When Mary Fanaro first began her mission of ending poverty in Africa in 2007, she started a charitable chocolate company. What it's turned in to is even sweeter than she could have imagined.
Fanaro's company Peace of Chocolate has transformed into OmniPeace, a successful clothing line favored by celebrity do-gooders. The company donates some of its profits to build schools in Africa and partners with organizations such as UNICEF to fight poverty through universal education.
When the Huffington Post's Style section talked to Mary Fanaro a little more than a year ago, OmniPeace profits had gone to build its first school in Senegal. Fanaro's goal was to build one school per year, but the company has surpassed its goal. Come March, OmniPeace will have broken ground on five schools in Africa.
Fanaro tells us about her belief in pushing the limits, the importance she places on universal education, and why she used to send daily tweets to Steve Jobs.
Can you illustrate for us what these villages are like where you and your partner organizations are building these schools?
They're called Millennium Villages and have been sponsored either by high net-worth individuals or companies. We're addressing all aspects of extreme poverty...It's not just "Oh, I'm going to address disease or medicine only." You still have to deal with fact that people will need sanitation, education, and they need agriculture.
As well, can you describe the schools -- the objectives, the curriculum, the climate?
It's anywhere from 800 to 1,500 kids going to a school, mostly girls. I remember when I went over there for the first school, one of the elders said kids learn to read and write and then teach their families. One of the eight Millennium Development goals is universal primary education. That's the one we support.
How do you collaborate with partner organizations like buildOn to achieve your mission?
buildOn implements inner city school programs for kids, and then takes some of the kids abroad to build schools in developing nations. I like that the organization helps schools not only in Africa, but in this country, too...They build the schools in just short of seven to nine weeks, one brick at a time. To begin, we sit down with elders of the village, we have a translator, and then work out a contract where they promise they're going to send kids to the school.
To meet your construction goals, did you have a specific plan to dedicate a certain percentage of clothing sales to building the schools?
No, percentage, schmentage. A school costs $27,000 to $30,000 to build, and at first we were giving as much money as we could, no matter how we did it.
To that end, can we assume that your past career as an event producer means some of your friends in high place have helped OmniPeace give back?
If I have to go on "Access Hollywood" again, I will! Whatever I needed to do, if we're not making the money through sales, I'll figure out a way to do it through a deal I'm making with friends. That's my commitment, and I get it done.
Are there other initiatives you've taken on that are just as important to you as universal education?
Congo is the most sexually violent place on the planet, and that project was really important to me. The Stamp Out Violence initiative was in conjunction with my friend Andrea Kerzner's company called the Lalela Project and Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, and Sheryl Crow. We had all these pictures from refugee camps -- drawings of families decapitated, soldiers pulling their pants up after raping a little girl who was stabbed on the ground.
We made a collage of the pictures -- so you can't tell what they are unless you're up close --and put them on T-shirts...And this is cool, I think: The hangtag on the shirt was a pre-written message to Obama making him aware of what was going on. All you had to do was pull the hangtag off and put a postage stamp on it--you know, 'stamp' out violence. The truth is people didn't really respond to it. When there's an element of violence, people want to turn their head.
How did people respond to these controversial photos?
My friend said, "What, are you crazy? Who's going to buy that T-shirt?" But I said, "Why should I be scared to put that graphic on a shirt?" This is what's happening. People are not wearing violence on their chest; they're sending a message. This is what's happening; this was drawn by a 6-year-old.
You're also known to be persistent in getting a message through to the people who can affect change. Can you give an example of this that others could follow?
As many people know from movies like Blood Diamond, the rebels who mine the diamonds in Africa use rape as a tool of war. Every day, we used to send a tweet to Steve Jobs, asking him to make the first conflict-mineral-free device. Every week, I thought, "This guy is going to hate me." So now we only do it very two weeks (laughs).
OmniPeace clothing is available online and in numerous high-end boutiques.
To contribute to OmniPeace's universal education efforts, click below.