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World Travels of a Blue Sweater

Ever wonder how that guy in Africa got that Ralph Lauren polo shirt?

Sweater-IconMaybe you’ve seen a photo in a magazine or newspaper of a tiny Guatemalan girl in an Ohio State sweatshirt. Or a photograph of a Senegalese man on a website in a unmistakably American T-shirt that reads “Let’s Get This Party Started” paired with a traditional printed kaftan pant. Or an African street vendor selling a Yankees T-Shirt. Ever wonder how they got there? This is not surprising when you factor in that used clothing was the 5th largest import to Senegal from the U.S. in 2009, $7 million worth, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. And that’s just one country.

t-shirts in African market

But do you know the story of “The Blue Sweater?”

You might have heard a version of it – maybe with a piece of jewelry or a long lost jacket. The blue sweater story is where all of these “urban myths” originate.  The only difference is that The Blue Sweater story is quite true.

In her book entitled, you guessed it, The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline Novogratz tells of a beloved blue sweater – a gift from a favorite uncle. Decorated with the mountains of Kilimanjaro and zebras, Jacqueline wore this every day until her freshman year of high school and her own curves and peer pressure intervened.

She and her mother put the outgrown sweater into a collection bin.

Ten years and 5000 miles later, having left her job on Wall Street to devote her life to help microfinance small, struggling entrepreneurs, she was walking through the streets of Kigali, Rwanda. Unbelievably, she sees a young boy wearing THE blue sweater. Could it be the same exact one? She stops him to ask, and her name is still on the tag inside. 

This amazing coincidence brought home to Jacqueline how interconnected the world is, and she continues her work through Acumen.org, helping people in Southern Asia and Africa.

Giving small gets big results

This New Year, think about the small ways you can give back. You might not realize your used clothing has a new story to tell, but your actions will ripple around the globe in a big way.

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