Aside from the social, cultural, and historical aspects that justify the insubordinate amount of time I spend writing about/indulging in/spending on fashion, I firmly believe that fashion is one of few things that possess the ability to do good for and by the masses. It’s not to say fashion isn’t superficial, because it always will be to a varying degree; fashion just so happens to be a commonality shared by every being on this planet. We all need clothing. We all seek beauty (to a varying degree). We all look for social acceptance (again, to a varying degree), and in a world where we’ve adapted to relying upon first impressions for survival’s sake, fashion has become everything.
It’s not easy to rally up a big enough group to stand for or contribute to a good cause. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, people just don’t have the time or energy to dedicate so much of themselves. The world is becoming increasingly smaller, but we’re drifting apart from the humanity of it all; apathy and selfishness is to blame, but there’s also a natural (and understandable) suspicion of just how altruistic a cause really is these days. Unless something directly affects us and the ones we love, the 21st century mindset is built upon the question of whether we can benefit from something: the ideal is giving something and getting something — preferably something more — in return. We all want things, period, and that’s where fashion comes into play. Giving back by buying something is almost too convenient. We get a physical, material, instant gratification (plus the perk of doing good by the world) versus just this one, intangible (but certainly more spiritually and morally satisfying) feeling that comes with giving. If it takes fashion to get people interested and make the public aware, then it’s worth all the money in the world. Let consumerism feed our drive to give back, then!
But that’s just my two cents.
Thus said, I couldn’t not write about The Akola Project, a non-profit initiative of the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO). At the risk of sounding PR pitch-y, it truly is the epitome of fashion for a cause; The Akola Project is dedicated to uplifting Ugandan women and their communities by creating local partnerships and providing village women with vocational training and income-generating opportunities. Two hundred women are trained to learn how to create marketable, fashionable designs and a variety of handmade crafts (including jewelry making, loom weaving, and sewing), after which the sales equip the women with a monthly income to provide food, medical care, and education for their families. Any additional income is invested into creating small businesses.
The goal behind The Akola Project is simple: create, transform, and empower. These women don’t just become artisans in their own right: they become financially literate.
With this non-profit enterprise, the UAPO has has completed a vocational training center in northern Uganda, and is in the process of building a second one in eastern Uganda. The Akola Project has also helped fund a number of current projects on health and sanitation; malaria and HIV prevention; small business training; sustainable agriculture; tribal reconciliation; and village savings and loans. Revenue from the project directly supports the building and sustaining of vocational training centers and clean water wells; over 20 wells have been drilled by the UAPO to provide over 40,000 people with clean water.
It’s a spend-worthy cause all on its own, but what distinguishes The Akola Project — and more importantly, makes it so successful — are the designs created by these incredible Ugandan women. Not only are the pieces beautiful, but are also a reflection of the local culture. Necklace designs are made from recycled magazines (another plus!); paper beads are hand-rolled by the women, meaning each piece is unique.
I was kindly gifted the Ethiopian Drape Necklace in Seafoam, a truly stunning piece (and work of art!) featuring five strands of handcrafted paper beads and a hand-picked, Ethiopian Coptic pendant. It’s definitely a statement piece. The five strands and large pendant, while bohemian, are unapologetically dramatic. I can see it paired with a strapless maxi dress in either black or a stark white, or better yet, at the beach with the tiniest, Brazilian bikini. I love the seafoam green, it looks beautiful against bronzed skin.
Long story short: The Akola Project is a cause worth wearing (and spending for). It’s a beautiful gift to give — spread awareness, and share the love. I’ll be buying the collar necklaces for my girlfriends (I’m eyeing the turquoise one for myself) and the Ethiopian rosaries for the men in my life.
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* The necklace was kindly gifted c/o The Akola Project; in no way has that affected my review or opinion of the product.