Back To Africa!

In 2001, I decided to travel through West Africa.  I had finished university, was ready for an adventure and I had dreamed of going to Africa since I was a child.  I started my trip in Paris, made my way down the Spanish coast, ferried to Gibraltar, crossed into Morocco, convoyed across the Sahara desert for 4 days through Mauritania, and on to 6 other countries – Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Ghana.  Those six months were life changing for me.  Africa was now in my heart and I could not wait for the next opportunity (or excuse) to return.

It’s twelve years later and now I own and run Ambler with my husband, Christian. Last year we were introduced to Landis Wyatt, an Ambler employee before we owned the company, who was living and running Universal Outreach Foundation with her husband in Liberia (a west African country I did not visit on my 2001 trip because they were in civil war). Back in the day, Landis was sewing and selling bags and thought bags could be a good fit for Ambler.  Ambler bags did not pan out at the time but the idea of creating and making bags came full circle when I met Landis. Landis was excited to see if a partnership could develop for Ambler in Liberia.  I was very excited because I had been dreaming of having bags made in Africa.  My reason was part selfish, wanting any excuse to return to Africa, but mainly because I knew there was a need for social enterprises in many African countries.  Not only that, Africa has such unique fabrics and sewing is a skill many Africans already have.

I arrived in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on December 4th, 2012 with only a few other people, one being my friend Deb who I was travelling with.  Most people on our plane got off when we stopped in Sierra Leone, Liberia is not necessarily a destination for tourists.  Liberia has only been out of a civil war for 10 years and you can still feel and see the effects of years of war.  Approximately 250,000 people died during the war and now 85% of the population continue to live below the international poverty line.

As a tourist I was astonished at the prices!  I was paying more than I would in Canada for quite a few things.  I soon realized that it made sense since there is no electricity anywhere and everything is powered by generators which take diesel.  As you can imagine, imported diesel isn’t cheap either.  So either you do have the money to live comfortably or you make due with the little you have and live quite differently.

The reason why I went to Liberia is because relationships with the people we work with are very important to Ambler.  So I spent my time in Monrovia with our new partner, Jola House, a social enterprise trying to help generate income for Liberians.  It was wonderful to see where and who was making our new bags.  I also felt that it was reciprocated for the workers at Jola House to associate Ambler with an actual person who does care about them!

My time in Liberia was very intentional because I was only going to be there for a short time.  A week somewhat felt like a month because of all the things I got to do and see.  I went to markets looking for fabric, designed new bags, adjusted bags in production, worked on new product, ate Liberian food with Jola House staff, visited a beautiful Eco Lodge, swam in the ocean, rode motorcycles to get around town, talked with all sorts of people on the street, listened to church choir practices, danced with children playing soccer outside, experienced the daily difficulties of not having electricity to run sewing machines, learned more about tie-dye, listened to life stories and felt compassion for what Liberians have gone through.  Even through these huge trials, I am in awe of the abundance of joy, trust and hope Africans still have.

One of my favorite memories from this trip was asking people, “How da body oh (How are you doing)”?  The response was, “Praise God”, which means, I am doing very well.

Until the next time…

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To Be Loved and Cared For

Laxmi at work at PRC.

While I was in Nepal in March 2012, I had the privilege of visiting PRC for the very first time and met Laxmi. She had just returned from court that day…

 Laxmi’s Story

Laxmi grew up in a very poor family in western Nepal. At the age of 13, her father died and her mother ran off with another man, leaving Laxmi with a brother, age 6 and sister, age 8. Since her family was very poor, they lived in a very small thatch/mud house and her parents had done day labor to put food on the table. Laxmi had no means of income so she and her siblings resorted to begging for their food. A neighborhood man took note of their dire circumstances and one day came to Laxmi saying he knew of a babysitting job for a wealthy couple that she could do to bring in money to feed her family.  He said he would take her there and she would be able to come home at night. Laxmi went with him but instead of going to a rich family’s home she ended up in a room in a city in India with 17 other girls. The first night they were given injections and in the morning they woke up naked, sore and not knowing how many men had used them during the night. This went on for 3 months. During that time, the traffickers were preparing false passports for the girls.  After 3 months Laxmi was sold to Saudi Arabia. From there she was sold to Kuwait. While in the brothel in Kuwait, Laxmi became ill, so she was checked out by a doctor who did a blood test and found her to be HIV+. She was immediately kicked out of the brothel to fend for herself on the streets. An Indian man found her wandering and had pity on her. He paid for her ticket to return to India. However, when she arrived in India she still had no means to support herself so was living on the streets trying to find a way back to Nepal. A Nepali who knew about Peace Rehabilitation Center’s border monitoring office found her and made a phone call to the border office. PRC staff then went to India to bring her back to Nepal.

