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People of the Year 2015 | Jessica Honegger

In retrospect, Jessica Honegger could have lived a very different life. Growing up in San Antonio, Honegger had a self-described “comfortable upbringing” in the tony Alamo Heights neighborhood. In the early 1990s, Honegger, then a “strong-willed and curious” eighth grader, embarked on a church mission trip to the then-downtrodden Washington, DC neighborhood of Adams Morgan. It was an experience, says Honegger, that forever changed the course of her life. “I remember being in this home for women recovering from drug addiction, and … looking outside the window and they said it was the largest open-air drug market in [the city],” says Honegger. “I think that juxtaposition of being in my country’s capital, two miles from the White House and yet seeing poverty and what it [was doing] to the community [impacted me].”

The mission trip had such an impact on Honegger that four years later when it came time to apply to college, she submitted multiple applications at universities in DC. Though she was accepted into most, her father, a fourth generation Aggie, quickly nixed the idea; Honegger rebelled by instead attending the University of Texas at Austin. While at UT, Honegger majored in Latin American studies and continued her mission work, returning to volunteer in DC and abroad.

Post college, while working for Food for the Hungry International in Bolivia, Honegger met the man who would become her husband — a Midwesterner also volunteering — and together they continued on to Guatemala. “[Joe] was always the one who was vacuuming and putting the chairs away [after meetings], he had such a sweet, servant nature about him,” Honegger says.

Eventually, the couple returned to the U.S. and landed back in Austin. Unsure what to do next, the pair began flipping houses and Honegger began working towards a master’s degree in education at Texas State. Together the pair had two children, and began research into adopting a third from Rwanda. When the economy started to slide into a recession in 2008, houses that had previously stayed on the market for days now sat for months. Halfway through the adoption process, the family realized they needed help raising funds to bring their son home. Inspired by her trips to Africa, Honegger decided to host a trunk show at her home featuring jewelry made by Ugandan women. Eighty of her friends showed up, and Honegger walked away with enough money to bring her son home from Uganda — and an idea.

“At the time, five years ago, there weren’t a ton of fashion-forward, fair trade brands that were also social selling models,” explains Honegger. Inspired by one of her favorite Bible verses, Isaiah 58:10, she trademarked the name “Noonday Collection.” She began curating jewelry from women in countries in East Africa, Southeast Asia, as well as Central and South America. (Noonday has since brought on a creative team that designs the jewelry and then outsources the work to women in these countries.)

The decision to go into business for herself was easy, says Honegger. “I grew from a long line of entrepreneurs. My dad owned his own business, my grandad was this crazy rancher, oil man guy. I never knew anyone who ‘worked for the man.’’’ In 2010, she brought on a co-CEO, Travis Wilson, and together the pair has created Austin’s fastest growing business.

Part of what has contributed to Noonday Collection’s success is its social selling model (think your grandmother’s Tupperware parties, but cooler), which allow “Ambassadors” to work when they want. Says Honegger, “Being an entrepreneur and an ambitious woman, I feel like I just want to give women permission to be ambitious.”

She also wants to give back. Since its inception, Noonday Collection has made supporting adoption part of its business model, and today 10 percent of all trunk show sales are given to adoptive families. For a company whose revenue was $11.8 million in 2014, that means real change. “When women come together, we rise and shine. When we talk about these heavy things, poverty or the orphan crisis, it can feel heavy and debilitating, [Noonday] stands for something, creating something.”

CREDITS

Photography by Chad Wadsworth | Hair by Jessica Casarez of Lip Service | Makeup by Dolce - Ivy Kim

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