Written by Kassia Binkowski, Contributing Editor to The Good Trade
Meet Carly Burson of Tribe Alive
When Carly Burson began her adoption journey, she knew that becoming a mother would profoundly impact her life. She never imagined that it would alter the course of her life’s work. Although adoption presents an opportunity to support an individual child, Carly was struck by the desire to address the core issue of child relinquishment on a global scale: namely, the economic insecurity facing women in the developing world. Tribe Alive was born from Carly’s decision to utilize her years of experience in the fashion industry as a platform to alleviate poverty among people in the developing world. We recently had a chance to sit down with Carly and learn more about her inspiration behind Tribe Alive and her own experience as both a female entrepreneur and a mother.
Your professional pursuits are intrinsically tied to your personal life. We’d love to hear more about your evolution from global traveler to compassionate mother to innovative business owner. Tell us your story!
I fell in love with the world at a very young age and found myself journeying to live and study in far off places before I reached my twenties. Through these early experiences I gained a deep respect and understanding for cultures different from my own. I spent a great deal of time volunteering in developing countries where I taught English, worked in orphanages, and took part in relief work. My heart for poverty stricken countries grew and I always envisioned living a life that would allow me to utilize my skills and experience to impact poverty on a large scale. This passion put my husband and I on the path to adopt our daughter, Elie, and set the foundation for how we planned to grow our family.
Although adoption presented an opportunity to support an individual child, I was struck by Elie’s birth mother’s story and with a desire to address the core issue of child relinquishment on a global scale: namely, the economic insecurity facing women in the developing world. I decided that I did not want my legacy to be rooted in raising other women’s children but instead in giving them the opportunity to raise their own. I took a leap two years ago and decided to start this business and I haven’t looked back since.
And we’re so glad you did! Very few businesses combine creative design and social impact the way Tribe Alive does and your passion for humanity shows through every product. Of all the meaningful ways you could have chosen, how did you end up settling on a fashion line to catalyze social change?
Most people I know want to make a positive impact on the world but struggle with knowing where to start. Fashion was what I knew and it’s what I did well. It was an easy place to start. I could have chosen hundreds of other platforms to pursue, but I chose what was familiar and what I was confident in. It’s a powerful and lucrative industry, but unfortunately one of the most unethically managed in the world. I loved the challenge of competing with brands that cause poverty through their production while our platform alleviates it. It’s our way of exposing the fact that you do not need to compromise the human factor of business in order to succeed.
The female entrepreneurial space - especially in the creative sector - is filled with stories of work life balance, or a lack thereof. What we want to know is this - how has being a mother made you better business owner and vice versa?
Being a working parent is really hard. Heck, being a parent is really hard. I wouldn’t say that being a mother has made me a better business owner, but it has challenged me in ways that I never imagined and has taught me that I can’t strive for perfection (which I have my whole life). You quickly learn that you cannot be all things at once and that most days you will fail in some way. It’s incredibly humbling and humanizing to be faced with your own inadequacies each day. Some days I am a terrible business owner and other days I am a terrible mom, but I’ve finally reached a place where I trust that I am doing the best I can and that just has to be enough.
Clearly it is more than enough. Your love for your family and the success of your business is readily apparent. Back to the business, we find it particularly refreshing to see Tribe Alive collaborate with international artisans to leverage their unique talents to design modern products. What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your effort to connect these artisans’ work to the global consumer?
We focus a great deal on design and want to compete with big name specialty retailers for their market share and not necessarily the market share that other fair-trade brands hold. What’s difficult is that we’re not on an even playing field. We’re competing with companies who do not pay their workers living wages. They do not follow basic factory safety regulations. They refuse to consider the environmental impact of their production. Their cost of doing business is a fraction of ours. We not only have to compete on a design level but we have to convince consumers that paying a little more and choosing a brand like us truly is a matter of life and death for many garment workers. Getting consumers to recognize that there is a human life behind each product they buy has been much more challenging than we thought it would be.
We’re so impressed by the amount of intention in the relationships you build and the products you bring to market. Thank you for prioritizing that. Tell us more about the larger impact you are hoping to have outside of the field of fashion. What impact can a customer expect to make when they join the Tribe?
I spend a great deal of time working alongside our artisan non-profit partners and sit on the board of directors for two of them. I love running my company, but if I’m honest my real passion is working on the ground with these organizations in developing countries to evaluate how to address poverty from a grass roots level. I’m not only interested in providing employment but want to look at ways to empower the full lives of our partners - from education, to health care, to financial management, and relationship building. When customer’s support Tribe Alive they are joining us in our commitment to truly impact the face of poverty for women in the world. Our mission goes far beyond fashion.
They say it takes one to know one, and we can sense your wanderlust from a mile away. With your business manufacturing in a growing list of countries, we can’t help but be curious - what do you do on a personal level to reduce your footprint when you travel?
I am very conscious about the locations I travel to, where I choose to stay, what I eat, and how I interact with people. We prefer to travel to the off beaten and unspoiled parts of the world and never stay in large resorts that have had such an irresponsible and negative impact on the environment. We eat local food, take public transportation when it’s safe, and spend our money in ways that help the local economy. I do most of my traveling in the developing world where tourism is important and a source of livelihood. I love the fact that I can combine vacationing with doing good and supporting communities in need.
We’re so grateful for your time and insight and we’re eager to follow your example in pursuit of living responsibly and enjoying every step of the adventure. If you had one piece of advice for how to leverage creativity for social change, what would it be?
Anything can be leveraged for social change. Figure out what you’re best at and find a way to utilize it as a platform to do good. Everything in this world will either be used to harm or to help and it’s my hope that people start choosing the latter.