When Elizabeth Suda traveled to Laos some eight years ago, she was unaware of the magnitude her travels would have — she soon learned about a Secret War otherwise known as the The Laotian Civil War (1953–1975) and left with the budding idea of starting a sustainable fashion company. Elizabeth went on a journey of discovery, and returned with a powerful mission: to transform something negative into positive.
Based between Xieng Khouang and New York, ARTICLE22 works at the nexus of local development and the global market, crafting ethical jewelry upcycled from bomb scraps by artisans in Laos. To date, ARTICLE22 has cleared UXO from 13,000 m2 of contaminated land (and counting) thanks to the help of those who have retreived the bombs.
What drew you to visit Laos in 2008?
I worked in accessories at Coach HQ, and I realized how powerful the fashion consumer market is in terms of money spent, but also, powerful in the sense that the things we wear have aesthetic significance and at times may also reflect the way we think. I wondered more and more about how things are made, by whom, and their impact socially and environmentally. I was drawn to Laos after reading about how many women there still practice natural dyeing and hand loom weaving – and what really struck me was that they wear the textiles that they weave as skirts. The skill is then passed from one generation to the next. I started to imagine how these ancient skills could be translated into modern fashion… so I left NYC to discover whether local art forms could fit into the global marketplace and the potential positive effect this could have.
What were some of the eye-opening things you learned or saw during that first trip?
I lived for 5 months in the capital city of Vientiane working with weavers. It was not until traveling north to Xieng Khouang to work on a textile project that I truly discovered and understood the Secret War – which I had only vaguely understood. Each day I traveled to the villages where I worked, in what I later learned is one of the most heavily bombed provinces, and saw demining teams removing unexploded ordnance from the farmland. In one village, I saw a whole shed full of shrapnel. I also saw artisans pouring molten metal from detonated bombs into molds that produced luminous spoons. This local innovation literally cleared the land of detonated war scrap metal, and fed the population noodle soup daily. I was touched by how they transformed something so ugly into something useful, and even pretty! This was creativity born out of necessity, design thinking, and a transformation story that was beautiful and meaningful that deserved global attention.
“Turning bad into beautiful, the collection helps clear some of the 80 million unexploded ordnances, and has employed over 40 artisans in Laos…”
Could you explain what “peacebomb” jewelry is?
Peacebomb jewelry is handcrafted from detonated bombs, plane parts, and other scrap aluminum. Turning bad into beautiful, the collection helps clear some of the 80 million unexploded ordnances, and has employed over 40 artisans in Laos using the hashtags #peacebomb, #loveisthebomb.
We partnered with the local artisans who have been working to transform bomb scrap metal into soup spoons since the ’70s. ARTICLE22 connects 30 husbands and wives to fashion consumers across the world through the design and distribution of our jewelry, and expressing the transformation story of negative into positive. Design is our tool to support artisan entrepreneurs and advocate for the clearance of UXO in Laos.
What kind of impact is ARTICLE22 having on the local artisans?
It took a year to make the first bracelet because artisans were used to making spoons. They felt the bracelets were not worth the effort because they did not believe that they would sell. Today, they can make new, difficult prototypes in just a few hours. Our partnership with them has brought greater capacity to their skillset. A virtuous circle, Peacebomb jewelry helps make land safe, creates jobs, and provides artisans with additional scrap metal to make more jewelry that will sell and clear more land – all while raising awareness among fashion consumers seeking beautiful and meaningful design.
Where can we buy the jewelry?
Online at article22.com where we reach over 40 countries around the world! Also at The New Museum in NYC, thirteen Maison Simons stores in Canada, and Agete in Tokyo.
What’s next for ARTICLE22?
Home goods mixing our signature peacebomb aluminum and wood… and some complementary textiles to return to our very own origin story.
To learn more about ARTICLE22, visit article22.com