by the Rodale’s team
When it comes to finding products for Rodale’s, three things matter most: how the product makes you feel, how the product is made, and where the product comes from. We carefully vet each product and company before deciding whether or not it belongs on our “shelves.” That’s why when we came across 31 Bits jewelry, it was a no-brainer to begin carrying it. We proudly sell this special brand whose mission is to use “fashion and design to empower people to rise above poverty.” Each of its beautiful products is handmade from 100 percent recycled paper by Ugandan women who, through working for 31 Bits, not only earn incomes, but are also provided with counseling, health education, finance training, and business mentorships.
Here’s a bit about how 31 Bits began from the creators themselves:
We were carefree juniors in college. We were waitresses and babysitters, living for the moment. But with graduation just a year away, we knew we were supposed to be figuring out what was next. We began filling out grad school applications, applying for jobs, and making travel plans. But in the midst of planning what was next, our lives were interrupted.
Our classmate, Kallie, had just gotten back from a life-changing trip to Uganda. There she met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no jobs, and they were our age. OUR AGE. Our lives couldn’t look more different from theirs.
What these women lacked in education, they made up for in skill and resourcefulness. They were making incredible jewelry out of old posters. Kallie brought a box of the jewelry back, and we fell in love instantly. We sold the jewelry to friends and ran out within weeks. That’s when it hit us. These women had a skill but needed a market. We lived in dorms and apartments filled with people who would love this stuff! Together, we could make a business.
A few of us went back to Uganda the following summer and selected a group of six women to begin this adventure with. We sat with them daily, making beads and listening to their stories. We visited their homes and met their families. We laughed together, cried together, and learned from each other.
Kallie stayed in Uganda for the following year, setting up our organization and helping the women create new styles of jewelry. The other four of us began our last year of college with a new agenda: selling jewelry anywhere we could. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We were a misfit group of dreamers, artists, and socialites…not businesspeople. We didn’t know the first thing about starting a business.
By day we were college students, but the evenings were filled with studying fashion, marketing, and development work. We discovered two things. Firstly, we didn’t want to be just another charity selling key chains and T-shirts. We were determined to create a fashionable product that women would buy because they actually liked it. Secondly, these women needed a lot more then a paycheck. They needed education, health care, and counseling. They needed to be cared for physically, mentally, and emotionally. They needed a way to be whole again.
We started by selling at school events, craft fairs, and home parties. We’d tell our story to anyone who would listen. Eventually, we started an online store and a wholesale program. The road was rocky and the sleep was short, but five years later, we’re in more than 300 stores and have shared our story with hundreds of thousands of people.
We also implemented a five-year holistic development program in Uganda, providing each woman health education, finance training, counseling, and business training. She belongs to a community where she can earn an income, be educated, and dream for her future. After five years in our program, the women graduate, leaving with an education, a career, social equity, confidence, and a voice. We now have 120 women in our program whose lives are changed. Their children’s lives are changed. Their community is changed. And we got to be a part of it!
Five years ago we were carefree 21-year-olds. Today, we have plenty to care about. We’ve learned that as consumers, every purchase we make has either a negative impact or a positive impact in the world. That’s why we’ve taken a simple product like jewelry and made it a vehicle for doing something GOOD. Our customers are changing people’s lives through their purchases. 31 Bits is part of a movement revolutionizing the way people do business. We believe businesses should be conscious of both the creator and the consumer. Through holistic care and YOUR purchase, women are being empowered to rise above poverty.
—Founders, Kallie Dovel, Alli Swanson, Anna Toy, Brooke Hodges, and Jessie Simonson
31 Bits necklaces are now available on Rodale’s!
This is the kind of story that just makes my whole day, maybe my whole year!! Something so simple, yet something so wonderful and women’s lives are changed forever for the good. And not just the women in Uganda but the women who saw the need and took steps to do something about it. It has changed their lives for the better as well. Thank you to these young women and thank you to Rodale’s for selling their jewelry. What a blessing for all of us everywhere. Thanks for sharing this story!!