She was brought to PRC’s rehabilitation home outside of Kathmandu where she was given the opportunity to enter into the 6-month to 1-year program involving counseling, literacy and skills training in a family atmosphere. Laxmi still wasn’t well so she was taken to the doctor. Through blood tests they found out she WASN’T HIV+ but she was pregnant. One of the strongest aspects of PRC’s recovery program is the tender loving care shown to the girls by the staff.  PRC helped support Laxmi with this difficult situation and gave her a safe environment in which to make a decision. Over the next 7 months, their demonstrated love slowly chiseled away at Laxmi’s deep-seated anger and pain. She decided she wanted to have the baby and give it up for adoption if possible. She learned how to read and write and the skills of jewelry making and knitting.

After the baby was born, PRC staff and Laxmi traveled to her village area to testify against the neighbor who trafficked her to India. Through her testimony, the man was sent to prison. While there, she searched for her brother and sister and found out they were living with a relative in another village.

Laxmi returned to PRC’s rehab program and she started to take an interest in caring for her baby. She has come to love her baby very much and wants to be a good mother. Laxmi continues today to live at PRC. She shares that she finally knows what it means to be truly loved and cared for because of the amazing support of the PRC staff.

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Warm your head. Warm your soul.

Knitting at PRC

It’s that time of year again when we are looking forward to gift-giving. We all appreciate giving and receiving gifts. A hat is a great gift but we would like the gift to be more than just a hat. Our hand knit hats are made in Nepal. Every year in Nepal between 10,000-15,000 women and girls, most between the ages of 9 and 16, are trafficked to India. We have learned about this through our relationship with the Nepali organization Peace Rehabilitation Center (PRC). PRC is a charitable organization dedicated to fighting and preventing sexual exploitation and trafficking in Nepal. Another role that PRC plays is to help women learn a skill so they can be financially and self sustained in their community. Right now, PRC women are knitting the ‘PRC’ hat for Ambler.

Our hope for this gift-giving season is to give back to a worthy organization making change in women’s lives in Nepal. If you purchase any hat from Ambler’s website in the next two weeks (November 30th to December 14th), we will send 50% of the purchase price directly to PRC.  Here’s a chance to give a gift that not only will keep your head warm but will also impact the lives of women in Nepal.


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Needles in Nepal

The following is a guest post from our knit designer, Kelly McClure of BohoKnits, recounting her recent trip to Nepal to teach our producers about our Fall 2012 knitting patterns. Sounds like Kelly learned a few things of her own! (photos: Kelly McClure)

I traveled to Kathmandu to spend a week teaching knitting and crochet workshops with women who will be mass-producing my hat designs…a surreal experience to say the least. I packed everything I needed to teach knitting in my carry-on just in case my luggage was lost between Calgary, Amsterdam, Delhi and Kathmandu. I brought needles of all sizes, patterns, tiny “plane-friendly” scissors, tape measure, needle gauge, stitch markers, calculator and, of course, projects to work on while traveling.


I design for a local company, Ambler hats, and spent the week at the Everest Fashion house and offices right in Kathmandu. Everest Fashion makes all kinds of knitted, crocheted and felted wholesale items for customers all around the world, including Ambler. Their compound is made up of about four buildings, including the house, offices, storage and production space. While the city is busy, polluted and loud, the Everest complex is quiet and spacious, with lots of vegetation and small gardens.


The Everest workforce is over 90% female and many of the women knit hats right from home, allowing them to make extra income for their families while still being able to care for their households and children. They are paid more than fair wages and are paid per piece to increase productivity. My main job for the week was to perfect specific designs with the “group leaders” who then go on to teach the design to 30-75 women. Although there was an obvious language barrier between us, we got by with exaggerated gestures, thumbs up signs and dramatic facial expressions. They are wonderful, genial women and I love being around their colourful, sparkly kurtas and bright smiles.

