Leave Smiles, Not Footprints

by Lorna Garano

“We are at a precipice. We can't continue, unless we change how we consume—and how we create.” The woman giving the talk was Danielle Summers, “the CEO and primary design inspirer of Danielle Summers International (DSI), a company that makes recycled material into high fashion and found objects into exquisite jewelry,” according to her bio in the DEED conference program. She had had runway shows in Europe and celebrities had been sighted wearing her designs. Just last week Kate Hudson had worn one of her skirts, which had a fringe made of recycled cheerleader pompoms, to a movie opening. I knew because Martha, my boss who sat next to me, had left a stack of magazines on my desk, each one with pages tabbed to note photos of DSI-clad stars and profiles of Danielle. One of the latter said she smelled of a mixture of cedar and mango.

            Danielle had pretty legs that were bisected above the knee by a skirt made of recycled upholstery. She had energy that exhausted me. She talked a lot about her energy and how it was high because she was doing what she believed in. “Do what you love and you'll never burn out.” Martha poked me in the arm with her pen after Danielle said that, which was her way of saying that it was important, that I should think about it when crafting our proposal to handle DSI marketing.

              The lights dimmed and Danielle's assistant launched the first slide of the PowerPoint program. It read simply “Rana.” The next slide showed a beaming Danielle with her arm around a teenage girl. I recognized the necklaces they wore from the DSI catalog. They were made old bottle caps. Rana's was so big on her it reminded me of a clown's ruff and something about how it dwarfed the girl made me look down at the yellow legal pad on my lap.

            “This is my inspiration, the girl behind DSI,” Danielle announced.

            I had heard the story before. Danielle had met Rana, one of Jaipur's street kids, on her first trip to India. It was her story that had inspired Danielle to launch DSI and to create the factory where girls like Rana could work assembling jewelry and making clothes. Danielle had called it “an economy of compassion.” Not only could we rescue the Ranas of the world, but we could save the earth itself with this new business model, which ran on the twin engines of compassion for others and concern for the environment.

            The Hope Factory, I scribbled on my notepad and showed Martha. She flashed me the half-smile that meant “not good enough.”

            Her assistant clicked through a few more slides. We learned that Danielle's philosophy for an economy of compassion business consisted of three precepts: “One: your true bottom line is the measure of how much health you've restored to the planet; Two: Remember that business is transformative, so transform for the better; Three: Wear yoga pants to work!”

            The final slide was a ring of girls seated on a floor, each with a pile of beads in front of her and a string in her hand. Each bead mound was a different color and the girls' saris formed a kaleidoscopic tapestry in the slide. It was their smiles that struck me. They all seemed the same wedges of white against their tea-toned faces, as if Danielle had been pre-fashioned them from recycled teeth. Some were turned to face the camera; others stared straight into it.

            That's when it came to me: “Leave Smiles, Not Footprints.” I turned my notebook up a little to get Martha's attention. She read the line, shook her head excitedly, took my pen, and wrote “!!!”

            A few weeks later I was in my office when Martha came in with a package. “A gift from Danielle,” she said. We had landed the campaign and I was deciding on which font to use for the billboard ads that would include the picture of the girls with “Leave Smiles, Not Footprints” splashed above them.

            When Martha left I sliced open the box. There was a note on top hand-signed by Danielle that read “Looking forward to our adventure together!” Below it sat a dazzling four-stand necklace made of recycled, sanded-down pieces of windshield. I held it up to the window to see the glint of the aquamarine edges of the glass. I pressed it against my neck and then spread it out on my lap. Who could deny that Danielle brought beauty into the world? At least she did that. I lifted the necklace to the light again and thought about how even something so beautiful would bring me no comfort in the days to come.