Tell us about the inspiration that prompted the start of 31 Bits?
We were carefree juniors in college. We were waitresses and babysitters, living for the moment. But with graduation just a year away, we knew we were supposed to be figuring out what was next. We began filling out grad school applications, applying for jobs, and making travel plans. But in the midst of planning out what was next, our lives were interrupted.
Kallie, one of the 31 Bits founders, had just gotten back from a life-changing trip to Uganda. She met women who grew up in a war and had nothing. They were single moms with no education and no job, but their skills and resourcefulness was astounding. They were making incredible jewelry out of old posters. They had no market for the beads in Africa, but Kallie knew that they would sell instantly back home. Together, we could make a business.
Kallie brought back a box of jewelry and showed them to her friends, who instantly fell in love. The beads from Uganda were so unique and personal, but most of all, the purchase of these accessories benefited the women who made them. From that moment on, we created a market for the jewelry in the United States and started 31 Bits.
The following summer, a few of us went back to Uganda to figure out how we were going to make this possible. We sat down one-on-one with these women learning how to make the beads while listening to their stories, dreams, and hardships. We laughed, cried, and formed lifelong friendships. The women taught us the importance of faith, believing in our dreams, and the importance of learning new things. These are the core values we have carried with us throughout our journey. It is our mission to share their stories with you while using fashion and design to drive positive change in the world.
How does 31 Bits contribute to the betterment of society?
We use fashion and design to drive positive change in the world by providing artisans with dignified job opportunities and inspiring customers to live meaningful lives.
Everything has a supply chain, and every supply chain has real people behind it. If the price tag of an item is too low, there’s a high chance someone along the way wasn’t paid or treated fairly. A decade ago, few consumers gave this a second thought, but we’re proud to be one of the pioneers to pave the way for ethical products, and we’re even more excited you’re reading this right now –chances are you wandered on our site because you care too.
We combined our love for people, fashion, design and travel to create accessories and home goods that drive meaningful change in the world. Our products are thoughtfully designed and ethically made. We collaborate with some of the most skilled artisans around the world by providing them with dignified job opportunities and giving them access to the global market.
Paying fair and sustainable wages to our artisans is just the beginning of what we do. We believe in providing safe and joyful working conditions, a family-like atmosphere, and an environment where every artisan feels known. We believe quality work is a result of artisans who are being cared for as individuals. In a nutshell, we believe how stuff is made matters.
31 Bits was founded because of the friendships we formed with incredible women in Uganda. The women grew up during a horrific, twenty-year war in Eastern Africa that left their community in drastic need. Most of them had little-to-no education as kids. Some are HIV positive, single moms, or were left without family or a home because of the war. But these strong women didn’t let their circumstances define them. They began rolling beads from paper, and searched for ways to sell them. After forming a partnership to sell their jewelry, we implemented a five year program that offers fair pay and holistic care. This means we provide finance education and business training, promote physical and mental wellness, and care for their families and communities. After five years in our program, an artisan is ready to graduate. This means she is educated, healthy, and confident while managing her very own business where she has an ongoing and sustainable income.
As the market continues to invite competition, even in the sustainability and social responsibility space, where do you see 31 Bits fitting into the ecosystem in the next 5-10 years?
We will continue to employ and expand our artisans in Indonesia and Uganda. We recently launched a new Home Goods Collection, which we plan to grow and adapt depending on trends. We’ve been able to sustain ourselves for the past ten years (just recently celebrated our Birthday!) on the roller-coaster of retail, which we’re extremely thankful for. We were able to do this because of our creative team and being open to making changes.
What are your most popular products?
Our most popular products are our original paper beaded jewelry, such as the Jolene Single Strand and Daphne bracelets. Our newer metal jewelry line is also doing quite well, offering our customers a more minimalistic look. We introduced handwoven bags, and our Woven Drum Bag has been a best-seller for awhile now.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with Sustainable Inc. !
Check out 31 bits online: https://31bits.com/
Disclaimer: Sustainable Inc. does not endorse businesses or their practices. The purpose of this blog is to provide information to readers.