BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY WITH YOUR PURCHASING POWER
“I could have just as easily been born in any of these countries with any of these outcomes. I happened to be born in the States. I happened to have a supportive family. I happened to be able to have education. It’s the luck of the draw—it’s where I ended up, and it could absolutely have been me.”
Purse & Clutch Executive Director Jen Lewis has always felt a sense of global responsibility. Her father was born and raised in Nigeria. Growing up, Jen heard stories of uncles that lived there and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a high schooler, Jen completed service trips to Mexico and Bolivia, and then lived in Honduras for a year after graduating college working as a chemistry teacher and spent time in Guatemala City and Antigua as well. Despite the vast differences between these cultures, Jen noticed a common thread: time-honored craftsmanship of exquisite textile products. Her “business mind”–she earned a Master’s degree in leadership and ethics from John Brown University–began working: she could connect these artisans to a wider market to sell their wares. And thus, Purse & Clutch was born.
“It was genius; it just made so much sense,” Jen says. “They’re already making their own pieces… all that was missing was the opportunity and the connection to a market and that, for whatever reason, felt really doable.” Purse & Clutch started out in 2011 as a boutique, working with existing fair trade brands and “really just curating [its] style, which is a little bit more classic, a little bit more clean lines,” Jen adds. For five-and-a-half years, Purse & Clutch grew as Jen learned more about the lives of the artisans she worked with: living in developing countries, “once they were offered a job they were able to completely transform their own lives.” She saw “what worked and what didn’t in terms of really sustainable development for communities and artisan groups,” and wanted to take that knowledge a step further by working with these artisan groups more directly and making a deeper impact. So when, almost a year ago, a woman named Eden connected with Jen to offer a partnership with her Ethiopian-based non-profit leatherworking artisan group, Jen enthusiastically accepted. Then, a few months later when the designer of One Loom Design, a brand Purse & Clutch had already been working with, asked Jen to acquire the company, she agreed to that too. Purse & Clutch now exclusively sells its own brand, designed in collaboration with and produced solely by Ethiopian leatherworkers and Guatemalan weavers.