Founded by entrepreneurial twin brothers Chris and Doug Akin, The Base Project scours the globe, partnering with local artisans to design and produce locally-sourced, eco-friendly fashion at fair trade prices. These entrepreneurs learn invaluable communication, operations, finance and marketing skills that provide a means to improve their lives and their community. A portion of the profit from every bracelet sold is then invested back into community development projects in the artisan's region.
Slow Travel Magazine caught up with The Base Project's Liz Schroeter Courtney to talk about how supporting sustainable fashion and fair trade can change a person's life.
Tell us a little about The Base Project
The Base Project is a socially-minded fashion company that started when entrepreneurial twin brothers Chris and Doug Akin decided they wanted to start a business that was triple bottom line - people, planet and profit. While shopping around jewellery prototypes, people kept gravitating to a particular bracelet that Chris was wearing. The only thing was, that bracelet wasn't one of the prototypes! Ultimately, they realised they should trust the feedback from their core supporters and find out the origin of that bracelet. This led them to a rural area in northern Namibia where indigenous people hand-carve bracelets from discarded PVC pipes. Those upcycled bracelets became The Base Project's first fashion collection.
Please tell us about the communities that you work with
Our debut collection of bracelets are made by artisans in the Himba and Herero tribes in northwest Namibia. Most of the people in that region are subsistence farmers, though handcrafts have for years been a means of supplemental income as artisans are able to sell to tourists on safari. We also work with a group of artisans in Ghana who sew drawstring tote bags made from scrap fabrics - beautiful wax print fabrics - which we use to package our bracelets, and which people can buy on our website. Many of those artisans are mothers with HIV whose culture affords them very few job opportunities.
Your motto is 'wear your impact' - please elaborate
We believe what we wear has the power to shift culture. By choosing to wear fashion that is sustainably and ethically made, you are voting for the change you want to see in the world. But more to the point: every time you purchase a bracelet or accessory from The Base Project you are directly impacting the artisan who made or designed the product. Therefore we encourage our customers to wear their purchases with pride, to #WearYourImpact and start a conversation about how conscious consumerism can change the world.
How does purchasing a bracelet from The Base Project help impoverished communities?
First, it provides fair trade income to the artisans who made the bracelet. Secondly, we reinvest our profits back into the artisans' communities. For example, we're constructing a 42-acre community farm in Namibia to serve the community's need for fresh produce. We also have a collection of brass bracelets that specifically fund a scholarship to send children in Namibia to secondary school.
How can we, as tourists, positively impact impoverished communities that we visit?
Start by travelling with compassion and empathy. Talk to the locals. Learn about their perspective. Then the answer to "how can I help" should reveal itself.
Is there anything new on the horizon for The Base Project?
We've had members of our team on the ground in Jordan working to establish a new artisan collaboration with Syrian refugees. We recently raised $10,000 through KivaZip to fund the launch of this forthcoming jewellery collaboration and we're very excited to extend our impact from Africa to the Middle East.