Fashion & Compassion is a jewelry line on a mission. Each piece is handcrafted by women in Charlotte and around the world who have escaped domestic abuse, prostitution, trafficking and other experiences that make them vulnerable to poverty, addiction and other struggles. Fashion & Compassion provides the women with the safe, legal, ethical and reliable work they need to get back on their feet, and the women pour their talents into creating products that earn them the worthy title “artisan.”
“Despite tremendous adversity in their lives, they have hope,” said co-founder Celeste Bundy. “It can be overwhelming to learn the stories but it’s their stories that sell.”
That’s why every piece of jewelry is tagged with the artisan’s name, to draw awareness not just to the product but to the person who made it. It’s a way for women who may have been overlooked and underestimated their entire lives to stand up proudly and say, “I did this. This is mine.”
Founded by Michele Dudley and Celeste Bundy in 2009, Fashion & Compassion aims “to connect socially-conscious consumers with vulnerable women artisans to bring dignity through economic opportunity.” To do this, they’ve set up production studios in Uganda, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Rwanda, Mexico, Honduras and right here in Charlotte.
Workshops are set up around the world with the help of a collaborative partner on the ground. “It’s important to us to have an indigenous leader on the ground at each site,” said Celeste, “so that it’s not us as outsiders just invading with our ideas.”
Each site is responsible for producing its own unique Fashion & Compassion collection, which are all available for purchase online and in their Dilworth retail store.
The Dignity Collection produced in Rwanda features eco-friendly paper beads made from recycled magazines. There are 12 women artisans who work on the project and among them they support 72 children on their earnings.
The Hope Collection from Ecuador turns natural products from the jungle – like acai berries, orange peel and coconut shells – into intricate necklaces and bracelets. They are created by young girls rescued from brothels.
The Peace Collection from Rwanda features beautiful handmade baskets created by Hutu and Tutsi women. The women are survivors of the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide and members of the opposing tribes that killed each other. According to Celeste, the hope is that if ever another clash arises that these women would look at each other after working side by side on the project and say, “No, that’s my sister.”
The Bullets to Blessings Collection from Ethiopia turns recycled bullets and other war materials into beautiful, sturdy pieces of jewelry. The pieces are created by HIV+ women and the proceeds fund Hanna’s Home, an orphanage for abandoned children.
And here at home in Charlotte local artisans create The Freedom Collection, which includes earrings, necklaces and bracelets made from Czech crystals and semi-precious stones.
The Charlotte Workshop
The Charlotte workshop is a bright room lined with strings of crystals and beads. In the middle is a well-lit table where artisans gather to create their pieces. On my way into the store for this interview, I tailed a young woman who gave me a polite smile as she passed. I assumed she was on her way to shop but when I stepped into the workshop, there she was hard at work among her fellow survivors.
Passing her on the street with her tidy dress and kind smile, I never would have guessed that young woman had experienced things that warranted a her seat at that table. It just goes to show you never really know the weight of a stranger’s story. And that, I think, is the beauty of the Fashion & Compassion approach, that it gives these women a place to be seen and heard and valued.
Celeste says most women work for Fashion & Compassion an average of nine months, but there’s no limit to how long they can stay. “Our hope is that this is just a stepping stone to something better,” she said.
One of the best ways to support Fashion & Compassion is to host your own trunk show, either at your home or at the Dilworth workshop. And, of course, shop the collection.
Connect with Fashion & Compassion