasting his years in a poor fit position. Two years after our loss of Julian, we took a leap & moved to a different city (me 8 months pregnant with #2) for Wayne to finish a graduate degree that he had begun by distance many years before.
It was in one of those classrooms that we first heard about kantha blankets. Wayne took a class on "social enterprise" (business with goals additional to profit-making) and met Robin. Robin was from Oregon, but she had been living for 5 years in Bangladesh with MCC, working with women who were in the sex trade but wanted to get out. Her term with the NGO was over, but she had decided to return to the country & start a business to employ women who were ready to graduate MCC's program.
Wayne kept referring to them as sweaters (i.e. “It’s so great what Robin is doing with these sweaters”) — he had no idea, and Robin just laughed it off. We loved the concept, though, and when we figured out that it was blankets, we definitely wanted to support her. It just wasn’t an item we really had an occasion to buy, especially on a student budget.
A year later, Kathy came with her kids to visit us, along with a new man in her life. That weekend, they got engaged to be married; I knew right away what I wanted to give them as a wedding gift!
I bought a kantha throw made by Robin's business, Basha, and brought it to Kathy’s wedding shower. The other women LOVED the blanket itself (so soft!) and also the story of redemption that it symbolized.
Kathy & Suzanne toted their throws around the world for a 40th bday trip
I thought the symbol was beautiful: two women — Kathy, here, and the artisan in Bangladesh — who had each experienced pain, hardship, and experiences in their life that were just not right. But they had also experienced: a glimpse of redemption, of healing, of hope — a job with dignity, a fresh start and a new family…
Kathy and I remain good friends, and she bought herself another throw years later — her, and almost everyone else we know! 😂
And, as it happened, we were pregnant together again! Our youngest children were born a day apart, and we named our son Julian.
Kathy now runs Young Life Capernaum in Canada, an outreach friendship program focused on teenagers with special needs. Wayne is on her board. Our lives, our jobs, our stories remain intertwined — full of the joy & pain of life fully lived!
I always get a little sappy around our dignify anniversary, thinking back on these origins... where dignify has come from, and to. I am very humbled and indebted that from such great pain could result so much beauty & life.