In 2009, Richard Rhett’s life changed forever.
The Vicksburg native and Hinds Community College alum was traveling to a remote village in Honduras on a mission trip with Woodlawn Baptist Church and an organization called Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International, a medical ministry with the goal of sharing Christ’s love and meeting physical needs of health care for those without. Rhett noticed that many people were sick, with the majority of illnesses stemming from polluted water sources.
“I thought at that moment, ‘What if every drop of water that went down my throat caused illness instead of refreshment?’” he said.
As his trip went on, he learned that water-borne illnesses are the leading cause of death in infants and the second leading cause of death in children across the globe.
“Knowing this and seeing it first hand with my own eyes, I knew I could not disregard those facts,” he said. “So, I set out to become an instrument of change.”
Rhett decided to start a company that sells outdoor gear for a purpose, that purpose being to provide clean water to those in need.
An outdoor enthusiast, Rhett said he has always enjoyed God’s creation.
“My dad took me to Alaska for my 21st birthday, and it was a trip that I will never forget. I was dumbfounded by the mountains and the vast vistas that we enjoyed as we traveled throughout the state.”
In 2008, Rhett’s love for the outdoors turned into a desire to be immersed in the wild, so he started to rock climb, mountaineer, kayak, surf, ski and snow board, doing everything he could to seek out new adventures.
“I was hooked. Also, I found that I really enjoy sleeping outside; it allows me to venture into areas of the world that are not commonly seen or experienced. In this, I am able to enjoy the simplicity of nature.”
Rhett says his inspiration for his number one selling item, his special hammocks, came from a first-hand experience in le Patarique. As he was camping each night, he thought of ways to make a more comfortable camping hammock. Upon his return to the U.S., he bought a sewing machine and made his first prototypes. His company, Sierra Madre research, or SMr, was launched in August 2010 with two products, both camping hammocks, called the Pares and the Solo.
Sierra Madre research illuminate S.A., or SMr illuminate, was incorporated in October 2011 in the city of Managua, Nicaragua. The illuminate was formed as the SMr production company, but more importantly to provide sustainable economic development for those with sewing skills. Currently, the company employs eight full-time Nicaraguan team members, and in November, the company interviewed and hired four additional employees.
“We are steadily expanding to catch up with our current orders,” said Rhett. “We are ecstatic about the opportunity to expand and offer more permanent positions to workers that desperately need the work.”
SMr illuminate manufactures the majority of SMr’s gear, which gives SMr the ability to monitor the entire production process and implement its own standard of quality for each product.
“This also gives reassurance to customers that workers are being paid good wages and working in a good environment made their product,” Rhett said. “SMr illuminate imports hand-picked raw materials from all over the world and then builds gear with a purpose.”
Rhett says his company is aiding in developing sustainable economic change by paying good wages to employees and providing an excellent work environment, which, in turn, gives hope to the entire community.
He plans to expand his company into all forms of outdoor products. Designs for tents, backpacks and sleeping bags, all with unique features, are in the works.
In addition to this, SMr has committed to bringing clean water to those without, so with each piece of gear purchased, a percentage goes directly to funding clean water. So far, the company has participated in the building of three new water wells, one in Guatemala and two in Honduras. They have also participated in a well repair in Haiti.
Recently, the company released a new hammock, the Nubé. Because of the success of the new product, SMr will be able to drill approximately nine water wells in Honduras.
“The way our system works is, when someone purchases a ‘ONE’ product, a portion of that sale gives clean water to one person for an entire year,” said Rhett. “One product, one person, one year of clean water.”
Rhett remembers his time as a Hinds student and reflects on how it has helped him achieve his dreams.
“Gary and Michelle (Davison) at the Hinds Baptist Student Union laid the groundwork in teaching me the two most important ways to live our lives: to love God with everything we have and to love people,” he said. “Hinds, in general, laid the groundwork for me to learn how to dedicate time to a goal, a long-term goal. Getting an education and having the discipline needed to, one day, be a useful contributor to this world, were the two goals I made during that time. I am glad to have Hinds as one of the paving stones in my journey of life.”
According to Rhett, although the success of a company is often measured by revenue, there are many more factors that determine what success really is.
“To me, this is what makes our company successful: people enjoying God’s creation, economic stability in a developing country, and clean water for people that do not have access to it. No, we haven’t made a ton of money, but God has truly provided everything that we have needed and much more.”
Rhett plans to keep his mission as the focus of the company, even as it expands.
“This is the core of SMr,” said Rhett. “To take the hope of Christ to the nations and water to the thirsty.”