What inspired you both to start Article 22?
Working as a Merchandising Assistant at Coach Inc., I realized the powerful force of fashion consumers and I thought, what if this purchase power enables people to look good but also to doand feel good? At that time, I was very interested in traditional textiles, handloom weaving, and natural dyeing, so I moved to Laos to learn from women who weave according to the skills their mothers and grandmothers have passed to them. This was the beginning of the journey that led to the brand, Article 22, named after the 22nd article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states everyone’s right to economic, social, and cultural security. This is our ethos, which reminds me, and my partner, Camille Hautefort, that the future is not fated and that it takes consciousness and dedication to build the world we want.
What unique challenges or opportunities do you experience working with a global list of suppliers and communities? How often do you travel back and forth to manage these relationships?
We typically travel once a year for a few weeks and sometimes months. The biggest challenge is language, but we have overcome that by hiring our outstanding Country Manager, Manivone. She manages all logistics between Peacebomb artisans, weavers, silversmiths, and shipping. Also, Somechit, one of the new artisans in the village, is also the local teacher and speaks English. We also use visual tools to communicate design and finishing details. In the meantime, we are working on our Lao!
During your time traveling abroad, what has been the most profound or formative interaction you’ve had?
The most profound moment led me to start Article 22. I was consulting on a textile project for Swiss NGO Helvetas in four rural villages. In Naphia Village, I saw farmer-artisans behind their homes at earthen-made kilns, making spoons. A woman led me to a shed filled with scrap metal–parts of bombs including a piece of aluminum shrapnel that read ROCKET MORTAR. Returning to the village by motorbike the next day, a uniformed man vigorously waived his arms urging me to stop. Within the next two minutes, a countdown, a huge boom that echoed through the mountains, and a giant plume of smoke. The Lao government’s demining team had removed unexploded ordnance (UXO) from farmland. I witnessed the controlled detonation of some of the 80 million unexploded bombs that did not detonate when they were dropped over nine years spanning 1963-1974. The legacy of this Secret War hit me–wars don’t end simply when a treaty is signed, when troops withdraw, or when history books say they do. Immediately I thought, we have to make a bracelet and buy back the bombs.
How do you see your company as a model for better business practices among fashion and jewelry retailers?
We know each person who helps craft each piece that we sell. Our supply chain is composed of humans linked together working toward a common goal. We know who they are, and they know who we are.
Can you talk about your audience: Are your customers primarily U.S.-based or do you have a global reach? How do you plan on expanding your audience and message?
Our community is composed of cosmopolitan clients across the globe. Peacebomb ships to more than 39 countries and is purchased by men and women attracted by the story, beauty, and modern simplicity of the jewelry. About 60% of our sales are U.S.-based and 40% are international. We ship to Australia and Europe weekly. We are currently producing new stories as short films to reach new audiences.
What are some of the opportunities of working so intimately with suppliers and communities across the globe?
The stories we tell are real because the artisans we work with live them and share them.
How important is being on the ground in Southeast Asia for the humanitarian and community-building work you do?
Our full-time Country Manager in Laos, Manivone, ensures we are present at all times. But, of course, our annual trip allows us to work on new design and technical innovations that bring the artisans more skills, work, and income. Some of our pieces are now polished like mirrors thanks to basic electric polishers that have been introduced into the finishing process. Our travels to Laos allow us to strengthen our supply chain, whether reviewing pricing and division of labor or training artisans on quality-assurance best practices.
What’s next for Article 22?
New projects in India and Colombia!
What are three things that you cannot travel without?
Cashmere socks for flights, iPhone, and La Roche-Posay BB cream with SPF.
What are your favorite apps for keeping your team organized/connected while on the go?
Facebook Messenger to communicate orders to our artisan partners in Laos, Google Calendar, and Evernote.
What destination are you off to next?
Paris, Chicago, Brazil, and Laos with New York in between, of course!
Elizabeth Suda is the Co-Founder of Article 22.
This article was written in partnership with the Marriott Rewards® Premier Business Card.