Taking her first trip to Haiti in 2016, Executive Director of Mission Made Jewelry, Kaitlyn Hopfer met with local artisans and began forming relationships that would do more than create jobs within an impoverished community; it was an entirely new start for many.
Written by: Casey McAnarney | Photography provided by: Mission Made Jewelry
Working under the nonprofit organization Mission Made Jewelry, Hopfer learned how a job can “truly change a life.” With a desire to work for something that made an impact, Mission Made Jewelry is completely volunteer driven and almost entirely run by interns. The company started as a side project for individuals like Hopfer and founder Ross Moreno.
In 2015, the Information Technology Director of Moreno’s primary business, Recon Event Management, who lived in Ghana at the time, brought back a box of jewelry. Hopfer described the statement pieces as “super colorful, traditional African style” and “gorgeous,” but what intrigued the company was the story behind the handmade pieces. The woman who was making and running the jewelry line was housing girls in Accra, Ghana who were victims of sex trafficking. After hearing this story, Hopfer and her coworkers knew that they had to do something to give back.
“This box of jewelry could make a long-term impact on this woman’s life and on the girls living in that house,” Hopfer said. “So we started just selling through social media and it was cool to see people be really receptive to the idea. From there we had missionaries and people from all around the world reaching out to us saying that they knew someone who had a similar story or background.” By similar stories, Hopfer meant that there were other people around the world that were creating jewelry and hiring in-need members of their communities to do the work.
The result was the decision to launch Mission Made Jewelry, an organization that would truly work to helpindividuals around the world break out of the cycle of poverty by providing individuals with a job, according to Hopfer. The organization specifically decided to focus on handmade pieces that would be unique and would allow artisans to “tap” into their cultural talents and skillsets. Many organizations go into factories and shops telling artisans exactly what they want made and that they want it mass produced, according to Hopfer. What Mission Made Jewelry wanted to do was help empower those artisans to be creative, to use their traditional crafting techniques and to use materials that are local to them so that an impact is not only made on the artisans, but on the entire community as well.
“We also invest in these communities by donating to education programs, clean water facilities, and otherways that can make long term impact on their lives,” Hopfer said.
One such group that Mission Made Jewelry now works with started with a Haitian man named Benson who weaved banana leaf baskets to sell on the streets every day. He had a vision of creating a company that would employ those in his community.
“They now have over 60 full-time employees and pay about three times the average Haitian minimum wage,” Hopfer said. Haiti increased the daily minimum wage to $5.11 USD in 2014, according to The Associated Press. The group now hosts training programs in order to bring people out of vulnerable situations such as trafficking, so that they can have a sustainable and safe job.
Some of the most popular products are the Haitian metal art. Metal pieces that have quotes and Bible verses on them, are made out of recycled oil drums. The artisans flatten them, draw their design and then cut and hammer them out by hand.
Another partnership was extended to a group of artisans in Nashville, TN called Branded Collective, that works with girls here in the United States who have been victims of trafficking. They believe in rehabilitation through empowered activity, such as having a job. On the front of the bracelet there is a number to represent the physical branding that happens to a lot of the girls who have been trafficked. Biographies about these girls as well as their hopes can be read on Branded Collective’s website.
Mission Made Jewelry also holds events involving local artisans seeking to discuss their products with thesurrounding community. The organization held an event at Wrightsville Beach Brewery called the Mission Made Marketplace where local artisans showcased their talents. They featured five local companies that were giving back by donating proceeds to different charities or using materials and products from impoverished communities. The marketplace had almost 200 people come to shop at that event and Hopfer believes that this event showed how being a conscious consumer can make an impact around the world.
All products and a list of upcoming events are available on their website. Follow them on social media to get first looks at products they bring back from Haiti.You can find them on Facebook @missionmadejewelry, on Twitter @Mission_Made, on Pinterest Mission Made Jewelry, and on Instagram @missionmadejewlry or by can visiting their website at missionmadejewelry.org.