Sometimes at Gingerfinch, we discover a brand that not only creates high quality, well designed goods that we adore, but their products actually make this world a better place. Article 22 is one such brand, and we are honoured to bring their jewellery to Australia and be part of their story.
Travelling to Laos in 2009, American Elizabeth Suda discovered local people making spoons out of bomb parts. Intrigued by how they were creating these items using strange scraps of metal, she learned about the US ‘Secret War’ on Laos during the Vietnam campaign.
Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped 2 million tons of ordnance in Laos, averaging one B-52 bomb load every 8 minutes, 24/7, for 9 years; making Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Yet around 30% of the dropped ordnance did not explode. At the current rate of removal, it will take an estimated 800 years to clear all unexploded bombs.
Cluster bombs cased in aluminum. The majority of unexploded ordnance in Laos are cluster bombs the size of a fist or soup can. They often remain buried in the ground undetonated, killing more civilians than enemy soldiers.
So Suda, with help from Co-Founder and friend Camille Hautefort, decided to create a company that could buy back the bombs. The women work closely with local artisans to take a constructive approach to war-recovery. Laotian villagers melt bomb scraps - aluminium from cluster bombs, bomb castings, rockets, flares and parts of fighter jets - in earthen kilns and wood moulds to make stunning designer jewellery. Article 22 - which takes its name from from the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights - was born.
Every year Suda and Hautefort spend up to three months in Laos working side by side with artisans to create new designs for Article 22 collections. The jewellery company's employees don't search for the bomb scraps themselves, they leave that to experts who are trained in bomb detonation and retrieval. Once a device is detonated, the metal scraps belong to the owners of the land where it was found. Some landowners keep the metal to make farming tools, but most sell the scraps to nearby foundries. Article 22's workers then purchase the scraps from the foundries.
Wood and ash molds in front of an earthen kiln. Today, villagers continue to take a constructive approach to the destruction of war by recovering their livelihoods through available local resources, creating molds from wood and ash, kilns from the earth, spoons and now bracelets from aluminum war scrap metal.
To boost their positive impact even further, Article 22 works closely with the Mines Advisory Group, a nonprofit that clears landmines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones, to provide risk education to the local population. By purchasing scrap metal from demining foundries, they have helped clear more than 32 acres of land in Laos.
Article 22 also provides 12 artisan families with a monthly income equivalent to the average monthly Lao government worker salary. And they donate 10 percent of proceeds to the Village Development Fund, a micro-credit fund that provides loans in support of community infrastructure projects. Article 22 works to ensure their efforts benefit the entire community; from electricity in communal areas to micro-financing livestock investments.
By pioneering the transformation of weapons into jewellery, Article 22 shows the tangible value of fashion that does good. As Suda says, "business is an incredible tool to make market solutions to problems".
Watch Emma Watson talk about Article 22 Jewellery on the Ellen Show
Images and video courtesy of Article 22.