Hi There, I’m James

James A. Pearson Ember Arts

Hi there, I’m James (I’m the one in the front). Starting right now, anytime you hear from Ember through Facebook, emails, or on the Twitter, it’s me you’re hearing from.

A little about me:

  • I’m farsighted. My glasses will hurt your eyes.
  • I’ve been in and out of Uganda for about seven years, and I still haven’t seen the gorillas.
  • I thrive on ridiculously long and involved email chains, so be careful what you write me.
  • If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s supporting the best dreams of the people around me.

Ember started when some Ugandan friends sent me home to America with a box of jewelry for my mom. She fell in love. Little did we know that five years later we’d be sending jewelry to stores all over the US! A lot of you know that Ember is a family business. It’s me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and a bunch friends who have become like family: Joey, Emily, Anne, Cheryl, Karina, Max… this list goes on. And of course our partners, 28 women in Uganda and their families.

And then there’s you. We wouldn’t be here with out you. You’re like our very extended family. Thanks for being a part of this adventure. I’m looking forward to sharing with and hearing from you!

Get Excited in 2013

Belief + Love = Passion

Click for Macbook Pro sized wallpaper

A few weeks ago I realized I was boring. Not boring to other people (or not more than usual), but boring to myself.

A friend asked me as I rode shotgun in his car through Kampala if I was excited about my upcoming travels—from Uganda to the USA and back. I told him that I was glad to make them, but not excited, really. This answer, honest as it was, unsettled me.

Later that day, still unsettled, I thought back over the last year. Often when someone asked me, “What are you up to lately?” or “What’s going on with you these days?”, I had nothing to tell them that I was excited about. My life wasn’t exciting to me.

Which is stupid.

There are things I’ve believed deeply in that, when I started actually working on them, just weren’t exciting to me. 

 

I don’t much care if my life is exciting to other people. But to spend my hours on things that aren’t even exciting to me is a waste.

The next day, on a layover in transit to the US, I sat in Ethiopia’s international airport and started writing. What would 2013 look like if I filled it with things that I was excited about? 

Excitement and passion are closely tied. We’re excited to do the things we’re passionate about. Everything else eventually becomes tedium. Being a pretty cerebral person I had long thought that passion just meant really strong belief. Like if I just really believed in an idea or a cause then I would, de facto, be passionate about it, and so would be excited to spend my hours, days, and years on it.

But this hasn’t turned out to be true. There are things I’ve believed deeply in that, when I started actually working on them, just weren’t exciting to me.

There in the airport in Addis Abababa I realized that belief wasn’t enough, that there is something more to passion. That missing piece, I think, is best called Love.

We just like them because we like them; we can’t give our reasons. Our love of them is defenselessly true, down to the bones.

 

Love in this sense is that deep, reasonless affinity we feel for certain things and activities and people, and not for others. Like preferring tennis over golf, or liking one friend’s sense of humor more than most, or the joy I find in writing that I don’t find in 100 other types of work.

We don’t like these things because we believe in them or have reasoned them out. We just like them because we like them; we can’t give our reasons. Our love of them is defenselessly true, down to the bones.

This sort of reasonless love mixed with deep belief makes passion. Or for the mathematically minded: Passion = Belief + Love. The overlap of belief and love, I think, is where we find the sort of sustaining passion that will keep us excited about our lives day after week after month after year.

At least that’s what I’m hoping. I hope that in 2013 every time someone asks me what’s happening in my life I have something exciting to tell them. Not exciting to them, necessarily. Exciting to me.

Ember Partner: Tukula

Tukula Workshop

Jinja, the source of the Nile, is a major tourist destination in Uganda. With whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, and beautiful views of the river to occupy your time, you might overlook the town itself and the growing textile industry found there, which is turning out some of the most spectacular weaving and tailoring I’ve seen in Uganda. Through the windows of one small shop along a main road, you’ll often see Sally, a tailor, hard at work behind her pedal-operated sewing machine; the word “Tukula” painted on the wall behind her.

In the local language, Tukula means “we grow,” and that is precisely what Sally and her co-workers are doing as they refine their tailoring skills and learn to believe in a better future for themselves. Sally, who is newly married and does not yet have children of her own, dreams of one day opening her own tailoring shop in her home village. For now, she is happy to be able to help her father pay school fees for her younger siblings, to make sure they will have opportunities to succeed. Founder Melissa Terranova has worked tirelessly to promote the talents of these women, and makes sure they are provided with fair salaries, medical care, and access to savings programs.

