February 25, 2013 | Economic Opportunity
Look Good, Do Good: Maiden Nation Puts the “Fashion” in Ethical Fashion
On the prowl for something as chic as it is conscientious? Now there’s a fresh source of "ethical fashion"—apparel that is both ethically produced and sustainably sourced—that’s taking the concept to a stylish new level.
Maiden Nation is selling beautifully designed products that provide a living to women artisans in developing countries while giving consumers items they can be proud to wear. Launched in January 2013, Maiden Nation aims to keep a higher percentage of money in its artisans’ hands by selling all its products online. To maximize exposure, the effort has enlisted celebs as partners, twinning high profile women and notable designers with producers. For Maiden’s latest collection, Yoko Ono designed a cuff with the word "Imagine Peace" cut out of metal ($80); Gloria Steinem created a bracelets that read, "Imagine We Are Linked Not Ranked" ($48); and Lauren Bush Lauren’s bracelet is emblazoned with her trademark FEED logo, with the proceeds sustaining women artisans in Colombia ($40).
The Women in the World Foundation caught up with the "Prime Minister" and co-founder of Maiden Nation Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, who has joined forces with Willa Shalit, the artist, producer and writer; and designer Juliana Um. For Schaeffer Brown, the seeds for Maiden Nation were planted more than a decade ago while she was a Barnard College undergrad on an alternative spring break trip to Haiti; she and her fellow students visited a slum another group of Americans had visited just a month before. "There was a lot of anger, because the Americans had promised to come back with medicine," recalls Schaeffer Brown. "I was 19, and I had women bringing me into their homes showing me children who were dying." The experience changed Schaeffer Brown forever. "As a college student who had grown-up in New England from a pretty sheltered background, that pretty much traumatized me."
Determined to never feel powerless to help again, Schaeffer Brown, started her own design business after graduation and returned to Haiti, forming relationships with the craft community there. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, Schaeffer Brown came up with a project called Choose Haiti that trained women to make bracelets out of discarded bottles. "After the first order the women were like, 'Ok we need more orders, we are trained,' but the retailers wouldn’t reorder because they saw as this one-off cause marketing project." The knowledge that the production was helping women feed their children in Haiti but that the project wasn’t sustainable was, as Schaffer Brown puts it, "brutal."
Shortly thereafter Schaeffer Brown joined forces with Willa Shallit, who was working in Haiti making products for Macy’s. "I told them of this name that I had thought of … 'Maiden Haiti,' celebrating both the women and where the products are being made. The idea was to put it all online and try to create a sustainable demand for these products."
The reaction to Maiden Nation so far? "We had women from all over the world emailing us and asking, 'Will you promote our brand?' Others emailing saying, 'I want to help' – just incredible support," says Schaeffer Brown. "I even called MTV and said, 'Hey, you have a billboard. Will you put our ad on your space?' And they were like, 'Alright.' The support was really unbelievable and that gave us the confidence to keep going."
To become a citizen of Maiden Nation, please visit www.maidennation.com