We are constantly inspired by our September 2018 Mom Next Door, Carly Burson. From the seriously swoon-worthy styles she sells at Tribe Alive to her adventures at home and around the world (go ahead and hit “follow” on her Instagram), we just can’t get enough of this Fort Worth mompreneur.
Burson is founder and CEO of Tribe Alive, a socially-conscious commerce company (check out the storefront along Fort Worthy’s trendy Magnolia Avenue) that sells products with stories to tell. Tribe Alive partners with at-risk women both locally and around the world to provide living wages in exchange for their sustainable, artisanal apparel and homegoods.
In honor of Adoption Awareness Month this November, we caught up with Burson about how her family inspired her to establish Tribe Alive. Read on for the creative’s thoughts on running a female-focused global fashion company while raising two daughters and one granddaughter in Fort Worth.
Hi Carly, it’s great to connect with you again! I’m so thrilled to speak with you in honor of Adoption Awareness Month. In your MND profile, you shared how adopting your daughter, Elie, inspired you to leave mainstream fashion and establish Tribe Alive. Can you share a bit more about how your experience changed your global perspective?
My daughter’s adoption process was complicated and difficult and took many years for us to finalize. My husband and I chose to stay in Ethiopia for an extended period of time in hopes that being present would help move the U.S. Embassy along. While in Ethiopia, we spent time in Elie’s orphanage and watched as birth parents came to visit their children during visiting hours. At the time I recognized the depth and heaviness of that experience, but what I didn’t know then was that it would alter the course of my entire life.
Something that struck a chord with me in your MND profile was your statement that, “The true cause of adoption is economic insecurity in the developing world.” Especially in light of Adoption Awareness Month, what do you wish more people understood about adoption?
Americans have a misconception that all orphans are abandoned or unwanted children. Statistically this is not even close to the leading cause of child relinquishment. All over the world, parents are forced to give up their children due to poverty and the inability to provide children with basic needs. The economic insecurity facing women in the developing world is the leading cause of the orphan crisis. This fact remains the greatest injustice I have ever faced.
What do you hope changes in the public understanding of adoption?
It’s my hope that we begin to look at adoption from a broader lens—with the intention of solving the root cause of the problem, rather than offering short-term solutions. When I adopted Elie, I immediately recognized the magnitude of what it meant to be able to bring her home and to now be the woman she calls Mommy.
Being Elie’s mother is the greatest privilege of my life, but I also realize that her adoption was another woman’s greatest tragedy. I think about Elie’s birth mother all the time, and often wonder how her life could have been different if someone had invested in [her]. Being a mother and providing for your children should not only be an opportunity for the privileged. In reality, it’s the very most basic human right.
How did this realization lead you to establish Tribe Alive?
I came home with images of those separated families in my heart and constantly on my mind, and realized that I needed to dedicate my time and my work in a way that would honor Elie’s birth mother. My passion to establish Tribe Alive began with my desire to teach my daughter that the woman she came from deeply mattered. I may have been too late in helping her birth mother, but I refused to miss the opportunity to help other women be provided with a chance to raise their own children.
That brings me to Tribe Alive’s business model, which I really love and admire. It seems so intentionally designed to empower women in all facets of entrepreneurship. Not only do you partner with female artisans around the world, you also have a powerhouse team of female employees at your Fort Worth flagship who travel with you to source the ethically and sustainable goods you sell. Talk about girl power! What’s your hope for Tribe Alive on a global scale?
Tribe Alive’s main mission is to bring education and meaningful employment to parts of the world where women do not have access to opportunity. It’s our hope that our platform serves to educate people on the plight of women in the developing world, who make up 70 percent of the world’s poorest people. Poverty has a woman’s face, and we’re motivated to be a part of changing that statistic.
What do you hope your business model can spark in the fashion world, especially in the conversation around conscious consumerism?
Fashion is one of the leading polluters on the planet—second, actually, to gas and oil. It’s also an industry that causes extreme poverty all over the world. In many countries, women choose prostitution over working in garment factories because that is how bad the conditions are for many of these workers. We want to educate consumers that their $5 finds and fast fashion trends are actually causing women all over the world great harm. We stand as a platform that offers an alternative where the earth and the maker are considered equally to the consumer and we’re proving that you do not need to compromise ethics for profit—or style.
You are a champion of female experiences across the world, so I’m curious about your opinion on a matter that is on the minds of a lot prospective adoptive parents. How have you sought to celebrate your girls’ origin stories while also ensuring that it’s not a key factor in the formation of their identities?
My husband and I work very hard to create the space needed for everyone’s stories to be honored in our family. We hope our daughters always remain connected to where they came from, and that they recognize the value and worth that their birth families hold.
We have one daughter that is still very connected to her family, and one daughter that does not have that same connection and ability to be in contact. It’s very complicated and hard to navigate both those scenarios in one household, when you’re trying so hard to ensure that both children feel equally loved and seen. It requires a lot of thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but we’re learning every day how to feel secure in who we are to our children while also respecting that there are people who loved them before us—and that those stories cannot be forgotten.
What do you hope you’ve taught your daughters?
I hope that I’ve taught them to care about other people and to stand up against injustice. My girls watch me pour a great deal of my life into causes that I care about and people that I hardly know. I hope that through my work they’ll recognize that there is no such thing as other people’s problems and that we cannot move forward if others are held back.
What have they taught you?
My daughters have taught me what true bravery looks like. Their stories have inspired me in ways I could have never imagined, and they give me so much hope for the future. When I look at them, I realize that there is nothing to fear.