A collaboration between New Yorker Elizabeth Suda and Parisian Camille Hautefort has led to the creation of Article 22 – a beauty line transforming bombs dropped in Laos into jewellery. The company takes its name from a section of the United Nations’ 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, according to which: “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” To completely understand the story behind this jewellery line, it may be worth exploring the world history book. Between 1964 and 1973, during the war with Vietnam, the United States dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs in Laos, which counts to one bomb dropped every 8 minutes for 9 years. Today, an estimated 30% of these bombs are still in the Laotian land unexploded .
After two years in the Merchandising Department at Coach, Elizabeth Suda packed her bags and travelled to Laos to find an answer to the question “how and by whom are the goods we consume made?”. Upon arrival in Vientiane, the capital and largest city in Laos, she began knocking on the doors of local women-based textile businesses. She was on a mission to understand how local, sustainable crafts made by women may be plugged into the global fashion circuit. Recognising market linkage and design as major factors with potential to help the local artists, she set up the foundation of Article 22 when she met artisans, in a rural village, who were melting US bombs into spoons. This gave Ms. Suda the idea to melt and recast
aluminium shrapnel in wood and ash moulds and create meaningful jewellery. One of the company’s most iconic creations seems to be the Peacebomb bracelet. A potential conversation starter, this piece tells the company’s story of transforming bombs dropped in Laos into modern artefacts made by local artisans. Since its launch, Article 22 has developed into a global business, selling an evolving collection of jewellery and home goods to customers in 40 countries including fashion icons such as model Angela Lindvall and actresses Olivia Wilde and Emma Watson.
The company has committed 10% of its proceeds to the Village Development Fund, which aims to empower traditional Laotian livelihoods, community development and endeavours. The company aims to pay the local artisans five times more the local wage. This way, by working part time or full time, the locals – mostly subsistence farmers – have the chance to earn an additional income. The sale of these jewellery creations, which retail at prices between $20 and $2,000, are projected to also contribute to MAG (Mines Advisory Group) to safely and expertly clear some of the 80 million unexploded bombs hidden in Laos. Based on data published on the company’s website, an amount of $70 helps clear 4m2 of Laotian land. Since 2010, when Article 22 started selling jewellery and funding the demining of the land, more than 18 hectares of land have been cleared of bombs.
As these pieces of jewellery seem to have made it to markets worldwide, the story of the people in Laos travels with them and this may perhaps draw attention to the situation in the country and motivate companies, institutions and individuals around the world to turn their attention towards this country and support the local artisans selling their craft, improve the safety of their land and shift their destinies and the future of their communities and the country in a brighter direction.
How may Article 22’s mission improve the lives of people in Laos?