Most college kids go to places like Cancún for spring break, but 10 years ago, when Lauren Bush Lauren was a sophomore at Princeton, she left the Ivy League campus for a short trip to a drought-ravaged rural town in Guatemala. As a volunteer with the United Nations World Food Programme, the niece of President George W. Bush says, “I wanted to see poverty firsthand to try to understand what people had to deal with.” During her four-day trip, she helped distribute food and water to just a tiny fraction of those in need—some 805 million people worldwide, many under the age of 5, suffer from chronic undernourishment. The experience stuck with her. “It was overwhelming,” says Lauren. “I was frustrated not knowing what I could do.”
But three years later, combining her passion for philanthropy with a love for fashion, Lauren founded FEED Projects, a handmade bag and accessories company that donates a portion of its sales to organizations that supply meals to in-need children. To date, money from FEED has funded nearly 84 million meals , and that number is sure to rise with a little help from Lauren’s friends. This week, Lauren—LBL to her pals—unveils Come Together, a new global advertising campaign by photographer Joey L., featuring FEED-loving celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Anne Hathaway, and Karlie Kloss, along with their own pay-it-forward friends. The idea, says Lauren, is to emphasize community. “Through collective action, we can make a massive difference in people’s lives,” Lauren says. Below we get chat with LBL about some of her key choices she's made along the way.
Why did you decide to go to Guatemala back in 2004?
As an anthropology major, I wanted to understand the cultural significance of poverty—why it exists, and why some countries can rise above it while others can’t. Volunteering also seemed like a really good use of my time.
How did the work there turn into a full-fledged company?
I love fashion and design. In contemplating what to do with my life, I felt like I had two possible paths: one was to move to New York and work in a design house; the other was to move to Africa and deliver food aid. That’s when the idea of the FEED bag came to me. It’s for those who want to put their consumer dollars to good use. With this kind of business model, I could express my artistic creativity and also help those in need.
Since 2007, you’ve gone from selling one model, a burlap FEED bag for $80, to selling a whole line of accessories and bags, including the new Heritage series, with prices that start at $150.
I realized we had to do more and offer more if FEED was to grow. We added woven and bead bracelets along with alpaca scarves. Then we started creating these handmade bags. My favorite is the Heritage Makindu—the hands-free cross-body strap is great for traveling. It’s made by Kenyan artists, and the proceeds of the sale of each one result in 200 school meals for Kenyan children.
Alba posed for FEED alongside her Honest Company co-founder Chris Gavigan and Opening Ceremony co-founder Humberto Leon.
How do you find and choose the artisans you collaborate with?
We work with people in Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Kenya, and commit to working with them year after year in order to give them jobs and offer support. Though the core mission of FEED is to provide meals, the secondary mission is to employ these craftspeople so they in turn are able to give back to their communities.
What other factors contribute to FEED’s growth?
The impact of social media has been huge. We notice our customers’ humble brags, posting their FEED products on Instagram and Facebook and tallying up the number of meals they gave through those purchases. Each wants his or her meal count to be higher than the other’s. It’s almost like a competition.
One-upmanship as a force for change.
Absolutely. But it’s all for a worthy cause. You’ll see girls who want to style their looks to make sure their meal count is high, adding a scarf or doing a stack of bracelets on a wrist. And listen, I’m all for an arm party!
To learn more about LBL and FEED, pick up the December issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download today.