Several years ago, producer Francine LeFrak set out to make a film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The movie never got off the ground, but that didn't put a dent in her determination to improve the lives of women there. Same Sky, a jewelry line she founded and helps design, now employs 130 female Rwandan artisans many of whom are victims of rape and HIV-positive. Starting at around $39 and with 100% of net profits going back to the makers, the colorful necklaces, bracelets, and earrings feature Japanese beads, Venetian glass, or traditional fabrics and have found fans in Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, and Meryl Streep among other stars.
"I open my jewelry drawer every morning and always end up picking one of these to wear," says LeFrak, pointing to a bright-as-sunshine yellow glass bead necklace she's paired with a pinstripe power suit. "These pieces affect the lives of the makers and their children, so they inevitably outshine my other jewelry." Late last year, LeFrak launched a program in the United States whereby women just out of jail produce some of Same Sky's pieces. "These women told me when they make the jewelry they don't feel the pull of the street," she says. "I own diamonds, but to me, these pieces, these are my real diamonds."