It’s just before 7pm as the three of us watch the larger-than-life burnt orange African sun set on the edge of the Ngong Hills. Each of us covered head to toe in the deep red dirt of the Great Rift Valley, smiling from ear to ear and drinking down an ice cold Tusker beer. It’s been one of those days when you’ve worked so hard that your brain hurts and your body aches yet your face is shining because of the deep satisfaction from the day.
Just over a decade ago I purchased a one-way ticket to Kenya. I had no idea when I got on that plane just how much the people of Kenya would change my life and what that change would create for many others. I knew very little about Africa then and about the world of international development. I was just a kid from Texas recently graduated from the University of Kansas with a heart on fire wanting to know more about my purpose in life, who I was, and where I fit in the world.
I am so grateful that I did jump on that plane, despite the well intentioned wisdom of so many who kept telling me to go to medical school first and then go help the people in Africa. I am thankful that I was too ignorant or stubborn or whatever it was to get on that plane. As a result I quickly realized it wasn’t about my helping the people of Africa, or about the people of Africa helping me, but about us learning how to love and appreciate one another. During that year of living in Kenya my understanding of the world broke wide open and for the first time I realized how intertwined our lives are to one another, even those we may never meet. My heart was shattered in such a beautiful way that I expanded and began to see how much I had to learn from my new friends and family in Kenya. For the first time I began to know the abundance of LOVE.
And that brings us to the present moment, drinking a few Tusker beers, watching the sun set after a long day in the Kenyan wilderness overseeing the creation of our new product, the LOVE bracelet. Jeremiah, Jim and I had just spent the day visiting the 10 Maasai community groups totaling more than 400 women who had recently been employed as artisans through our collaboration with American Eagle Outfitters (AEO). It was one of those work days that you couldn’t possibly dream up even if you tried. Three friends meeting with more than 400 Maasai artisans, talking with them about life, about what it means to them to hand-stitch LOVE each day with their friends as they sit under acacia trees near their homes.
The LOVE bracelet was designed by my friend, Chrissie Lam, during a collaborative trip to Kenya with our fashion brand, LIFE Line. We had been in partnership for a few years and wanted to partner on a product that would continue to empower the people of Kenya through job creation. One of the key elements I have learned over the past decade is that much harm has been done in Africa under the intentions of doing good. The reason for this is that much of the Western worlds efforts to “help” Africa actually perpetuates a culture of dependency where African communities literally wait on Western aid to “help” them rather than give them opportunities to live empowered lives. I have found that the best way to do this is by creating jobs where people are able to take control of their own lives by becoming business men and women providing for their families just like any of us here in the West want for our own families.
I couldn’t be more excited about our latest partnership with American Eagle Outfitters and the launch of the LOVE bracelet. Over the last 3 months during the production of the LOVE bracelet AEO has empowered LIFE Line to create more than 400 jobs for Maasai women in the Great Rift Valley. Not only have we created jobs, but the Maasai women have made these beautiful bracelets through their ancient tradition of beading under acacia trees near their homes. These products were not made in a factory. They were literally hand-stitched under acacia trees by women community groups gathered in love to stitch LOVE for you!
Together, we have empowered these women to earn a living, care for their children, and provide for their households. It puts a smile on their faces as they wake up, walk with their community of women to live into purpose-filled work of a quality product. Their efforts also connect us here in America to a powerful story of LOVE that we then get to share via the hashtag, #loveisproject.
As the three of us sat there watching the sun go down we all smiled knowing that such a product handcrafted in the African wilderness would soon be front in center in the 1,000 American Eagle Outfitters stores across America. What an incredible feeling and what an amazing collaboration between The Supply Change, LIFE Line and American Eagle Outfitters to believe in something greater than ourselves and to live that belief out loud across the world through LOVE. I hope you enjoy the LOVE bracelet and ask that you please share the love via the hashtag #loveisproject. Thanks to everyone for doing your part to open this door, including our personal TRIBE and the original #loveisproject backers, for believing in us and for seeing the opportunities created when we leverage the influence of fashion to empower lives though job creation.