When Chirpwood owner Scott Moody was approached by a friend during a program called Bridge2Rwanda to sell handmade beads from a mother in Rwanda, he was faced with a difficult decision.
"I really wanted to help," Moody said. "I brought back several necklaces made with the beads, but my belief was that the style wasn't right for the American consumer."
After bringing the beads to the U.S., he thought of his friend Emma Jane Hunt, owner and creative director of Emma Jane Designs. Moody said he knew Hunt was very successful in the jewelry business and had a heart for Africa. He asked her if she could incorporate the beads in her jewelry.
"How amazing that — as I was trying to figure out what to do with these beads — I remembered 'oh yeah, my friend Emma Jane is a rockstar in the handmade jewelry world, and I know Africa is special to her,'" Moody said.
Having been the second Auburn graduate to have a job with the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome, Hunt felt strongly about the cause.
"When I left my career with the UN World Food Programme, I left with goals to join my two passions — making a real difference in the lives of people around the world and jewelry design," Hunt said.
This exchange sparked the idea of combining the efforts of both owners to create a project that stretched far beyond jewelry. With a plan in place, the two flew Pascaline, a Rwanda native, B2R scholar and University of Richmond student, to Auburn to discuss details. There Hunt showed her the basics of assembling jewelry.
When Pascaline returned to Rwanda, she interned for Chirpwood as a supervisor and coordinator of the jewelry-production co-op. These experiences, Moody said, had both immediate and future impacts.
"We employed up to 30 women at a time at wages higher than the prevailing ones," Moody said. "The original parent we had hoped to help had good work all summer, and another co-op for young single mothers was dedicated to the project much of the summer."
Moody said he and Hunt hope to produce more jewelry in the coming year, and create employment for groups of women in Rwanda that provides good wages, healthcare, safe working environments and individual bank accounts for each worker.
"Our goal with our EJD Mercantile line of products is to provide real, sustainable economic opportunities for women around the world, and to provide you with amazing products with an amazing story," Hunt said.
Moody and Hunt are launching the EJD Mercantile line on Nov. 1, as well as a program for all college-age students. The EJD Campus Rep program will work to spread awareness of the work these women are doing in Rwanda.
"I have watched job sites in Rwanda where barefoot women carried bags of cement on their heads for nine hours per day to make two dollars," Moody said. "There is no absence of work ethic — just an absence of work. That is a pressing problem in Rwanda and we hope to be a small part of the solution."