By JENNIFER MEIER
MIDDLEBURY — One step at time — down a runway.
That’s how a local fashion show can help change the lives of exploited women in Asia.
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, The Tulip Tree, located in Middlebury’s Ace Hardware, will provide the backdrop for a jewelry and accessory fashion show.
Ten local women and two children will wear jewelry supplied by the Starfish Project and model the newest line of spring accessories from the Tulip Tree gift shop.
The idea for a Spring Tea Soiree and fashion show came to Tulip Tree owner Gloria Martin at a home party for featuring Starfish Project Jewelry.
“I think one person can really make a difference,” Martin said after she learned of the Starfish story.
Although it has several versions, the most well-known is of a young girl or boy throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time after a great storm had washed hundreds up on a beach. A man questions the girl’s actions, telling her that it won’t make a difference. The girl responds by picking up another starfish and throwing it back in the water and saying, “Well, it makes a difference for this one.” The man considers and approves of her answer. As he begins to help the girl, others join in and soon all the starfish are saved.
From that motivational story came the Starfish Project, founded by Jenny McGee in 2006.
Her idea was to help exploited women in Asia turn their lives around through learning a skill — jewelry making.
That idea has grown to helping these women heal through counseling, vocational training, language acquisition, family education benefits and health care access. There are currently 35 women working at the jewelry company. The project has recently expanded to two other cities in Asia.
In the United States, the current offices are headquartered in Goshen. Here, Ashley Flora, director of U.S. operations oversees all 83 jewelry representatives across the country, handles the marketing and customer service and with the help of several volunteers, manages the online store.
Two walls in the two-room jewelry center, office and display area are lined with thousands of necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
“People don’t know what to expect,” said Flora’s mother and party representative Barb Flora. “There is such a great variety of jewelry — something to fit everyone’s tastes! More than that, this is something that’s always been in my heart — to do something to advocate for women.”
The upcoming fashion show has both women excited for the impact it could have on the community and for the women in Asia.
“I envision having pictures to show the women who make these pieces how their jewelry is used and loved,” Ashley said. “And this is also a great platform to tell the story to this area.”
The Spring Tea Soiree will feature a four-minute video on the Starfish Project.
“There are 33 sets (necklace, earrings and bracelet) that will be modeled, including five sets of children’s jewelry,” Ashley said.
The models will also feature the Tulip Tree’s newest spring décor and accessories.
“We have beautiful scarves, purses, a few jackets and other items. Everything in the store will be discounted 10 to 40 percent,” Martin said. “And there will be tea and sweets all evening.”
Martin plans on serving gourmet teas, dips, candy and drinks throughout the evening’s events.
“For instance, we have sweet peach lemonade, herb and lavender tea, orange creamsicle truffles, and crème brulee dip. There will be lots of sampling,” Martin said. “And there will be drawings for door prizes.”
All the money received to purchase Starfish jewelry will be given to the Starfish Project.
Orders can be picked up at the Tulip Tree or shipped to a home address.
Each guest at the fashion show will receive a goody bag that includes another way for local residents to help girls around the world and in the United States.
“I want this evening to be a focus on women,” Martin said. “Our community can help make a difference.”
Dress a Girl Around the World is a division of Hope 4 Kids International that challenges volunteers to imagine a world where every little girl owned at least one dress.
“All it takes is a standard, full, queen or king pillowcase,” Martin said. “I’m inviting people to bring a new, beautifully patterned pillowcase to the show. The pillow case will be given to a sewing group. Or you can make them yourselves. They are not difficult.”
By the end of June, Martin hopes to have many dresses to offer to Dress a Girl Around the World. For more information, directions and a supply list, visit www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com. To learn more about the Starfish Project go to www.starfish-project.com.
The Spring Tea Soiree is free to the public. The Tulip Tree is located in Ace Hardware at the corner of Ind. 13 and U.S. 20 in Middlebury.