Transforming Negative Into Positive
The story and impact behind ARTICLE22's stunning jewelry is one for the ages—this is a brand that is making a tangible, transformative difference in the lives of their artisans. Inspired by local artisans in Laos, ARTICLE22 creates jewelry from scrap metal and shrapnel with a message of peace and hope.
ARTICLE22 creates jewelry that
and promotes peace.
The impact of each piece is far-reaching: the artisan is paid at least five times more than local minimum wage, and ARTICLE22 donates profits from each purchase to both a village development fund and to MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to help clear local Laotian land of unexploded bombs, making farmland and communities more safe.
Emma Watson wearing the Dome Earrings, photo credit Michael Dumler
She wore these earrings on The Ellen Show and told ARTICLE22's story—check out the video here!
Behind The Scenes With Elizabeth Suda, Founder Of ARTICLE22
The stories behind ARTICLE22's origin and impact have us inspired and hopeful for a more peaceful future. We recently had the chance to speak with Elizabeth Suda, founder of ARTICLE22, about her inspiration create beautiful jewelry from war shrapnel and how the impact of her company has inspired influential women like Emma Watson and Olivia Wilde.
Do you remember the moment you were first inspired to repurpose war scrap metal into jewelry? Can you tell us about this and about ARTICLE22’s origin story?
As cliché as it is, it was an aha moment.
I quit my job at Coach in 2007. Sustainability in fashion wasn’t really “a thing” yet, but, fascinated by how much money we spend on looking good, I wondered how fashion could also do good—I wanted to know more about who was making our fashion and with what materials. I went to Laos to understand their modern use of ancient techniques of natural dyeing and handloom weaving. After 6 months living in Laos, I was hired as a consultant for Swiss NGO, Helvetas on a textile research assignment in four rural farming villages in the north of Laos.
In one of the villages, I noticed they were making spoons. They were the same spoons with which I ate my noodle soup breakfast that morning. I talked with the artisans and took a closer look—the pile of scrap metal being melted contained shrapnel from US bombs that read “ROCKET MORTAR”. I was stunned.
Immediately, I had the idea to create a bracelet that would tell the story of the artisans, the Secret War in Laos, and allow us to buy back the bombs as fair trade jewelry. I had no idea that Laos is considered the most heavily bombed country per capita in history, and, the legacy of that clandestine war which left Laos with 80 million unexploded bombs (of which just over 1% have been cleared as of today). So impressed by their resilience and ingenuity, I wanted to take their local innovation global (expanding their skillset and business) while also helping to raise awareness and and funds for MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to clear some of the (astounding) 80 million unexploded bombs from their land.
Each piece of ARTICLE22 jewelry gives back to support traditional Laotian artisan livelihoods, village development, community endeavors and further de-mining efforts. Can you tell us more about the impact the brand has had in the local communities where you work?
We are members of the Fair Trade Federation. In Naphia Village where the base of all of the aluminum components of our jewelry is made, we pay artisans 7x the local price of a spoon (the first thing they started making from the war material in the 1970s). For part time work, they earn on average, 5x the local minimum hourly wage. Importantly, we build supply chains that are, when possible, home-based and support the local way of life and culture—rather than tearing them away from their community to work in a factory. They work in the open air under thatched roofs from their gardens in order to tend to the other aspects of their lives as parents and subsistence farmers. Our jewelry provides income and optionality; we have seen living conditions improve with income for transportation, communication, education, and health care.
We donate 10% on top of every order to the Village Development Fund which is managed by the village chiefs and administers business or personal micro-loans (for livestock, weaving supplies) and pays for village development. The purpose is so that beyond the 30 husband/wife artisans, other people in the 300 person village benefit. We also do trainings in person and by Skype to improve quality of goods and upgrade skills; we purchased polishing machines and delivered them during the last few capacity building trips.
Lastly, we donate 10% of our product cost to Mines Advisory Group which is an INGO that works alongside the Lao government to clear unexploded bombs from the land in Laos—including where our artisan partners live. Like a virtuous circle, the more we sell, the more land is cleared, the more pieces artisans make.
Your work has been supported by an incredible range of women including Angela Lindvall, Olivia Wilde, and Emma Watson—what has been the best part reaching women across industries and who is your dream collaboration?
I think we are living our dream collaboration each day because the women we are collaborating with or who have worn A22 are women who we naturally connect with—not because we have links to Hollywood but because we are mutually inspired by one another—because of basic grit. To build a business, a career in the arts, or a presence more generally, you have to have grit—the ability to thrive through adversity which is a combination of passion, smarts, and persevering through down moments.
Each of these women are using their talent and the platform they have built through it to lead on issues that are larger than themselves. Emma hides books in the subway! And she uses her @the_press_tour to wear sustainable designers that often don’t have the budgets to invest in endorsements. She and her team hand select those they see doing the hard work. We are totally honored to be one of those brands.
Angela shares our adventurous spirit (she lived on a houseboat in NYC!) and has been an early advocate for sustainability and wellness. Working together has felt natural—we share the belief in personal responsibility and the idea of small daily positive actions adding up whether it's the food you eat, coffee you buy, things you wear, the inner and outer peace you build.
It is all a process and it all takes work. It's been refreshing to work with Angela who cares so much about the details—our process has been this organic evolution that kept circling back to her first idea to make sacred geometries—so simple and clean, it's basic math that connects us all.
Our work is contributing to a growing community of like-minded businesses that are proving, little by little, that there is a positive, sustainable version of globalization. We are more interconnected than ever. We can’t deny our global ecosystem—technologically, environmentally, economically, and socially—or the work we must do, together, to celebrate and protect it.
Is there a story behind the name ‘ARTICLE22’?
The brand is named from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1946, just after WWII, the Declaration was commissioned and Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the International Drafting Committee that brought it to life in New York and had it ratified in Paris, 1949.
The 22nd article is our ethos. It states the necessity of national effort and international co-operation to ensure everyone’s economic, social and cultural rights, which are indispensable for dignity and the free development of personality. I love the way it reminds us that the future is not fated and that it takes consciousness and dedication to build the world we want.
Do you have a personal favorite piece of jewelry you couldn’t live without?
Some women in Laos wear their bank accounts as gold chains around their necks. I suppose I can live without jewelry but I see what I own—and what I make—as meaningful and beautiful. What strikes me about most things in my closet, and jewelry box, is the story the things tell—about the people who gifted them and the places from which they came. (I’ll never get over losing the antique amethyst and gold ring my mother gave me that was the first gift my father had given her.) Our jewelry carries with it history and a certain intentionality.
There are two pieces I really love:
The earrings we call “the Emma earrings” (the dome earrings) because of the story of how they got to her (two heroines x 1 pair of earrings!), how she actually wore them, and then told our story on The Ellen Show. I love them also because of the way I feel every time I go to Laos and how I am reminded of that when I am back in Brooklyn. I feel so appreciative of how welcomed my friends there make me feel and how my pace changes. Each time I put them on back home in Brooklyn, it is a little memory—a souvenir. These dome earrings and rings are part of our “Modern Laos Collection,” inspired by the peace of the place and the shape of the niches where the Buddhas sit in one of the beautiful old temples in Vientiane, Wat Sisaket.
The other pieces I adore are our birthstone necklaces and bracelets in 14K gold. There is a ritualistic element to each of our designs. Like little amulets, the birthstones are a reminder that, like our transformed metal, we are our own transformation stories. These subtle reminders layer so nicely and inconspicuously with any jewelry that was gifted to me in the past. They are refreshingly simple.
This article is sponsored by our friends at ARTICLE22