31 Bits’ holistic business model empowers Ugandan women

Jewellery brand creates a sustainable income for Ugandan artisans while teaching them skills to become self-reliant.

31 Bits uses fashion and jewellery design to empower women in Uganda. Founded by five graduates in 2008, the California-based company developed a market for jewellery made by Ugandan women.

Kallie Dovel, Alli Swanson, Anna Toy, Brooke Hughes and Jessie Simonson established the company after Dovel met a group of jewellery makers in Uganda. The women were highly skilled at making jewellery out of old posters despite having no formal education. Dovel found that she was able to market their creations back home and decided to use the same principles in Uganda.

The jewellery is handmade out of recycled paper such as discarded posters, ads and textbooks. The graduates sold the designs by word of mouth before moving online. They later grew to a wholesale scale where they distributed jewellery to 300 stores.

Before their success, the friends decided on a business model that would prioritise the women who make the products. Apart from receiving a monthly income equivalent to a teacher’s salary in Uganda, each woman is entered into a five-year programme where she is offered health education, finance training, business training and counselling.

The participants in the programme are victims of a brutal civil war that forced them to flee their villages and seek shelter in government camps, which later became breeding grounds for disease, poverty and malnourishment. The holistic programme provides the women with enough income to support their families and the skills needed to become self-reliant.

31 Bits says its ultimate goal is to have each woman graduate with a successful business of her own. The women would be able to employ others from their community and help build the local economy.

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