As you know I just adore jewelry and love layering tons of it on. So I was thrilled when 31 bits a socially minded business from Sunny SoCal wanted to share their story with me. Their mission is to "give internally displaced women in Northern Uganda an opportunity to counter poverty" by designing and selling their original handmade jewelry.
How did your interest in Uganda originate? What sparked your travels there?
One of our founders, Kallie Dovel, traveled to Uganda in the summer of 2007, visiting friends and getting a first-hand look at life in Northern Uganda. While she was there, she met women already making paper beads but had no market for selling. After bringing home a box of jewelry, Kallie’s friends and family were amazed by the talent and beauty displayed by the beads and there was an instant demand for more. She spent the next year finishing her degree in Cultural Anthropology while dreaming up the concept of a development organization. She brought a few friends on board and her ideas quickly evolved into 31 Bits. The girls traveled back to Uganda in August 2008, and selected six women to begin buying jewelry from on a monthly basis. Since then, we have grown to 113 women; each with a unique story of suffering that has been overcome with joy and liberation.
|Heritage Long $32|
Where does the name 31 bits come from?
The “31” comes from Proverbs 31 in the Bible, where it describes a diligent woman providing and caring for her family. The “bits” comes from what the beads are made out of…bits of paper!
Are paper beads something that is traditionally used in Uganda?
Yes! Many of the women already had the skill of rolling and making the paper beads, they simply needed a market to sell their jewelry!
I was struck by your idea of "using Fashion and Design to empower women," could you tell me more on how that became your mantra.
We believe that the most effective means of economic and sustainable growth comes through maximizing the skills and assets already possessed by a group of people and through giving them access to new and innovative opportunities. By giving our designers access to the international market, we are able to help them generate an immediate income that allows them to provide for daily needs while participating in educational programs. By being equipped with literacy education, financial and vocational training, holistic care, and a strong support system, individuals will be empowered to further their careers and attain social equity.
|Bermuda Braid Necklace $44|
What was the inspiration behind the "From Desert to Oasis" summer collection?
When women enter our program, they are coming directly from a background of hardships and poverty, what often feels like a desert of hopelessness. Their pasts are masked by their astounding strength and sweet smiles. Some come with their chin held high, others are timid and unconfident. Either way, when our women step into our 31 Bits Uganda Headquarters, they’re entering an oasis. They have entered a place where they can dream for their future, be educated, find community, and make an income. They have entered a place where they can be nourished, refreshed, and free. Using fresh, airy colors and radiant, crisp design, we’ve created a line of jewelry that will bring color and merriment to your Desert, and reflect the energy and delight of your Oasis.
|Sea Weave Bracelet $28|
When you decide on a collection, is it something that is discussed with your team of designers or do you put together the designs that seem to fall under a certain type of style?
As a fashion and design company we are constantly looking at magazines and fashion trends to make sure that the jewelry we produce is fashion forward. One of Kallie’s job, our founder and Director of International Operations, is to figure out what colors are going to be in style for the next season and relays those decisions to Danielle, our creative designer in Uganda. Danielle then takes those guidelines and works with our Ugandan designers to create the best and most fashion forward pieces.
|Ollie Twist Necklace $42|
I imagine it must be hard to pick your jewelry faces but what is your favorite piece this week?
One of our favorites of the week is our Ollie Twist that we recreated in Orange and Lime. We love it especially for summer because of its bright and bold beads that add that perfect pop of color to any outfit!
I really was inspired by the 31 Bits' business and social philosophy. Any company that is able to give back gets an A+ in my book. What a bonus that their designs are perfect for a day at the beach or that they can add a festive flair to a fancy dress?
This video shows a great way to incorporate their beautiful creations for a beachy look. Enjoy!