Selling to Sustain

By Elissa Emoto, staff writer | Communication Studies

Changed by the stories heard overseas, the founders of three organizations have influenced the globe with their ethical business models. 31 Bits, Give Prints, and International Princess Project, are part of a new generation of companies that enhance the empire of ethical consumerism. These companies empower lives in different areas such as, the devastation of war in Uganda, sharing God’s love with people, and human trafficking in India.  Through hard work and faithfulness, these businesses are setting trends in our consumer driven societies, one product at a time.

The five Vanguard grads and founders behind 31 bits (Left to Right: Jessis Simonson, Kallie Dovel, Anna Nelson, Brooke Hodges and Alli Swanson) (Courtesy of 31 Bits).

31 Bits

The mission of 31 Bits that utilizes fashion to empower women in Uganda has successfully provided business opportunities in the war-torn country. Over the past three years, 31 Bits jewelry has also helped redefine consumerism for the “socially-minded fashionista.”

Alumni of Vanguard University, the 31 Bits team consists of five women: Kallie Dovel, Alli Swanson, Brooke Hodges, Anna Nelson, and Jessie Simonson. During their senior year the women dreamed of giving the Ugandan women, who make the paper bead jewelry, a chance to live sustainable lives.

“We have covered [31 Bits] in prayer,” said Swanson, the Director of Marketing. “And it is so much bigger than we could have ever thought or imagined.”

Their dream evolved when celebrities like Jessica Alba began wearing the necklaces, a feature of their jewelry appeared in People magazine, and a lasting partnership began with Reef sandals.

“We went out to Reef and said a million prayers beforehand,” Swanson said. “It wasn’t that good of jewelry at the time, but we told the basic story and Reef was stoked.”

Reef placed an order for 30,000 strands of paper beads to complement the “Ugandal” sandal. The initial six Ugandan designers expanded to 40 designers and eventually 100.  The sandal sold out within a few months of its release.

Its success led to more 31 Bits and Reef collaborations for the Ugandal 2 and 3, and the latest Ugandal 4.

Artistic fashion shoots and eye-catching graphic design, has allowed the jewelry brand to become trendsetters in the fashion world.  31 Bits recently announced the launch of a new line of ethically made wedding accessories.

“Why not buy something that is not only handmade and totally unique, but goes to such a bigger cause,” said Swanson.

Aside from providing a source of income for their beneficiaries, 31 Bits also strives to provide English lessons and financial training. They also establish community groups, AIDS and health education, and vocational training, which is available to each Ugandan woman involved.

“If you have a calling, it is for a reason,” said Swanson. “You can do business that gives back, and you can do business that is done right.”

Give Prints

Give Prints sell photos like this, by Sean Gibbons, to support nonprofits (Photo by Sean Gibbons)

At the age of five, the first flash of her camera sparked a passion in Cristina Robeck to share God’s love with people through photographs.

“For me photography has always been a big part of my life,” Robeck said. “For as long as I can remember I’ve had a camera in hand, snapping away at pictures.”

After a mission trip to El Salvador she asked, “How can I help this country?”  Robeck’s desire to make an impact in at least one person’s life, and the dream of Give Prints became a reality.

Give Prints, a for-profit company, was launched for consumers to buy photographs from a website in which 50 percent of their money would be donated to a charity of their choice.

Robeck’s knack for networking is what she calls a “God-given gift.”  She utilizes her gift of making connections to hire photographers who contribute to Give Prints’ gallery.

“The idea is for photographers who are new to business or trying to go forward,” Robeck said. “My commitment to them is to help showcase their work and get them out there if they haven’t done that yet.”

Give Prints has 13 contributing photographers who each offer unique perspectives of life through a camera lens.

Sean Gibbons, a marketing major at Cal State Fullerton, is one of the younger photographers for Give Prints.  At the age of 15, Gibbons bought his first camera, a Canon Rebel XT. Camera in hand, he began traveling the world and his passion for photography sparked.

“One of my favorite things [about Give Prints] is that as the purchaser, they are able to buy a photo they like and then choose a charity from the list of different ones,” said Gibbons.

Give Prints offers their customers the choice of eight difference charities, These include Three Angels Children’s Relief that aids children in Haiti and Walking on Water, which evangelizes through a surf camp.

“It is cool to see [Give Prints] expand,” said Gibbons. “I think it is going to get really big eventually.”

Robeck describes the growth of Give Prints as a blessing that has been able to give back to many people.

“When I was in college I would have never imagined that I would be here right now,” said Robeck who encourages college students to take advantage of their opportunities, “I really feel like if you have a dream and an idea, keep pursuing it.”

International Princess Project

Reminiscent of the brightly colored Indian sari, Julie Wood, the executive director of International Princess Project (IPP), reflected her job title in a vibrant red and orange blouse.  The organization has a goal of ending human sex trafficking while empowering the women of India.

“I felt like God was saying, ‘This is who I made you to be, and this is where you can have the most impact,” said Wood, who worked in APU’s Office of University Advancement until 2006.

Through programs like IPP’s PUNJAMMIES™ initiative, the goal to end the second largest criminal trade in the world is progressing. This initiative provides jobs and training about self-sustaining lifestyles for women brought out of sex trafficking.

“If these women can make something so that they don’t have to prostitute themselves, they are going to need a job,” said Shannon Keith, the founder of IPP.

The contrast of the sari’s vivid colors against the darkness of India’s red-light district inspired Keith to create a unique type of pajamas. A blend of the English word pajama and the language Punjabi, the PUNJAMMIES™ emerged.  All PUNJAMMIES™ profits go back to the holistic support of the 155 Indian women who make them.

“We have really continued to double our growth in terms of reaching more women, which is the ultimate goal in bringing as many women as possible out of forced prostitution,” Wood said.

Wood recently traveled to India and listened to the stories of those saved from forced prostitution. In India, she recognized the shame-based culture and the guilt of those who felt trafficking was their fault.

“The tears in their eyes, talking about the hope that they have, and the joy they have after working for the center was beautiful,” said Wood. “It was really a privilege.”

These three companies will continue to use their privilege of selling compassionate products to empower lives and become permanent trendsetters in the world.

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