Six years ago, Kirsten Dickerson took a humanitarian trip to India with a group of friends and met with a non-profit that trained women in design. Young girls rescued from brothels had learned how to make jewelry, women from the slums had been taught embroidery and block printing, and residents of the remote Himalayan Mountains had become proficient sewers. But much to her chagrin, none of the women had received any instruction for how to develop a sustainable income using their newly acquired skills.
Hell-bent on making a change, Dickerson, who has worked in the non-profit sector and as a wardrobe stylist, founded Raven + Lily, a socially-conscious lifestyle brand that forges partnerships with similar non-profits and training programs around the world to open up a market for the artisan's handmade designs. "I wanted to help create a market for those collections in the West and beyond," Dickerson told InStyle.com. The Austin-based company, which became a fully-fledged business in summer 2011, boasts an eco-friendly ready-to-wear line made with repurposed jersey material and hand-screened prints and cool, edgy jewelry created from melted down bullet casings. Prices range from $14 for a string charm bracelet to $188 for a handmade, locally sourced leather tote.
To create the pieces, Dickerson employs over 800 women in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cambodia, and the U.S.—150 of whom are HIV-positive—providing them a sustainable source of income, healthcare, and, as importantly, a creative outlet.
“We’re striving to have long-term, invested relationships with our artisans so we can really witness the transformation that will happen within their families and communities,” she said. “When women are empowered, they work hard to use their money wisely.” What's more, any additional money garnered from Raven + Lily sales goes toward providing education supplies to the communities they work with. This week, Dickerson is sending funds for desks to a school in Kenya to help the children of their Maasai artisans, who create intricate hand-beaded jewelry dedicated to expunging female genital mutilation from their community.
“The added story behind each piece of jewelry makes you remember what is truly important in life,” says Dickerson. “The beauty and strength of these women is giving us the courage to not give up no matter what.”