28 May 2019
Action Plan: Border Crossingby Julia HannaTopics:
Rawdon: Fostering a global spirit of cultural connection (photo by Stella Kalinina)
Growing up, Leigh Rawdon (MBA 2001) didn’t travel internationally with her family. But she loved to listen to the stories her globe-trotting aunt told of far-off destinations, from Morocco to South Africa to Israel. “Just hearing about those trips and looking at her photos made the world feel a bit more accessible,” says Rawdon, who tested the waters by traveling to Paris with her high school French class. That experience launched a lifetime passion for travel that found its ultimate expression in Tea Collection, a California-based children’s clothing brand inspired by the global spirit of cultural connection.
The company’s design team has found inspiration for Tea’s seasonal clothing collections in their twice-yearly travels to destinations ranging from Argentina and Bolivia to Bali and China. In addition, all Tea employees are given an annual travel allowance to satisfy their personal wanderlust. “When you connect with people in another country you realize that we’re all more alike than different,” says Rawdon, who cofounded the company in 2002. “We’ve always wanted to bring that to life through Tea’s products. We chose our name because tea evokes a sense of presence, connection, and timelessness.”
Rawdon’s desire to foster these cross-cultural connections also led to Tea’s partnership with the Global Fund for Children (GFC), a nonprofit that supports grassroots organizations dedicated to advancing children’s well-being worldwide. Tea has donated nearly $500,000 to the organization to date; for Rawdon, seeking out the recipients of those dollars also opens the door to on-the-ground relationships, as was the case when her sons played soccer in Turin, Italy, with children competing in a GFC-funded urban soccer tournament. “It was a powerful, memorable experience,” says Rawdon, who offers three tips for creating unforgettable travel moments of your own.
How to make memorable travel moments
Find personal connections. “On a trip to Shanghai we visited the former Jewish ghetto where my husband’s German grandparents lived as refugees during and after World War II. We were able to walk the streets they walked. It wasn’t a part of the city you would normally visit as a tourist, but it had a profound impact on us.”
Check out the potato chips. “It sounds odd, but you can really get a sense of place by visiting local grocery stores. In China, my sons loved to see all the different flavors of potato chips—like cucumber, blueberry, and hot-and-sour fish soup!”
See the sights—but open your eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with following a guidebook, but traveling with our design team has taught me to find beauty in things such as the unintentional color blocking in a row of buildings or the intricate designs of an ordinary fire hydrant or doorknob. Opening your eyes can open your heart. That’s when we really connect with others and find our common humanity.”
Class of MBA 2001, Section C