JADEtribe
In the fall of 2008, Kimberly Hartman decided to temporarily leave behind a 16-year-long career in fashion in pursuit of an opportunity to pause, reflect and gain some perspective: an extended solo trip to India and South East Asia. What she discovered on her journey inspired JADEtribe, the iconic handbag collection that has altered not only Hartman’s career path, but also her global impact.

The fashion and design guru landed in Laos, a far cry from the cosmopolitan cities she’d been theretofore residing in. Laos, one of the poorest countries in East Asia—and one of the few countries that remains communist—has made significant gains with poverty alleviation within the past two decades, bringing the poverty rates from 39 percent down to 26 percent with the help of foreign aid. The country is heavily mountainous and landlocked, and though less than 5 percent of the land is suitable for agricultural production, the economy remains agrarian.

While exploring a weaving market in a remote village in Laos, Hartman found what she was looking for: inspiration. She became at once enamored by the colors created with natural, organic dyes, and by the awe-inspiring textiles that were woven from them. Fabrics and prints that were unlike any others she had seen before caught Hartman’s well-trained eye. Here, in Laos, where women work more than men—taking on an average of 70 percent of the farming and household duties—and receive less education were beautiful creations that essentially went unnoticed. Hartman was inspired.

She has since employed the weaving village to create exclusive colors and patterns that laid the groundwork for her entirely unique collection of JADEtribe handbags.

And it was more than just a brave career move for Hartman, who had established a name for herself in New York City managing some of the industry’s top brands. It was the perfect marriage of two things about which Hartman has always been deeply passionate: fashion and humanitarianism.

Through the creation of JADEtribe, Hartman has discovered a way to launch a brand that directly gives back to the people of a country in which 41 percent of the population is malnourished. By commissioning villagers, leather artisans and female sewers to create her handbags—and paying a fair price—Hartman has created immense opportunity for growth in jobs and an increased quality of life for a population of a least-developed country.

One hundred percent natural and ethical, JADEtribe bags truly represent fashion with a conscience. Seen on celebrities and in boutiques and trade shows across the globe, JADEtribe is a shining example of how one person’s passion and desire to make a difference truly can transform lives. Hartman’s JADEtribe bags are available on her website, www.jadetribe.com.

– Elizabeth Nutt

Sources: UNDP, JADEtribe, World Vision, UN, The Borgen Project
Photo: BoutiqueBlu