The newly rebranded BraveWorks celebrates 10 years empowering women in Charlotte and around the world.
by Michelle Boudin
It’s been known as Fashion & Compassion for the last decade, but the Charlotte nonprofit that supports women both locally and across the world is marking its 10th anniversary with an updated mission and a name change to match.
“[Fashion & Compassion] was the perfect name when we launched — it served us beautifully,” says Executive Director Beth Bell. “But we’re moving to a name that talks more about what the women do and how they emerge. The new name is more closely tied to their outcome.”
Bell says the new name, BraveWorks, reinforces the organization’s “why”: empowering women and transforming pain to purpose. The group works with Charlotte women that have survived human trafficking, homelessness, addiction, abusive relationships and more. They come to BraveWorks for a three- to six-month program, where they learn to make jewelry, accessories, clothing and other items that are sold at BraveWorks’ Dilworth boutique at 1717 Cleveland Ave.
In the process, the women gain work skills, social connections and supplemental income from product sales. A second part of the nonprofit works with women in Africa and South and Central America. Each year, the organization serves 120 women locally and more than 400 women and families globally.
“It’s amazing when we see the impact of the program on these women, the support and encouragement they feel,” Bell says. “We see them moving from deeply rooted trauma to having hope for the future, and that’s thanks to the entire community of Charlotte.”
Co-founder Michele Dudley got the idea for Fashion & Compassion during a 2008 mission trip to Africa. She brought back jewelry made by some of the village women and sold it to friends in Charlotte, then she sent the money back overseas. She realized by giving them a distribution channel, she was helping the women improve their own lives and the welfare of their villages.
In 2014 while back home in Charlotte, Dudley met a human trafficking survivor and realized she wanted to expand the program to help women in her hometown.
“She realized these women didn’t have any purpose in their lives, and it left them feeling alone and hopeless and they didn’t know their worth — and that’s true locally and globally, whether it’s from poverty or trauma,” Bell explains. “She wanted to help women find their purpose.”
The program works with local agencies to identify and help at-risk women in Charlotte by giving them tools to become self-sufficient, operating on the premise that if you teach women a skill or craft, it can transform their lives.
A recent graduate of the program says BraveWorks gave her courage she didn’t have before. “When someone or something says I can’t, I know I can,” she says.
“Creating beautiful jewelry and works helps me to pass on to others the same encouragement,” adds another artisan who graduated from the program.
Bell, who has been with the nonprofit since 2019, says the group worked with graduates, donors and board members to determine the new name that better encapsulates what they do.
“We’re creating a sisterhood of brave women,” Bell says. “It’s incredible to see the transformation and the confidence that they gain. [They] emerge ready to face the world and equipped to face life’s ups and downs.” SP
Featured photograph by Leandra Creative