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Caitlin is the founder and CEO at Thread Caravan. Traveling turned her into a social entrepreneur. She spreads opportunities for local artisan businesses around the world. In this interview, she reveals how her vagabonding led her to becoming a social entrepreneur.
Caitlin has traveled all over the US and lived in New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Hawaii. After vagabonding in more than 7 countries, she chose Guatemala as home to her business. The land that caught with its beautiful culture and textiles.
She is amazed by culture and people. No wonder she calls New Orleans “home”. A city that honors culture where it’s common to see people dancing to funk music in the streets, biking around town, and wearing constumes.
In university she studied business and later switched to study Sociology, a shift that she said brought her closer to the diverse community of New Orleans and made her want to engage with other communities in the world. She moved to New York and later to Cambodia, two cities where she didn’t know anyone. The moves became pivotal points in her entrepreneurial life.
The move to the unknown
“I’d heard stories of other people moving to places where they knew no one, and I knew I obviously wasn’t the first to do so, but I’d never had any friends do something like that so it felt very bold and foreign. Despite how new both experiences were, I never experienced fear of the change or unknown. When everything around you is unfamiliar, including the people, you’re forced to be present and adjust. You stop having time for fear!
I realized after both moves how empowered I felt, like if I could embrace so much change in such a positive way, that there are many more possibilities ahead. I think I didn’t fully realize my own independence and will until those moves.”
This happens with travel, but it’s especially true when you’re moving somewhere. In Cambodia for example, not only did I have to adjust to new language, food, modes of transport, etc., but I also had to find an apartment, start a new job and settle into life. Those tasks force you to dive in and move forward.
People of Cambodia
“Oh… Cambodia! You learn so much about a place by the people who live there, like Ming Ming in Cambodia. ¨Ming Ming¨ is the Cambodian word for grandmother, and that’s what she had my roommates and I call her. She was our landlord´s mother and their family lived in the other unit of our duplex. My roommates and I were all teachers at an international school and planned to use the holiday break to embark on an epic journey to Sumatra, Indonesia… a trip complete with biking, swimming and hanging out with orangutans!
A couple days before the trip I dislocated my knee doing capoeira and was unfit to go on the trip. My friends offered to stay in Cambodia and spend the holidays with me, but of course I couldn’t let them do that, and they went on the trip as planned. Two weeks in a foreign country during the holidays, home alone with a dislocated knee could be prime time to feel very lonely. Instead, I felt nothing but love. Ming Ming invited me to dinner with her family every night. She invited me to play cards and watch Cambodian soap operas with her in their living room on their big comfy couch, my knee propped up on pillows with ice and Tiger balm. I felt so taken care of.
I also used my extra time those weeks to start studying the Khmer language intensively. Ming Ming didn’t speak much English, so when I started to learn Khmer, it allowed us to bond even more. The rest of the year I formed an even closer familial like relationship with Ming Ming. She shared the story of her family during the Khmer Rouge genocide and more. We went to a wedding with their family. She even took me with her when she went to go vote in the big presidential election at the local pagoda, a highlight of my time in Cambodia and my life as a whole.”
Sheer sheep in Iceland
“In the following months, I took a trip to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis. While I was there we did a couple of home-stays on farms and I came up with this dream to live on a sheep farm and learn to sheer the wool. As a knitter and someone who is intrigued by the full process of production, I think it would be fascinating to participate in all the steps of turning wool into a knitted piece: sheering the sheep, spinning and dyeing the wool and finally knitting something.“
Birth of an idea
“Unfortunately, it was not the best time of year to sheer sheep in Iceland so that dream would have to be postponed. After that trip I returned to Hawaii, where I lived at the time. On my layover in Seattle, I reconnected with a good friend and photographer Alexander Crook.
Alex had just returned from a trip to Alaska, where he connected with a group of Native Americans. Like many indigenous groups, this group felt pressured to assimilate to modern lifestyles by participating in capitalism, which led them to sell a large portion of their land to loggers. When the trees were cut down, and the roots were gone, it caused the river water to be less clean and affected the salmon population. Salmon were and still are something the group is dependent on. This got Alex and I talking about alternative means of income for the group that wouldn’t involve selling land to loggers. Ecotourism was mentioned, which then stemmed into talking about the idea of cultural craft tourism.
The discussion about the Native American group and my desire to learn the full process of turning wool into a knitted garment are the two thins that birthed the idea of Thread Caravan. Looking back, once the idea was born, so many other dots became connected. Like valuing experiences over things. This is something I’ve learned in traveling and living abroad, and is very much relevant to Thread Caravan trips.”
Thread Caravan offers artisan adventures around the world. Trips are all about a week long and connect travelers to the place, it’s culture and people. With each trip, we employ artisans to continue practicing their craft without the pressure to sell the goods they produce. This allows for appreciation of the process, rather than emphasis on the end product.
Travelers are able to learn about traditional craft production in communities where the craft originated or has been practiced for generations. Moreover, they learn about the culture and develop an understanding of the local communities.
In addition to the arts, Thread Caravan trips offer adventures unique to each destination: sailing, hiking volcanoes, visiting ancient ruins and more. When our travelers book a trip with us, we take care of all the in-country details: accommodation, transportation, food and connecting with local artisans.
Travel brought me an open mind and patience. One of the major goals of travelers is to step out of their comfort zone and experience something new, which is difficult to achieve without an open mind and patience. Before traveling, wipe away all your preconceived notions of a place and take the experience for what it actually is.