- October 4, 2014
- Posted by: Audrey del Rosario
- Category: Bucket List
Despite having been discarded, sun-bleached, and left in the ochre-tinted soil, the plastic pipe goes on, and its story doesn’t end. In fact, that pipe may very well end up on your wrist.
With a backdrop of the Kalahari desert and the Angola border, artisans “upcycle” this pipe and many others to hand-carve bracelets for a social enterprise called The Base Project. Founded by brothers Chris and Doug Akin, The Base Project is a socially-motivated fashion brand that seeks to empower artisans and their respective communities in Namibia and Ghana. It’s a triple bottom line initiative in considering people, profit, and planet, and the Akin brothers want to set “the base” for a number of groups.
According to the website:
“Base is a starting point, a foundation. Consider the base of a pyramid or our basic needs for survival. In that spirit, The Base Project focuses on providing artisans in the developing world with basic, self-sustaining business skills. The funds we invest back into the community aim to meet basic needs of food, shelter, education, and health care. With some assistance laying a stable groundwork, these developing communities will prosper independently.”
Both brothers for a time “were working a similar environment” in the corporate world, and Chris himself transitioned to the social good sector by working at a nonprofit. Moving from this background and employing Doug’s global perspective from having traveled to twenty nations across Africa, Asia, and Central America, a home-grown partnership was born. For these brothers, however, their first product came from an unexpected source.
“Doug and I were looking at different products, and we asked some 15 to 20 people what they liked. Everyone kept choosing this bracelet that I got from a long-lost friend in Africa, and with some luck and some initial cold calling, we tracked down the source,” Chris said.
That “source”, as it turned out happened to be a group of artisans in the Kunene region of Namibia. Today, The Base Project continues to partner with these artisans in two semi-nomadic tribes, Himba and Herero, and there are 14 variations of the original bracelet.
“The artisans themselves design these bracelets. They’re standardized in some ways and unique in others. Each one has its own story – in its carving and its uniqueness, ” said Liz Courtney, The Base Project’s Digital Media Director.
With the sale of each bracelet, artisans are paid in compliance with the Fair Trade Federation’s guidelines, and a portion of the profits goes towards funding community-based projects.
“We really believe in the idea of ‘wear your impact’, which happens to be our slogan, and the message is two-fold. First, the bracelets impact your own life in sharing this message, and we like connecting people to social good. At the same time, the money from the bracelets is invested back into the company and in our artisans and their communities,” Liz said.
These grassroots initiatives that funded by these bracelets are locally sourced.
“Our first project is creating a farm for the artisans’ communities [in Namibia], and the request comes from the community members. We asked what the greatest need was and what’s not being done. We decided on the farm, and for this project, we work with local NGOs and the local people,” Chris explained.
With this community-based approached, the response has been, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive.
‘We get advice from the US Embassy there, as well as the Peace Corps, and they love it,” Chris said. “I think the one point that was a ‘big learning lesson’, however, was that we didn’t do as much random outreach beyond who we thought were the stakeholders. Nowadays, we’re trying to expand our outreach and to expand this community-based approach, and we regularly check in with NGOs and some of the local politicians.”
In pursing more community-based projects, The Base Project has expanded to bags and metal bracelets as well. The bags are woven by artisans in Ghana, and The Base Project team is currently researching new projects to give back to the local community. In the meantime, there’s also a new line of metal bracelets based on the patterns of the original, plastic bracelet. For this metal jewelry, the Akin brothers have utilized a royalty-based approach, in place of fair trade, but the proceeds go towards a scholarship in the artisans’ communities.
“Ultimately, beyond the farm, we wanted some way for these artisans’ families to continue to benefit from this chain of social good,” said Chris. “I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve spoken to people at colleges and social entrepreneurship events. But at the end of the day, my message is the same. We just want this forward momentum, and at the core of our business, we’re connected to this global circle.”
For this edition of Bucket List, we encourage you to check out The Base Project website, and wear your impact.
“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador brand strategist Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.
Image Credit: The Base Project