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From Chemicals to Cambodia: Red Dirt Road’s Marie Eckstein and Lin Alessio
Marie Eckstein is channeling her passion and energy into building a Cambodian-based fashion accessories business that sells its products to women a half a world away. The company is called Red Dirt Road, and currently employs nine women in a rural workshop located three hours north of Phnom Penh. It is a“social enterprise business,” meaning it exists for the benefit of the employees and profits are returned to the women and their village. This may sound like a far cry from Marie’s 30 years of business experience in the specialty chemicals industry at Dow Corning Corporation, from which she retired as Corporate Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer in 2009. Or the three years she spent as Chief Operating Officer at EJ (formerly East Jordan Iron Works), leaving that role in December of last year. In fact, Marie is leveraging her international business experience every day to grow the fledgling Red Dirt Road brand into a business with a solid foundation capable of sustainable growth—and employing an increasing number of rural women now living in poverty. Marie lives in Charlevoix with her husband, Mark, who she met while they both were studying engineering at the University of Illinois. They have three grown sons– -also engineers.
Lin Alessio is a local business owner, an award-winning former inner city educator, and at one time owned and operated three art galleries with her late husband, Tony. Today, in addition to running Interlochen Perennial Farms, she is the Director of Women’s Development and Village Projects for Red Dirt Road, a social enterprise business based in Cambodia which creates and markets unique fashion accessories. Lin is also the founder and energy behind Stitches of Kindness, a non-profit organization that provides local first responders with handmade quilts sewn by individuals and groups in the community.
Lin spent twenty-five years in the Detroit Public Schools, where she taught Drama, Speech, and Fine Arts Adventure, an interactive program about arts through the ages. Lin became known for her excellence in innovative teaching methods, and was instrumental in developing a teacher training program for Wayne State University which she ran for seventeen years. In 1991, Lin was named a “Detroit Public Schools Teacher of the Year,” and that same year was recognized as a “State of Michigan Teacher of the Year.” Lin retired from both the Detroit Public School and Wayne State University in 1995 and moved to Interlochen with her husband, where they started their own perennial farms business.
The common thread running through Lin’s diverse set of experiences is her belief that art, in its many forms, can be a driving force for positive change in society. Whether she is working with a customer to design a garden as a “living work of art,” or teaching a group of women in a remote village in Cambodia how to use silk to create a custom handbag, she is bringing out the best in people. Through art, individuals and societies are able to discover themselves, their passions, and the humanity which we all share.
Tickets are $15 per lecture.