Behind the scenes: the making of the LOVE bracelet

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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 ChangeLIFE 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.

Big LOVE,

Zane

More about LIFE Line: lifelinefashion.org and @lifelinefashion on Instagram

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LIVE YOUR LOVE. Be a part of the Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

I worked in Concept Design for American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) just shy of a decade. It was an incredible job, allowing me to travel the world, searching for the coolest trends. In 2008, AEO supported my efforts during a 3 month sabbatical volunteering in Rwanda. That trip inspired me to follow my passion to merge design and international development. In June of 2012, I left AEO to start The Supply Change, an initiative that connects artisan groups with brands and creates products for collaborations. Everything has come full circle with AEO’s partnership of the Love bracelet I designed for Lifeline Fashion in Kenya. I couldn’t be happier.

Love is proportional to your will. It is an axiom.” The #loveisproject is a true testament to that and the exponential power of love. The dream is now a reality.

In April of 2013, I visited LIFE Line’s Maasai mums in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley to design new products. Finding myself inspired by the vibrant colors and patterns of the tribe, we developed an idea to design a simple and bold message bracelet in their traditional beading.

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Just over a year later, with the LOVE bracelet in hand on a flight to Russia, I struck up a conversation with two perfect strangers, girls from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. On a whim, I asked them about love. Upon landing at the Moscow airport, inspired by their answers, I snapped and uploaded a photo of them wearing the LOVE Bracelet to Instagram. The #loveisproject had begun. Coincidentally, one of the girls, Shahlo (pictured below), wore American Eagle denim.

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Four months and 31 countries later, 330 people representing 75 nationalities have worn the first LOVE bracelet. Using social media to link their love stories together, what started as a personal passion project began to blossom into a global movement of love.

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On my quest across the world searching for the meaning of love, tumultuous world events have unfolded simultaneously, juxtaposing  two passionate energies, love and hate. The profiles of people from the #loveisproject give voice to positivity rather than to the minority extremists dominating headlines.

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To see more of Chrissie’s inspirational images of her journey around the world check out her instagram page @thesupplychange

I’m so thankful for American Eagle Outfitters’ support and partnership in launching the #loveisproject this Valentine’s Day.  AEO is the largest employer of Maasai in Kenya through this collaboration, creating hundred of jobs and in turn supporting thousands in the community through economic empowerment.

I’m grateful for my friend, Zane Wilemon, Founder of LIFE Line, and the LIFE Line team who ran a stellar Indiegogo campaign raising more than $33,000 with bracelets purchased in 30 countries. Love is a shared purpose – achieving things together that you never thought were possible. This is just the beginning. Let’s celebrate Love every single day. Please join us in creating the Greatest Love Story Ever Told. May the stories of love inspire you as they have inspired us. Dream on.​

To learn more about The Supply Change click here.

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COME HELP SAVE THE PLANET WITH AEO and I:CO

Guest Writer: Jennifer Gilbert, Chief Marketing Officer @ I:CO

Did you know that almost every piece of your clothing or pair of shoes is reusable or recyclable? It’s true but every year, billions of pounds of these items end up in our landfills, causing harm to our planet. American Eagle Outfitters and I:CO  (a global closed loop textile recycling company) want to help change this by making it easy, convenient and instantly rewarding for everyone to give their unwanted clothing, shoes, and accessories new life. AEO ICO Display 3

 “Live Your Life. Save Your Planet.” Collection Box.

Starting today, you can drop off those old kicks, that worn-out pair of jeans or hopelessly out of style threads into I:CO boxes at any of the 800+ American Eagle Outfitters US and Canada stores. In return, you’ll be rewarded with a text code for $5 off a pair of AEO jeans.  Every item collected helps the planet, and any proceeds from the program will be donated to the Student Conservation Association, empowering new generations of environmental leaders. What happens to the items once I:CO receives them? We re-utilize, renew and regenerate them. Items are sorted using over 350 different criteria to determine their most effective next use. This could be finding a new home as second hand clothing, reuse as cleaning cloths, recycling into fibers for carpet padding and insulation for the building and automotive industries or up-cycling into new fabrics and products. This is what we call “closing the loop.”

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I:CO Team sorting thru the donated clothes

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My hands with recycled fiber

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Finished product- Cotton T-shirt

The vision is for all products to be designed with future uses in mind, so materials can be 100% reused in a truly endless cycle.  By doing this, we will eliminate waste, preserve vital material resources, protect our environment, and enable everyone to consume in a more sustainable way. It all starts with making a simple change in behavior. We are excited about the impact the “Live Your Life. Save Your Planet.” recycling program will have on American Eagle Outfitters communities throughout North America. I believe each of us has the power to change our environment.  So go clean out your closet and come help us build a better world.

