During his time working as a teacher in the Peace Corps, Damian Jones noticed that women’s lives in Nepal changed dramatically based on their income. This observation sparked the idea that he could help share their native glass beading craft to the world while empowering women through a meaningful career opportunity for female artisans. With a collection of beautiful handcrafted accessories inspired by the Nepalese culture, the Aid Through Trade brand was born. Now, more than 200 female artisans in Nepal work to create intricately beaded bracelets, utilizing an innovative roll-on design; creating a better life for the local female artisans.
Here at Peach, we have always used our Entrepreneur Program to showcase under-discovered, female-founded accessory brands with each of our seasonal collections; providing them with a national platform for exposure and growth through our stylists, website and social media. However, we couldn’t help bending the rules for this incredible brand when we saw the similarities between our own CFO & Co-Founder, Derek Ohly and the Aid Through Trade Founder, Damian Jones. These men have both made it their life’s mission to empower women through rewarding business opportunities that change the way they live. Naturally, we were thrilled to name Damian as the featured entrepreneur for the Spring 2019 Heart of Havana collection.
We jumped on the chance to sit down with this likeminded champion of women’s empowerment and hear more about how he discovered that a beaded bracelet had the power to transform the way women in Nepal live and why he’s made this his mission.
1. You spent time traveling through out Nepal as a teacher in the Peach Corps. What was most impactful about the people and places you interacted with?
The most impactful aspect was the people, the level of trust they afforded me, the care they showed, and the connection we developed. I taught third graders, fourth graders, and fifth graders. We developed a very strong bond, and that continues today. Not only are some of my former students artisans, but, even more commonly, the children of my students are now artisans!
2. Describe the moment when you got the idea for Aid Through Trade.
It wasn’t actually a moment, but more an accumulation of impressions that for all the foreign aid money coming into Nepal, I couldn’t see the expected difference in villagers’ lives. It also didn’t appear sustainable. So I got the idea that long term, dignified, ethical trade would be a better help to persons on the ground, as opposed to foreign aid.
3. What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?
Of course every time you do one thing, you sacrifice doing something else. I recall a point several years into it, where I had a very significant amount of debt (personal loans, credit cards, etc.). At that time, my Peace Corps cohorts had all completed advanced degrees. I thought, if this fails, I’m not necessarily employable- how would I pay all this money off? So a big sacrifice was a sense of stability.
4. We know you pride yourself on being able to create a safe, fair, sustainable and healthy work environment for your Artisans.What does a typical workday look like for them? What benefits do they get to enjoy as part of the Aid Through Trade team?
On a typical work day, artisans will gather at 10am. Telling stories and joking while they work is the norm. If they have a small baby or toddler, that child will be in the lap of the mother or of a co-worker. However, if the child is a couple years old, he or she has the ability to play on nearby grounds with the other kids, periodically coming back to visit with their mom. Time-to-time we also offer benefits such as eye check ups, and supply readers for those whose eyesight changes because of age.
However, we also do different things to assist the greater communities. To encourage girls to attend school, we support 50 students with scholarships; an ongoing program we’ve been doing for many years now. In the last couple of growing seasons, we have had the chance to introduce new vegetable seeds into the region via each artisan- this includes nutritious and heat resistant collards and kale. Currently, we have one soft loan that financed the opening of a shop for an artisan who is in a difficult situation. Over the last few years, we’ve also purchased new bed sheets for 63 students who are former child slaves, provided mosquito nets for all and even supported the rebuilding of a home for an artisan who lost her house in the earthquake.
5. In addition to your mission of empowering women in Nepal, you also promote the fact that your bracelets are the Original Roll-On Bracelet. What makes your roll-on design so significant and notable?
When we say Original Roll-On®, we mean original. Like thousands of jewelry designs over the past 26 years, this was designed and developed by us. We design what we sell. This is not a traditional piece, and so it doesn’t even have a name in Nepal. We gave it the name Roll-On®, copyrighted the design and registered the trademark- anything else is a copy.
6. Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night? And how you work to overcome it?
The more artisans we support, the more weight that is on us to continue succeeding. Sometimes when I think of all the people dependent on what we do as a company, it’s worrisome. It makes me wonder whether we can continue to make this happen. However, what helps me overcome it is telling myself the truth: “Look at how long we’ve succeeded so far.”
7. You currently offer a full line of jewelry including necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Do you have any plans to expand your offerings to other categories? Where do you hope to see Aid Through Trade in ten years?
We actually worked with a fair trade nonprofit in Vietnam for ten years. We designed silk purses, jewelry bags, and scarves. From Nepal, we designed and sold handmade paper jewelry for at least five years. What I learned is to be careful about spreading your design efforts too thin. We always have worked with glass beads and the design opportunities are endless with that material. Focus on what you do best and be the best at it.
Ten years from now, I hope to see Aid Through Trade succeeding in whatever shape or form the market looks like! I’m not wise enough yet to predict what the wholesale-retail world will be ten years, much more than twenty-six years ago when we started. What a company needs, and what Aid Though Trade has, is nimbleness and the ability to adjust to the market. I always used to say, “No business, no fair trade.” We have to be a successful business first, to fulfill our mission.
Shop our collection of Aid Through Trade bracelets here.
Shop our latest Peach collection here.