In 2004, when most of her Yale classmates were busy locking down summer internships and making the perfect MySpace page, Ruth DeGolia was already founding her own biz. Fresh off a volunteer stint in Guatemala, the enterprising undergrad was fired up about finding a way to help the women she had met there to market their traditional weaving and leatherwork skills—a pretty common story, except for the fact she actually followed through on her idea. Called Mercado Global, her non-profit collective partners with over 400 female artisans to create graphic woven pouches, convertible bags, and pillowcases worthy of a home tour.
Now that the company’s grown considerably from its dorm-room digs, Ruth’s partnered with a creative director, Meg Koglin, who translates her experience at eco-chic lines like Eileen Fisher to help Mercado’s makers grow and evolve.“Caring about how things are made isn’t just an outward message here,” says Meg, who bops between the line’s Brooklyn office to their homebase in the Guatemalan highlands. “We’re always asking, ‘How do we set up new ways to help these women and their communities?’” So far, answers to that question include ensuring access to clean water and electricity and providing enough economic stability that their workers can afford to enroll kids in school full-time. “It’s one thing to work on social change from a desk at an office, but here I deal with issues firsthand,” Meg explains. —jane gauger