What inspired you to create the Brave Collection?
I taught English in South East Asia during my time at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. I fell in love with the Cambodian culture – the magical temples of Angkor Wat and all of the history and spirituality they hold. I was heartbroken to learn that in the genocide in the 1970s 90% of the artisan community was killed, and that the modern day challenges with human trafficking are severe. Inspired by my mother’s jewelry store, I was inspired to create a collection to provide job opportunities to artisans, donate to empower girls against human trafficking, and create a tactile object to connect Brave women globally.
Talk us through the process from design to development.
In the beginning, it was very challenging dealing with linguistic and cultural barriers. My frame of reference vs. the context of the artisans I was working with was drastically different. It took a few months to get our communication down, and there were tons of road blocks and challenges along the way. Today however, we have built a fluid, streamlined process of workshopping designs and scaling our production. Cambodia is 12 hours ahead of New York so we often communicate late at night for me in Brooklyn, by email or Skype and get on the same page for all of the projects for the day ahead.
What message are you hoping to spread with this collection?
Issues such as human trafficking, genocide, ethical production vs sweatshop labor etc. are difficult and heated and can easily be diluted to a statistic on a piece of paper or computer screen. My goal is to personalize the story of the incredibly courageous artists and trafficking survivors I have met in Cambodia, and ultimately be a storyteller, connecting our global community of women through common experiences and dreams for the future. I hope to create not just a line of jewelry, but a tangible object that a woman can gift to another woman to champion her Bravery. I hope to create an accessible medium through which people can connect with individuals across the globe. I hope to create a reminder on your wrist that we are each part of a massive and complex world, and that it is both our honor and responsibility to acknowledge our role in our global community, and fight to make this planet better and safer for all people.
Tell us a bit more about the artisans who help to create these pieces.
All of the artists we work with receive above average wages, stipends for their children’s education, maternity leave, and health insurance. They work from a small, bright and clean workshop or from their homes as they care for their young children. Together we are breaking the cycle of poverty, aligning with women who were never given the chance to receive an education, and putting them in a financial situation where they can insure a brighter future for their children.
You first traveled to Cambodia while still at NYU to teach English. What was the process to then create The Brave Collection?
You’ve heard of rebel without a cause – I was sort of a “philanthropist without a cause” if you will! I knew I wanted to do something powerful that would forever tie me to this place and these incredible people of Cambodia, but I wasn’t sure what I had to offer. I think a lot of us feel this way when confronted with issues of global suffering – we feel helpless. It took me a few years to realize that the skills I already had in the fashion space could in fact be the perfect medium to forge the difference I longed to make.
Are there deeper meanings behind the shapes, colors, or textiles used in the collection?
Our signature bracelet spells “Brave” in the Cambodian alphabet which is a powerful conversation starter – wear one of our signature Brave Bracelets and you will surely be asked about the origins of this piece. It’s a wonderful way to begin a deeper conversation about the beautiful culture of Cambodia. We have a motif inspired by the lines of the Buddhist Flag, and an engraving that says “Limitless” in Khmer, the language of Cambodia. We also have a shape modeled after the Buffalo Tooth, prevalent in Buddhist architecture, that represents “a small piece of a greater whole”.
How does your collection help the artisans employed?
Providing consistent employment is definitely the most important, but beyond that, we are able to collaborate with and challenge the next generation of artists in Cambodia. The state-run education system in Cambodia teaches route memorization of facts and shies away from creative, outside the box thinking. It’s liberating and significant to be able to problem solve creatively with the latest creative class of Cambodia.
You were recently named one of Forbes "30 Under 30" 2016 honorees. Congrats! Do you have any words of advice for young women who hope to start a business that a boasts a philanthropic message?
Thank you! What I’ve learned is, it’s not about fitting your skill set and passions into a philanthropic role per se, it’s about taking the talents you were born with and the industry you’ve cut your teeth in, and figuring out how to bring a bit of philanthropy into what you already do best.