From fashionista to fashion designer, New York native Elizabeth Suda followed her interest in eco-friendly products to create Article 22, a website that sells organic products to help sustainable development in Laos.
One of the most popular products sold through the site are peaceBOMB bracelets. The jewelry, made from the abundance of scrap metal left over from the Vietnam War, is completely safe to wear and the story behind it only enhances the desire to wear them.
Beginning as a merchandising assistant for Coach, Suda had the opportunity to work in many different departments. The perks included getting free products while managing the men’s sample closet, but she began to notice all the different languages on the tags.
‘We buy these items here but we don’t necessarily know where they come from,’ she said. ‘I began to become curious about the supply chain.’
One thing led to another, and her questioning became greater when the Al Gore film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ came out. Everyone seemed to be talking about how different industries can, and could, become eco-friendly. Her drive to research organic textiles and natural dyes became more apparent during her work with Coach and made her realize that every industry could do something eco-friendly ‘ even the fashion industry.
Going to Laos
After a few years of research and a deep personal drive to do something more, Suda traveled to Laos with anything but a plan. Having done a background check on the country, she began visiting places around the capital. During her first week of traveling, she came across a woman who ran a business containing 80 other local women who wove textiles out of natural dyes. Just as she was about to leave the house, the woman offered her the job of creating four clothing lines for a festival and asked if she could begin that very day.
‘It sounds clich√É©, but I was in the right place at the right time,’ Suda explained.
By becoming involved in the community during her first week, Suda was able to gain the connections she needed to help steer her to her biggest project yet: the peaceBOMB bracelet.
The peaceBOMB project
It all began as she spoke with Samuel Martin, a man who ran an income-sustainable energy project. The project helps bring electricity to four villages and then aids in using it in a productive way. One of the ways the villages create a sustainable living is through making handcrafts.
On an excursion to the villages in northern Laos to do a textile survey, Suda came across a village that made spoons out of the bomb metal that was dropped on it during the Vietnam War. The idea inspired her. If locals were buying these spoons, she thought there must be some way to get this product into the international market.
‘Spoons aren’t something a New York consumer wants to buy, but jewelry on the other hand is something any consumer may want to buy, and I thought, let’s make bracelets,’ she said.
By simply changing the way this village used its scrap metal, she was able to reach a larger market to help the people there. Helping to bring money back to the community and artisans, she helped people create a sustainable business that is self-sufficient without relying on charity money.
‘This is what sustainable economic development is all about,’ she said. ‘Being able to pass skills on from one generation to the next. A long-term process that doesn’t just happen overnight. A gradual step toward developing in a way that suits the lifestyle that they already have.’
Although very proud of her work, Suda emphasizes the importance that this was the village’s idea, not her own. They decided to make spoons out of something that would otherwise be unusable, but her knowledge of marketing gave her the idea of turning the metal into bracelets so that she could reach people across the world.
The peaceBOMB bracelets go full circle. The abundance of metal dropped during the Vietnam War is associated with many negative things, but this village has turned it into something constructive and positive by making spoons it can sell to create a living. Now, the bracelets, something beautiful, are being brought to the United States to help people, rather than to hurt.
‘We, in the 70s, chose to fight communism and the way we did that was to drop bombs on civilian communities,’ Suda said. ‘Now we have the opportunity to help them by taking the constructive approach to this negative time by buying back the bomb.’
Suda has created a company working to create only positive energy with the peaceBOMB bracelets.
Working toward sustainable living in Laos, she brings fashionable eco-friendly products to the western world. By taking a risk as an entrepreneur, Suda has created a fashion product that will strike consumers with something more than the price attached to it. The bracelets carry a narrative about the people who are making them.
To see her fashion line and look at the peaceBOMB bracelets, check out www.shoparticle22.com.