Learning a pattern at Everest Fashion

During a tour of the complex, I learned a lot about their production techniques. I watched them create pom poms in seconds, wind tangled yarn into balls from their ancient looking wire swifts, and haul massive bags of fibre around as if it was no effort at all. The compound buzzes with creative energy, greetings (Namaste), and there are mounds of brightly coloured fibre and projects everywhere.

Drying fiber

On another day I visited a home called Peace Rehabilitation Center. This is a home for girls and women who have been rescued from human trafficking (see website for more information and stories). Many of the girls come from small villages and are recruited or bought by pimps who then try to smuggle them into India. Fortunately, some of the girls are stopped at the border before they are lost forever. At PRC, the girls are taught all kinds of skills so that they can one day be independent. They learn things like gardening, jewelry making, cooking and, of course, knitting. I was warned before arriving at the home that their skills are very basic and that teaching them something new may be challenging.

at the Peace Rehabilitation Centre

To my surprise, when I arrived, there was about ten girls sitting on mats around a huge pile of yarn, all knitting away like their fingers were on fire. None of them speak English, so teaching without an interpreter would have been fairly difficult anyway, but to my embarrassment, I find that their skills at least match my own. Their technical and finishing skills are outstanding and they easily crank out a perfect fingerless mitt without batting an eye.

I have never felt so quintessentially “Western” as I did while I was in Nepal. The smog, garbage and traffic of the city is a major contrast to our open spaces and clean air in the mountains that I’m used to. While attending a full-moon festival, I was clearly the only Caucasian in a crowd of hundreds, although I was graciously accepted. While visiting with the PRC girls who had been sold by their own families, beaten by pimps and worse, I was painfully aware of my own charmed existence. Despite all these differences, I was mostly struck by the similarities between East and West. Namely, the fact that knitting provides a universal language – knits us together, so to speak. Even if you can’t communicate with words, wool is the same, knitting needles and crochet hooks are the same, and even instructions and techniques are the same. A knitted stitch is the same in Nepal as it is in Canada.

Kelly, labeling Ambler poms

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The Well-Appointed Cabin

Just like choosing the perfect hat can make you feel properly appointed, so it goes with accessorizing your house. It’s all about letting your personality show without saying a word.

We came across these snow shoe sconces from Abiding Branches and were inspired by their warm, rustic quality. A great statement on the wall of anyone who plays in the snow – even if you’ve never stepped foot in a snow shoe.

Snow Shoe Sconces by Abiding Branches

Photo courtesy

Need some more inspiration on where you might hang these beauties? Get lost in the world of tiny cabins.

Bear Spring Cabin

Bear Spring Cabin - Frederick, MD

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The Second Best Thing of 2011

Without a doubt, the best thing to happen to me in 2011 was the birth of our second son, Noah. I’m not a good enough writer to describe how great that experience was so I won’t try. What I do want to write about is the second best thing that happened to me in 2011.

After mumbling to myself too many times how ridiculous it is that I just drove my car the 1.9km trip from my home to my office I decided to commit to riding my bike for 30 days straight. That turning point came in August of ’11. After 30 days of commuting by bike to work and around town I realized just exactly what I had been missing. I won’t wax poetic here, but I have to say that the world is a different place when viewed from behind the handle bars instead of the steering wheel. I was hooked.

I did my best to stay on the bike as much as possible after the 30 days of commitment were completed. I was still commuting by bike 4 out of 5 days to the office and choosing to pedal around town as much as I could. The problem was that I still had the option of jumping in my car if I felt lazy, if the weather wasn’t ideal or if I needed to take a box of samples to the office.

The second best thing of the year happened in late October when my 13 year old Subaru required more repairs than it was worth and we said our goodbyes. Instead of replacing the car I decided to stick to the bike. We’re fortunate enough to live in a small town where biking commuting is pretty easy and I’ve made the transition to being a bike commuter every day of the week. We still have another car in the family so I haven’t fully committed to a car-free life, but we have jumped the mental hurdle of becoming a one car family.

There are some obvious bonuses of pedaling rather than driving; exercise, lower expenses, cycle-therapy to and from work, and a smaller carbon footprint. But it’s the added bonuses, the lessons that I’ve learned from becoming a one car family, that have made this the second best thing to happen to me in 2011. Here are the main things that I’ve learned from ditching the car and picking up the bike:

1) Life is just as good (or better) with less stuff
2) The status quo isn’t always better (also, “the status quo doesn’t like to lose it’s status“)
3) Don’t trade a good experience for convenience

Please don’t take this writing as eco-snobbery or a holier-than-though message. I was challenged by the #carfreeme movement on Twitter that the good folks at Pemba Serves have been advocating and I want other people (you) to experience the added bonuses that come from getting out from behind the steering wheel. Take the opportunity in 2012 to challenge yourself to choose the car less and the bike more. For some great inspiration follow the #carfreeme hash tag on Twitter and add your miles as you go. I’d love to hear back from you on what added bonuses you discover while getting out from behind the steering wheel.

