Courage Is Contagious: Q&A with The Brave Collection
The Brave Collection's bracelets benefit Cambodian artisans and fight human trafficking with each sale. We sat down with founder Jessica Hendricks to talk about its mission.
Milkshake: Given the story behind The Brave Collection -- that you were teaching in Thailand when a side trip to Cambodia opened your eyes to the world of human trafficking and compelled you to do something impactful about it -- was there a specific moment that cemented your resolve to launch an enterprise with a social mission?
Jessica: It wasn't one moment, but it was definitely a series of similar moments that led to Brave's inception. I came back from Cambodia outraged and deeply saddened by what I had seen, and couldn't help but share the experience with everyone around me. I was that girl, rattling off statistics about human trafficking at cocktail parties. I quickly realized that this topic of conversation was really difficult and powerful, and that people weren't quite sure how to approach it. Every awkward response I got from attempting to share what I had seen added up, until finally I found a way to spark this conversation with optimism and beauty, helping people connect and understand.
On The Brave Collection's website, you use a remarkable phrase -- "tangled synthesis of beauty and horror" -- to describe the ethos in parts of Southeast Asia. Could you share an example or two of what prompted those words?
Cambodia went through a genocide in the 1970s that brutally wiped out 25 percent of the country's population. This bitter tragedy still feels quite recent amongst a country of survivors who live alongside tourist attractions like "The Killing Fields." And yet, a new generation of young people are so bright and talented -- they are renaissance men and women working to preserve their rich ancient culture, and create a brighter future for themselves. The grief you feel from the violent past of this century is so tangled in with the inspiration you get from the young people you meet today -- it's a very layered time and place, and I found it completely magnetic.
Tell us a bit about your team.
We work with an incredible amount of artisans who make our bracelets entirely by hand, which is a carefully crafted, very labor-intensive process. Our artisans work in a free and fair work environment that is made up of women and a few men who come from underprivileged backgrounds in Cambodia. It's really exciting to give these artisans new opportunities and access to the global market, breathing new life into the Cambodian art community that was targeted during the genocide.
How does The Brave Collection give back?
Each handmade bracelet is a job opportunity for a Cambodian artisan, and with each bracelet that finds a wrist, a donation is made to fight human trafficking. In 2012, we were able to support six artisans full time, as well as provide skill training workshops to 150 survivors through our partnership with the Somaly Mam Foundation.
What advice do you have for budding social entrepreneurs thinking about launching a similar enterprise?
I would say: stay focused. You'll want to help in so many ways as social issues can be so complex, but going back to that initial "Why" and committing to a simple mission will lead to the biggest impact.
What's been the most rewarding moment of your experience with The Brave Collection so far?
We chose to have our bracelets spell out "Brave" in the Cambodian alphabet, as bravery is so universal. It's been really wonderful to hear different people's definition of bravery, and what this little token of courage and freedom means to them personally. The Brave Collection was born out of my story, but when it lands on your wrist, it becomes part of yours.
Visit The Brave Collection's website to shop its stunning array of bracelets, including a special Spring 2013 collection perfect for Mother's Day and graduation gifts.
The Brave Collection at a Glance
Inspired by the time its founder, Jessica Hendricks, spent in Cambodia learning about its history of oppression and the contrasting beauty that exists within the area, The Brave Collection's bracelets are made of sterling silver, 14k gold plate, and brass. They spell out the word "Brave" using the letters of the Cambodian alphabet. Through the collection's work with the Somaly Mam Foundation, more than 150 genocide survivors have gone through skill training workshops, and for each bracelet sold, a donation is made to help end human trafficking.