A rural town in Haiti called Fond-des-Blancs is trying to build a new library. Income for most of the community’s residents comes from selling handmade products or produce in an open-air market once a week. Operating out of a small building surrounded by a dirt road, dozens of women who live in the town make a living using their sewing and embroidery skills to create brightly colored linen bags. The bags, which come in tote, messenger, and clutch silhouettes, all feature one similar detail: the name and logo of Detroit-based Love Travels. Imports.
The creations are the most recent addition to the inventory of fair trade clothing and accessories curated by Yvette Jenkins, who launched Love Travels. Imports in 2013. She donates proceeds from every bag created in Fond-des-Blancs back to the women to help them buy books and other smaller items needed to develop the library.
“Books are what exposed me to other countries and other cultures,” says Jenkins, who has traveled to 33 states and more than 20 countries. “That’s what sparked my interest in travel.”
Jenkins sells her wares from Love Travels. Imports at Art in Motion, an artist collective nestled between boutiques, and a gallery on a bustling stretch of Livernois Avenue in Detroit. Her inventory of scarves, sweaters, bags, home décor, and more are on display next to other resident artists’ work.
The Detroit native decided to take the advice of her grandmother — “nothing beats failure but a try” — and started working with different artists and groups when the marketing company she was working for downsized in 2009 and cut her position.
“I didn’t want to look back later in life and regret not trying,” she says.
In 2011, Jenkins went to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to visit galleries and volunteer at the International Folk Art Market where she was exposed to some of the artisans whom she supports now.
She also flew to South Africa to visit Mielie, a company that employs craftswomen to hand-make products. They were going to stop production, but Jenkins met with the founder, pitched an idea for a bag, and ordered enough to help them stay in business. The “Detroit Clutches,” by Mielie, are now one of Love Travels. Imports’ most popular products.
Jenkins recently connected with female artisans in Haiti, Guatemala, and Peru. These relationships line up with her business model to focus on helping women in developing countries. She says this philosophy is important because “most often the woman not only will take care of herself but will take care of the community and her family.”
Jenkins knows this from personal experience as the women in her family have taken care of more than just themselves. At 10 years old, her grandmother, to whom she attributes her work ethic, moved to Detroit and stood on chairs to cook and wash dishes to raise money for her family.
She credits her love of the arts and desire to serve the community to her mother, who she accompanied to volunteer opportunities in Detroit while growing up. When she was 12, her mother had a nervous breakdown, which caused Jenkins to take on a greater role at home caring for her four younger sisters.
“I didn’t hear the word love or receive physical expressions of love,” she says. “The choices I made were [an] action and expression of love.”
Inspired by Jenkins’ “sisterhood” and her passion to help others, Kay Willingham, who owns Art in Motion, invited Jenkins to join the collective in 2014.
“She’s working with mainly fair trade artists who are working all over the world, and many don’t have the ability to come to America or experience growth in their passion,” Willingham says.
Working with other local businesswomen and international artists has kept Jenkins afloat.
“She doesn’t ask for help; she just tells you what she’s doing and if you feel so inclined to donate or buy something then that’s great,” says Megan Provenzino, who stocks Jenkins’ bags at her Socra Tea shop in Midtown. “She would bring lots of her friends to Socra to help better my business without looking for discounts or deals.”
Jenkins hopes to continue to support women artists both near and far.
“If there’s a way in which a woman can support herself, if a child can have an option for education, that’s the thing where I feel like I’ve done something in this world,” she says.