Allie Sundet on Ethical Business, Equality, Faith, & Finding Her Purpose in Chicago
Alexandra (Allie) Sundet and I met at least six years ago at small group. Our paths have criss-crossed as acquaintances for over six years now, and I've always admired her journey from afar through church and social media. I finally got a chance to interview Allie about her faith journey, her work, and where they intersect.
She's a natural beauty with fantastic style and sense of humor. But more than those things, her heart for equality, ethical business, and tuning into her gifts to serve others is why she radiates.
What brought you to Chicago and how long ago?
I came to Chicago after I graduated college nine years ago
What do you do for a living?
I am the Sales and Marketing Coordinator for Bright Endeavors. The main goal of everything I do is to generate enough revenue to go back into the job training program so that we can offer more employment opportunities.
Bright Endeavors is a social enterprise that operates through a job training program for young moms in Chicago. At the training, the participants receive financial literacy training, job readiness skills and complete secondary education goals.
What do you most love about working at Bright Endeavors?
An area of my job that I love is collaborating with our participants. As much as possible, we write blog posts, come up with content for social media and plan some sales strategies together. I value our connection and it helps both myself and the participants feel more engaged in our overall mission. I also enjoy connecting with my team at Bright Endeavors. Everyone has such varied skill sets including social work, business and training, but we are able to work together towards a shared goal.
At Bright Endeavors and New Moms (our parent nonprofit organization), we see strength in motherhood because when you empower a mom, she will be able to empower not only her child, but the surrounding community. This two-generation approach is something we take very seriously in everything we do.
What are some lessons you've learned working for an organization that transforms lives?
This work is not easy and takes many people committed to the same goal over a long period of time. Instant gratification can’t be expected. Since I’m not from the community that we serve, I’m in a position of learning and growing. I want to contribute to a space of unity and work alongside my colleagues with the larger picture of providing employment.
Honoring someone’s story can be a powerful way to enter into the work. In my marketing role, I want to promote the organization and tell stories of empowerment to highlight the hard work of someone claiming who they are created to be.
Ultimately, God is the one who works to make change. (Also, self-care is important.)
You have fantastic style. Is fashion something you've always had a knack for?
Well, thank you! I guess so, I’ve never really thought about it, but I’ve always liked putting together outfits and looking at what other people are wearing. My mom is also a pretty stylish lady, I think I get most of that from her so I think it comes natural. (*Flips Hair*)
What are your thoughts on slow fashion?
I am a huge advocate of learning more about where your purchases come from and who made them. This is important to me because I view this as also a humanitarian issue. In the Western world, we are large consumers and we don’t really question the companies we buy from. For example, do the companies provide a livable wage to their employees in good working conditions? When we spend/give away our money, we’re essentially making a choice in what/who we want to support. Of course, accessibility and cost is usually a barrier to always choosing slow fashion or another ethically made product.
Although the internet is pretty great and you can find more companies committed to giving back and ethical business practices. Everlane is a favorite, and I hope someone from their company reads this and makes you and I their brand ambassadors. (Rachel, here: Yes, please!)
How has living in the city affected your style and the way you approach what you purchase / invest in.
I would have to say that living in the city provides an opportunity to see a lot of people with great style and access to a lot of thrift stores. I people-watch and pick up ideas from street fashion.
Also, the city has fashion, jewelry, furniture, etc. makers. I try to support what’s going on locally as much as possible, we can compete with L.A. and NYC!
Can you speak into your volunteering at Loom?
Yeah! Loom is a social enterprise that helps refugee women earn extra income for their family and find community in Chicago. We partner with Chicago designers to make and sell handmade items. I volunteered for the organization for 3 months then became the main coordinator for the whole program for almost two years, and then stepped down when I started my full time job about a year ago, back to volunteering.
Is there a story behind your turquoise earrings from Loom? (Pictured in the first gallery above)
This design was made by Ganga who crocheted in her home country of Bhutan and brought her amazing skills with her to Chicago. She came up with the design and taught the other women in the group, it became the most popular earring sold.
Has God reveal anything to you this season?
God revealed a lot to me in this season. I started volunteering at Loom because I had taken a service trip to Guatemala in 2010. While I was there, I saw women selling their handmade items as a way to provide for their families. I was inspired by their leadership and steps-toward self-sufficiency, I wanted to start similar work in Chicago. Short term trips have limitations as they only afford a small glimpse into a community, but I feel as though God revealed to me parts of my ‘purpose.’