All the best in 2012 and stay pedal driven!

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Bikes Provide An Answer

Nice infographic on what life could be like if more of us pedaled our bikes for daily commuting.

via FastCo Design blog

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Ambler in Ladakh

Our friends Carole & Peter spent some time trekking in Ladakh and brought some Ambler samples along with them to give as gifts. Here are a few of the great photos they brought back.

If you ever have a chance to go to Ladakh we highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful landscape with equally beautiful people.

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Gear Picks From 2010

Our VP of Product Testing in his Ambler prototype

It really is a dream come true to be able to work in the outdoor industry. From the time I was 15 and negotiated my way into a job at a local gear shop in Dallas, TX I’ve been a part of the outdoor industry in some way, shape or form. It’s a great industry filled with some pretty incredible people. We all tend to have a similar fetish, though, and it revolves around the gear we use when we go outside to play.

I do my best to use and abuse gear until there’s nothing left of it. Case in point: my 16 year old Patagonia Super Alpine jacket and 20 year old expedition weight Patagonia Capilene. If it’s good gear, it will last. This year I was fortunate to pick up a few new pieces to add to the collection and I thought I’d pass them on to you. These are listed in no particular order.

Outdoor Research Extravert Gloves These are the best every day gloves for the cold Canmore winter and perfect for backcountry skiing.

Backcountry Access Float 30 Avalanche Airbag Pack I am very happy to have this pack strapped to my back in the backcountry, as is my mother.

Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody This is a super versatile jacket that will get year-round use in the Rockies.

Fits Socks A new brand on the sock-scene, Fits is owned by one of the oldest knitting mills in the US. I’m pretty particular about my socks and these guys are on to something good. Order yourself a pair and see.

Human Gear So it’s a water bottle cap and some travel tubes, what’s the big deal? The simple details of Human Gear’s designs are fantastic. I’m stoked to see such good industrial design in every day items. The capCAP is probably my most used piece of gear this year as I’m drinking through it every day.

Icebreaker Superfine 200 L/S print shirt I’ve got a thing for merino and Icebreaker makes some really nice pieces of clothing. I’ve worn this shirt for a week straight without washing with no complaints from anyone in my family. Good, right?

Osprey Raptor 10 hydration pack I’m a brand loyalist to Osprey. I’m still rocking a 12 year old Osprey pack that has hundreds of miles on it. When they came out with their Hydraulics line of packs they knew what they were doing. It’s the little details that make this pack perfect.

I/O Bio Track Jacket No word of a lie, I wore this jacket every day for 2 months after I purchased it. I’ve lowered the number to probably 5 days a week now, but still haven’t had to wash it but once in 9 months.

Petzl CORE Battery I’ll be honest, I don’t actually have the CORE from Petzl yet. But this thing is awesome and I’m so glad to see it on the market. In my opinion, the head lamp is the most innovative and useful piece of outdoor gear on the market. There are so many applications for the use of a head lamp and it’s certainly one of the products that make me wonder what I did before I had one.

Ambler Vincent This is my favorite toque that we make. It’s 100% merino, warm, looks good and will fit a variety of head sizes. Do you want one? I’ve got a few to give away to the the first people who let me know what their favorite piece of gear from 2010 is and why in the comments. [Updated] Thanks for the great top gear picks of ’10. The Vincent’s have been depleted!

I’m not an advocate for over-consumption or materialism, regardless of what you think after reading this list. I live by the rule that if I’m adding a piece of gear to my life I have to remove a piece from the collection. It keeps me honest and keeps top-notch gear like those above in the great outdoors where they belong.

If you decide to pick up one of the pieces of gear from the list I recommend you check with your local, independent retailer to see if they have it or can bring it in for you. All the best to you in 2011!

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Solar Subsidies

If solar power received the same government subsidies as fossil fuels solar power would be cheaper than standard grid power. This infographic makes a quick and compelling argument to start treating renewable energy solutions as viable ones. Click on the image for a larger version.

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