Just north of the capital of Ethiopia is a mountain region known as the Entoto Mountains, a place where villagers believe lies a cure for HIV. Ostracized by their families and communities, many HIV-positive Ethiopian women leave behind their hometowns to come to the Entoto Mountains in the hope that they will be made healthy again. Many of them, unfortunately, end up with no way to support themselves once they arrive at this new place.
But there is some hope for these women thanks to socially responsible jewelry and gift brand Raven + Lily and the Entoto Project. This initiative provides HIV education and healthcare to Ethiopian women while also offering sustainable employment. The women of the Entoto Project create beautiful jewelry, like this necklace (pictured at right), using beads made out of vintage coins and artillery shells from past tribal conflicts. As they say at Raven + Lily, “what was once intended for harm now brings hope and life.”
It is stories like these that made the Women Hold Up Half the Sky Holiday Pop-Up Shop—which was open to visitors during gift-giving season—such a meaningful endeavor. For me, what is moving about goods that do good is their potential to empower both the artisan and the customer. The artisans are able to improve conditions for themselves and their families, fulfilling basic needs and building a better future for the entire community; the customers (or “smart buyers,” as Katy Leakey of our Beads for Learning vendor, The Leakey Collection, calls them) are able to make more socially conscious purchases that can make a difference in the lives of others.
Making a difference was the inspiration for the Skirball’s decision to mount the exhibition—and, by extension, to organize a related Holiday Pop-Up Shop. As it turned out, many thousands of visitors were happy to “shop for the cause” and help champion opportunities for women to make a sustainable living. To keep the momentum going, Audrey’s Museum Store at the Skirball will continue to carry, well into the future, beautifully handcrafted merchandise from women’s cooperatives and fair-trade organizations around the world. I couldn’t be more proud!
In addition to Raven + Lily merchandise, Audrey’s shoppers will continue to find merchandise created by Wakami, which makes the popular Earth Bracelets and adorably fun Journey Companions (pictured at left). In partnership with Kiej de los Bosques, Wakami works with women’s cooperatives in rural Guatemala to develop and market new products, connecting them to the global marketplace. Production of Wakami merchandise not only celebrates Guatemalan cultural heritage, but helps bring prosperity to poverty-stricken communities.
Also available at Audrey’s: wonderfully fragrant scented soaps (pictured at right) from Made by DWC. Directly benefiting homeless and low-income women at L.A.’s Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), Made by DWC aims to help women escape the cycle of poverty by offering job skills training and product development opportunities. I visited the DWC during preparations for the pop-up shop, and I had the opportunity to tour its new 72-bed facility, which includes a state-of-the-art computer lab where facilitators teach computer skills and assist with job searches, plus workshop space where women learn to make handicrafts that they can sell in the store downstairs. Many of the materials used to create these items are in-kind donations to the DWC.
Before the pop-up shop closed last month, a group of Made by DWC artisans came to see the exhibition as well as their wares on display. With great pride, they posed for pictures, beaming at the camera next to the pieces they had made with their own hands. Stopping by the pop-up shop ended up providing some inspiration to our DWC guests. As they browsed our shop, they noticed the story cards we made available to shoppers. These gave background information on how each product was crafted and/or how the purchase of the product supported women entrepreneurship. Right then and there, they brainstormed how they could weave their own stories into the packaging of Made by DWC merchandise.
To quote the words of Skirball founder Uri D. Herscher, “the life of one individual has meaning insofar as it helps to make the life of every human being nobler and more beautiful.” It’s hard to put into words my gratitude to the many female artists, women’s cooperatives, and fair-trade organizations with which we’ve worked and will continue to work. The personal stories they shared with me and the extraordinary efforts they make to help protect the dignity of women and girls worldwide continue to uplift my spirit. I’m glad Audrey’s Museum Store can help support their businesses and I hope that by expanding our store offerings to include their exquisitely handmade goods, we can do our part to “hold up the sky,” both locally and around the globe.
Check out some of our Women Hold Up Half the Sky merchandise online, but remember that even more unique, artful items are available on site. Visit soon! And mark your calendars: the Raven + Lily Designer Trunk Show takes place on April 20–22.