Recycle. Reward. Renew. Repeat.

To learn more, please visit www.ico-spirit.com.

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AEO + SCA win Golden Halo Award

Our 2013 partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) won the Golden Halo Award at the 12th annual Cause Marketing Forum Conference in Chicago, IL. yesterday.  The recipient of this award holds North America’s most prestigious honor in the field of cause marketing. The 12-week “AEO + SCA + You” campaign that caught the attention of the award givers, featured hundreds of college students serving in two national parks, a fundraising component that raised $500,000 to support future conservation efforts, and a combination of in-store, online and social media activity that spread SCA’s youth conservation movement to millions nationwide.  “This exciting campaign allowed us to extend conservation from national parks to hundreds of American Eagle stores and communities nationwide,” said SCA President Dale Penny.   “Environmental sustainability is one of the most important issues among our customers,” added American Eagle Outfitters Foundation Director Marcie Eberhart.  “Our customers stepped up to serve and lend their voice and support to SCA.  That’s what ‘Live Your Life’ is all about.”

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From left to right: SCA’s VP of Communications: Kevin Hamilton, Cause Marketing Forum President: David Hessekiel,  American Eagle Outfitters Foundation Director: Marcie Eberhart, and SCA’s: Jamie Patten and Peter Bokolas 

This year, we combined efforts to beautify and clean up urban parks throughout the country as part of #HeARTTHISCITY Alternative Spring Break. Each of the urban park efforts were concluded with the installation of a cool, one-of-kind piece of art that will continue to inspire visitors to always take care of and HeART our cities!

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 #HeARTTHISCITY Donor Pictures

SCA is the only national organization that develops tomorrow’s conservation leaders by providing high school and college students with service opportunities in all 50 states, from urban communities to national parks and forests.  And for the last seven years, AEO has been the signature sponsor of SCA’s Alternative Spring Breaks.  Past projects have included the following- planting endangered Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park, building hiking trails in the Grand Canyon and restoring vital wildlife habitat in the Everglades, Padre Island, Big Cypress and the Santa Monica Mountains.

We want to thank SCA and you, our customers, for continuing to help us make a difference. We are honored to have received this year’s Golden Halo Award.

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#HEARTTHISCITY: San Francisco

As part of Alternative Spring Break 2014, American Eagle Outfitters has teamed up with the Student Conservation Association to beautify and clean up urban parks throughout the country as part of Alternative Spring Break. We’ll bring you the story of each location throughout April. Join the movement this Spring Break and don’t just go somewhere, do something! Read on to learn more about our San Francisco project from Jean, an SCA team member.

Our volunteers arrived in droves to Golden Gate Park starting at 10am on Day One. I had nonstop registration traffic for about an hour! I loved the energy and excitement of all the volunteers. Once we did a quick introduction, we all headed out to different projects including building planter boxes, painting, cleaning around the building, planting, mulching, and weeding.

SCA Leader Teamer Marvin V. preps planter boxes.

SCA Leader Teamer Marvin V. preps planter boxes.

I took a deep breath, drink of water and led 25 volunteers into Golden Gate Park to work near Alvord Lake, spreading mulch and weeding planters along the bike path. Immediately, visitors to the park began thanking us as we worked. One man said the mulch was especially needed because “it’s gotten so dusty around these trees. It used to be so pretty. This will be great!” We even got a few thumbs up from people on tour buses as they yelled “thank you!” to us.

Right before lunch, we regrouped with everyone involved in the project and heard from some speakers. They did a great job motivating us and articulating the importance of not only conservation work, but urban conservation. Phil Ginsberg, the General Manager of San Francisco Recreation and Parks, was especially inspiring. He spoke of the need to protect urban greenspaces, to help the environment and give people a connection to nature within cities.

Christopher C. speaking on the history of Golden Gate Park.

Christopher C. speaking on the history of Golden Gate Park.

Throughout the week, we forged ahead with our projects, completing them with enthusiasm. I spoke with an SCA alum, Amanda Botsford, who said she came out to the event because she remembered how transformative her SCA experience was and she wanted to reconnect with SCA.

Working on the mural.

Working on the mural.

Throughout  the week,  I was so impressed to see volunteers working past 4pm to ensure everything was completed on time. The SCA members from Oakland and Menlo Park were a huge help cleaning up once we completed our work. It was awesome to see them in action! They embodied the spirit of volunteerism, and reminded me why I love working with SCA members.

The project was an incredible success. The park looks better than ever and we left our stamp with the colorful mural created by Chor Boogie.

Volunteers in front of the completed mural.

