Shopping local for global good

Fashion-centric social enterprises offer shoppers unique products, ways to give back

While doing humanitarian work throughout Africa, Austinite Dani Lachowicz collected vibrant handmade jewelry, each piece a reminder of her experiences, from Senegal to Kenya.

During a yearlong post in South Sudan with the International Rescue Committee, Lachowicz met artisans who collected old bullet casings — remnants from war times — and melted them down, transforming them into beautiful bangles. Lachowicz purchased many for friends back in the U.S. and noticed that even though the artisans were thousands of miles away, their stories of struggle and survival resonated.

Lachowicz, who received a master’s degree in human rights and humanitarian aid from New York University, realized that through jewelry she could continue to make a difference in the lives of children in developing countries even after she returned to the U.S. In April, she launched an online boutique for Bloom and Grace, a socially conscious jewelry brand. Each jewelry purchase supports artisans and designers in developing countries and also provides childhood vaccinations through the United Nation’s Shot@Life campaign.

Bloom and Grace joins a growing national movement of fashion-centric social enterprises, such as Toms shoes, that are driven by social causes and have double or triple bottom lines. In recent years, Austin’s community of social entrepreneurs has also grown, creating new ways for shoppers to access unique products while pushing awareness of a variety of international issues.

“It was important to me to do something quantifiable,” Lachowicz says. A $45 purchase equals three vaccines for a child in need, and a tag attached to each jewelry piece indicates the number of children helped through that sale. So far, Bloom and Grace has provided vaccines for more than 6,000 children with products ranging from turquoise bib necklaces to mixed metallic necklaces made out of lightweight rope.

“The profit is great, but doing good is better,” she says.

Having a desire to be a part of something bigger helps Esperos founder Oliver Shuttlesworth feel like part of a movement instead of a brand, he says. Esperos, a local lifestyle company that sells stylish backpacks and totes, launched in 2012 and focuses on educating children in developing countries. Each bag sold helps fund one year of education for a child in Haiti or Guatemala.

Shuttlesworth has a background in corporate communication and worked in advertising for over two years when he realized he needed to pursue something more fulfilling. Having traveled throughout Latin America, he had seen the effects of poverty on children and “felt there was something more I could be doing,” he says.

The rise of fashion-centric social enterprises, Shuttlesworth says, reflects today’s culture, especially millennial culture.

“People are starting to ask more questions about where and how their products are made,” Shuttlesworth, 27, says. “We want quality, but also want to give back in ways that make sense. We care about the global impact because the Internet has played a big role in creating our global awareness.”

Jen Lewis, founder of Austin-based accessories company Purse & Clutch, says that millennials are accustomed to identifying international social issues through technology and asking, “What can I do to help?”

“I hear about the needs of the world so much that it’s hard to escape,” Lewis, 30, says. “With all the information available, people are starting to realize they have a choice (about helping). My job is to make that choice easier.”

Purse & Clutch partners with artisans from Madagascar to India to provide sustainable jobs at living wages. Lewis, who studied business leadership and ethics, traveled and worked in Latin America doing everything from teaching chemistry in Honduras to building orphanages in Bolivia. As part of her graduate program, she studied Guatemalan artisan markets and the challenges women there face to become viable businesses.

Although these social entrepreneurs didn’t have an immediate passion for fashion, they have committed to making unique, quality products. Lewis says not sacrificing style while shopping for good is key.

“People in Austin want to express themselves,” Lewis says. “They aren’t necessarily looking for a label, but something that’s one of a kind and interesting.”

Austin’s strong socially conscious consumer base has helped these companies thrive, Lewis says. Earlier this year, companies Teysha and Raven + Lily expanded from online shops to brick-and-mortar stores. Teysha, now on South First Street, works with artisans throughout Latin America and creates vibrant shoes and accessories incorporating indigenous artwork. Raven + Lily, a lifestyle brand now on Manor Road, empowers marginalized women from Ethiopia to Los Angeles.

Other local fashion companies like Noonday Collection not only partner with artisans in the developing world but also encourage customers to spread awareness by hosting in-home trunk shows featuring the jewelry and accessories. Noonday offers scholarship programs, emergency assistance and donates a portion of sales to place orphans in forever families.

The social entrepreneurs say that like-minded companies tend to support one another in Austin, often brainstorming together or teaming up for shopping events. Local resources for social enterprises are also plentiful, Lewis says, and help fashion-centric companies network and grow. “We all have the same heart,” she says. “And we’re all manifesting it in different ways.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Lifestyle

New veterinary office’s viewing window takes mystery out of treatment
New veterinary office’s viewing window takes mystery out of treatment

You take your dog or cat to the vet. The technician needs to draw some blood, clip some nails, check a temperature. Your animal is then taken to the mysterious back. Your pet is returned to you minutes later. What just happened? You’ll never really know. Or your dog needs a good dental cleaning or a minor surgery. That all happens out of view...
Why are many kids not getting diagnosed with autism before age 2? New study has some answers
Why are many kids not getting diagnosed with autism before age 2? New study has some answers

Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study done in Norway that might shed some light into why many kids are given a false-negative diagnosis for autism at 18 months. Dylan Flint, 7, and Liesa Randel get their boarding passes for the Wings for All flight for children with autism to practice going through...
That hotel pool could make you sick this summer, CDC study finds
That hotel pool could make you sick this summer, CDC study finds

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this bit of information last week: 1 in 3 waterborne disease outbreaks traced happen in hotel pools or hot tubs. There have been about 500 waterborne disease outbreaks from 2000 to 2014. In addition to hotel pools and hot tubs, water parks have also been to blame. Diseases include...
Aimovig: New migraine prevention drug approved by FDA
Aimovig: New migraine prevention drug approved by FDA

If you suffer from chronic migraines, relief is here. According to The Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration last week approved Aimovig, a monthly shot that aims to reduce migraines. The drug, developed by Amgen Inc. and Novartis AG, is "injected monthly just under the skin using a pen-like device," the AP reported. Its...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, May 20

ARIES (March 21-April 19). You depend on others for many of your needs, but you don’t necessarily stop and wonder what goes into producing the results. Today changes that, as you’ll find out exactly what you’re buying, how it’s made and more. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). Control your destiny by consciously taking responsibility...
More Stories