Loom challenged me on the idea of how to unify a group of women from different countries, backgrounds and experiences. This also challenged me to set aside my agenda and goals for growing the business and focus more on healing and community to meet somewhere with where they’re at. I also heard stories from women that experienced heartache and lost almost everything, but are some of the most generous people I know. This challenged my idea of generosity and community.
What are your hopes for your career and your personal growth?
My hope is to learn to trust God and lean on him. I would hope to let God be director and I be working in His plan. In my experience, as I seek God for next steps in my career or personal life, I’m usually pushed to take risks. And I hope to be more expressive. The older I get, the less I care about other’s opinions and I hope to grow in that.
What is your response to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, "We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God."?
Oh wow. God will show you where he wants you to go if you’ll let him. He will also deconstruct your ideas of who you think you are. If you’re open to God, even a little, he will change your heart slowly to make it more like his and that growing can be hard. You’ll have to face the not so great parts about yourself and you’ll be challenged to move forward in ways that can feel daunting.
When do you feel closest to God?
Well, I’ll answer from both sides. I feel farthest from God when I doubt Him, I think that can be healthy to determine what you really believe and why. It gets dangerous when I start doubting that God is really good and working all things for good. It’s hard when you see cases of injustice and wonder Is God good, why does he allow this to happen? I wrestle with that. Maybe because there is good in the world there also has to be evil and it’s up to us to shed light in the dark places.
I feel closest to God when I experience his creation. In nature, art work and people. I feel closest to Him usually when I get a glimpse of his love for me. Don’t you wish you could see yourself the way God sees you?
What do you find challenging about living in Chicago?
This city has wrecked my views of equality and how I view myself as a white, Christian woman. Speaking of commuting, I work in West Garfield Park and Austin, but I live in Andersonville. I see the disparity in our city every time I drive to work. I see that areas of our city are not always afforded the same access to quality education and job opportunities or other resources. This is unacceptable and it can feel overwhelming to try to tackle this.
A few years ago I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His in the city. I think I keep being challenged to move farther out of ‘comfort’ and into engaging with the disparities here. This is personally challenging because I’m a little timid and I’m not always sure if I’m using my voice well, but this work is too important to ignore or be silent about.
Why do you love it?
It’s such a challenging place because if you have any self-awareness at all, you will realize how small you are. There is always someone who is better, smarter, more creative, etc. It provides an excellent opportunity to learn and grow and a challenge to be better at your craft, whatever that may be.
Why do you stay?
I ask myself this every year in January and February! My friends keep me here. Chicago has provided some friends-who-are-like-family to me. There is a grittiness to the city that I like, I find most people are willing to work hard to get where they want to go and there isn’t a lot of fake bulls*&#. What you see is what you get.
How has community affected your time here?
Chicago is a big city, but can feel smaller if you have a sense of community. I take that to mean, a support group who shares a similarity to you in beliefs, interests or life stage. Community should not mean that you establish ‘your’ group and don’t allow others to come into it.
Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community? How does it inspire you?
There is a rich history here of artists who paved the way to give younger generations the opportunity to keep putting their art out there in areas like fashion, writing, photography, painting, poetry, music, etc. It’s inspiring because you can see artists taking chances and pushing boundaries and fighting to make art a central theme in the city.
When do you feel most empowered and comfortable in your own skin?
When my purpose aligns with God’s. Also when I’m with a close friend and can be truly silly.
How has Chicago affected your worldview, if at all?
Chicago provides the opportunity to meet and interact with so many different people, if you’re willing. There is something to be learned from everyone. Everyone has their own story.
Do you have an experience or a specific encounter here that has moved you/stayed with you that you'd be up for sharing?
I spent the majority of my twenties in Chicago. These were difficult years because I was learning more about who I am and who I want to become. I also didn’t speak to my mom for a few of those years. We tried counseling, but it mainly just helped to air our grievances with a mediator who would eventually tell one of us to stop talking, ha! I’m not sure what really changed between us. I really had wished things were different, but I learned about continual forgiveness and setting aside my own pride. Now I’m in my thirties and we’re trying to have a relationship, I’m trying to love her but also stand up for myself. Maybe you can pray for us.
Is there any scripture that's been on your heart / resonated with you lately?
A friend recently shared this verse,
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” – Revelation 7:9-10
I hope we can work towards this image of unity, not only in our city, but also in our nation.
What about music and books? What are you listening to or reading lately?
I have been listening to Jamila Woods (she is from Chicago!). I am reading Cornel West's Race Matters, and a friend just recommended my next book: Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.