Volunteers in front of the completed mural.

Keep checking back for coverage of our clean up and art installations this Spring Break in New Orleans, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Follow the SCA on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and go to AE.com/SCA to donate.

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Aerie Friends & Family: Jocelyn L., Bright Pink Ambassador

Aerie Friends & Family: Jocelyn L., Bright Pink Ambassador

For the past few years, Aerie has been partnering with Bright Pink, a national non-profit organization focused on the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. Meet Jocelyn L., a Bright Pink Ambassador from Chicago, IL. Read on to learn more about how Jocelyn got involved with the organization and why it is important for young women to be proactive with their health.

Meet Jocelyn, a member of Team Bright Pink

Meet Jocelyn, a member of Team Bright Pink

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

My name is Jocelyn and I live in Chicago, Illinois. I am twenty nine years old and I work at a downtown Chicago firm as a fire protection engineer. In my free time I love knitting, running, and cooking with my husband Tim! We also love craft beer, and exploring all our great city has to offer.

How did you hear about/ get involved with Bright Pink?

My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 at the age of 27. At her gentle prodding, I finally began regularly seeing an OB/GYN who recommended I look into Bright Pink based on my family history. I put it on the back burner for awhile and then began to use it as a resource after my sister passed away, looking for information about my high risk. Because my sister was positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation, I eventually met with a genetics counselor and was tested myself. After testing positive, I underwent the regimen of increased screening, and ultimately had a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2012. I remember distinctly after finding out I was BRCA2 positive, looking for people like me–people who didn’t have cancer, but those who were still at high risk. It’s a group that is very much a middle ground, people who are aware of their risk and what it means, but with the time and knowledge to do something about it. I was hungry for information during that time, and Bright Pink was a great resource for me.

Who has been the most important influence in your life?

My sister has been the most influential person of my life. I always looked up to my big sister growing up and as an adult valued her advice and opinions above all. Seeing her struggle with breast cancer, and ultimately succumbing to the disease in 2011 was the push I needed to become more involved in Bright Pink and to truly take care of myself. I would be foolish to see how serious the disease is and see her life cut short and not learn lessons from her experience. She’s still with me every day helping me navigate through life. I miss being able to talk to her, but I know she would be proud of my decisions.

Why is it important for girls/women to become educated in breast/ovarian health?

I think it’s important because it’s our bodies, and no one knows them like us. If we don’t take control then we passively wait to see what happens. Growing up when women in my family were diagnosed with breast cancer, I always imagined that it was something I would deal with in old age. But my sister’s diagnosis at a young age and its aggressiveness really shocked me. Not everyone’s case is so extreme, but it’s possible, and women can’t just put their breast/ovarian health in a box and wait to unpack in it their 40s, when they’re done having children, or when they have time. Cancer doesn’t wait until it’s convenient for you. It may never come, but accepting the possibility that it may come is what goes along with being a high-risk woman. There’s a lot of information out there, and it’s up to everyone to read between the lines and find out what’s best for them and their bodies.

What inspires you in everyday life?

The memory of my sister, and knowing that undergoing the mastectomy has made me proactive instead of waiting to be a victim. If I had to see my sister undergo what she did, and then do nothing to prevent it from happening to me, it would be wasteful. I feel like the gift of knowledge that my sister gave me through this experience is the greatest gift I could ever receive. Seeing strong women empowered in the face of adversity is inspiring to me.

What do you love about Bright Pink?

I love that Bright Pink networks you with real people, not just people in glossy pamphlets. I have participated in the Pink Pal program and spoken with a woman who was in my exact situation and could lend her experiences. I love that the outreach programs are fun and conducive to real discussions about the unique problems high risk women face. The women I meet there are a wealth of information, and they make me feel normal navigating my path. We can discuss anything. I love that there are also educational programs with experts who I feel I can ask anything. Bright Pink’s focus on knowledge and empowerment is the message I needed and I hope can continue to share.

How can girls/women get involved with Bright Pink?

All sorts of ways! Women can attend an outreach program, use the website as an informational resource, participate in the Pink Pal program, volunteer at events, or participate in fundraising activities. Last year I ran the Chicago Marathon (my first!) for Team Bright Pink, raising money for the organization and training with the team. This year I plan to run the Chicago Half Marathon with Team Bright Pink as well.

 

Bright Pink’s message is about the importance of taking a proactive approach to your health and they offer an interactive online quiz that combines your family health history and lifestyle factors to create a personalized risk assessment for you to save, print, and bring to your doctor to craft a proactive breast and ovarian health strategy unique to you!  Check out Bright Pink’s Assess Your Risk tool and check back for more updates on our partnership.

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