Reading about the jewelry and accessories design firm, Raven+Lily, I’m reminded of a song by Aretha Franklin whose lyrics proclaimed, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.” Raven+Lily, founded by two women, features an Ethiopian Collection whose jewelry is made from bullet casings found by farmers, a product of 20th century wars, on their lands and turned into beads. The women who make the jewelry are HIV positive and live in an area called Entoto Mountain, a place people go after being ostracized by their families and society. To be HIV positive, or to have AIDS, in Ethiopia is a stigma.
There are 150 women currently in the program, which has a “long waiting list” of women who want to enter. Many of the women now have savings accounts. That many not seem like much for those of us in the Western world, but for an HIV positive Ethiopian woman, having a savings account “has become a tangible result of empowerment,” as a Raven+Lily blog post states.
It is not easy or quick work to turn the bullet casings into beads, as another blog post details. First, the bullet casings are melted “over crude hot coals” and poured into “thin road of brass or copper metal.” Then the metal is “hammered into thin sheets, cut into strips, and formed into beads.” As the blog post puts it, “The amount of work that goes into each bead is absolutely stunning.”
Lori Fox, lead designer for Raven+Lily, says that every new design she brings to the women is “one more plate of food, another month’s rent, another year’s school fees for their children, another chance at a better life.”
In addition, to jewelry, the Ethiopian Collection features cotton scarves made on a handloom by women who used to work as fuel wood laborers.
Raven+Lily defines itself as a “socially responsible brand dedicated to empowering women through design partnerships and sustainable economic opportunities.” Founded by Kirsten Dickerson and Sophia Lin, the design firm returns proceeds to its partner communities to fund education, healthcare and microloans. Current collections also feature jewelry and accessories made by marginalized women in North India. The design firm will launch a new product line in Cambodia.
During an interview with Fast Company, Dickerson said, “It’s really amazing to me that what was once meant for harm now brings hope and life to the HIV-positive women in our partnership.”
Or as that Aretha Franklin song proclaims, the Ethiopian women who make jewelry for Raven+Lily are “standin’ on their own two feet.”