This year, Ember Arts has partnered with Tukula to make colorful kitinge headwraps, which you can find in our shop online. We believe that Tukula’s mission lines up perfectly with our vision, and have been excited about this opportunity to work with them. In their words, “There is so much potential for people if you just give them a chance to dream. We’ve seen first-hand how quickly circumstances can change for young women by giving them that chance. After getting to know the ladies of Tukula, we realized they have dreams beyond their sewing machines. Whether they want to buy livestock or teach others how to sew, Tukula is dedicated to giving these ladies the opportunity to reach their goals.”

Tukula Logo

Do More Than Just Shop

[Thanks to Caava Design for the beautiful posters. See below for the full collection.]

Getting gifts is good. Giving is better. But best of all is investing in the people you care about.

Today, Black Friday, is a blemish on America. After a day of family and gratefulness we trample each other in pursuit of stuff we don’t need.

We do need gifts from each other. And buying something thoughtful for another person can be a wonderful gesture of relationship. But the gifts we really need can’t be bought.

We need each other’s presence. We need encouraging words and warm hugs. We need forgiveness and generosity and understanding and the assurance that, no matter what, I’ll be there for you.

We need the sometimes difficult recognition of our equal humanity regardless of which continent we were born in, what color our skin takes, how much money we do or don’t have, or any other factor that tends to separate us.

If you are going to buy gifts, it’s better to invest in products that make a positive difference. A few companies we recommend: Krochet KidsSseko, Mend, Plywood, and of course Ember.

Buying from these companies makes the world a little better, but it’s just a start. Do more than just shop. Give the things you can’t buy: your time, your attention, your heart. You have so much more to give.

Do More Than Just Shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stella’s Long Dream

[As you browse our online store this season you'll see a beautiful Ugandan woman modeling our jewelry. This is Stella. She is one of 28 Ugandan women who handcraft every piece of jewelry we sell. This is her story. Thanks for helping her write it.]

Stella with her Family

Stella’s beautiful daughter Susan just started ‘baby class,’ Uganda’s version of kindergarten. But it would be hard to understand how much this means to Stella without first knowing about Internally Displaced Person’s camps.

Stella was raised in northern Uganda at the height of Joseph Kony’s terrible rebellion. His soldiers, many of them abducted as children themselves, killed three of her brothers. That’s when her family moved into a nearby IDP camp.

 

‘The camps were the burial grounds of dreams.’

 

These camps were ostensibly planned for the protection of families like Stella’s, but were often more deadly than the rebels. Thousands of poor farming families were crammed into close quarters with no education, healthcare, opportunity. For food people relied on the UN to delivers sacks of corn flour and beans. Malnourishment and disease ruled people’s lives. The camps were the burial grounds of dreams.

But Stella made it out. She met her future husband in the camp and he decided to make his way to Kampala, Uganda’s peaceful capital city, to look for work. Four years later she followed him. Life in Kampala was better, said Stella. There were no gunshots at night and people weren’t sick all the time.

But still there was poverty. She worked hard in a local rock quarry, pounding stones into gravel to scrape out rent and put food on the table. Then suddenly she was pregnant, and worried that she wouldn’t be able to provide her baby with food, healthcare, the education that Stella herself never had.

At this moment of great hope and fear, we met Stella near the rock quarry and she joined Ember Arts.

With her new income from making jewelry she quickly organized a proper wedding with her husband. Soon little Susan was born into a family brimming with new hope. Stella and her husband helped pay school fees for six relatives as Susan grew and their son Jonathan was born. Today Stella has goals of building her family a house back in the north, now that it’s peaceful, and of opening a produce business.

But her greatest dream is to educate her children, to provide Susan and Jonathan with the sort of opportunity that did not exist back in the IDP camps. And now, seven years after leaving the camp, that dream is coming true.

Ember Hero Giveaway!

We believe in heroes. Not the mutant, alien, superpower kind, but the real kind. The kind of people that make the world better, if only a little bit at a time. Like our Ugandan partners, women working their tails off to chase their dreams and build better futures for their families. And Becky Straw, who has made huge sacrifices to create good jobs in the developing world.

Who are the heroes in your life? Do you have a friend or sister or teacher or mom who has made all the difference? Is there someone you know who is chasing her dreams and inspiring you to do the same? Take a moment to tell them they are a hero, and through our Ember Hero Giveaway you could win two pairs of our brand new Jinja Bangles! A pair for you and a pair for your hero.

Just follow these quick steps:
1) Click on this photo to go to Facebook:

2) Tag your hero in a comment on the photo, and tell them what makes them a hero. Comment as many times as you want, and please only tag one friend per comment. (If you can’t comment, ‘like’ Ember Arts first.)
3) The winner, announced next week, will win two pairs of our brand new Jinja Bangles! A pair for your and a pair for your hero.

We all need heroes, and luckily they’re all around us. Take a minute to tag a hero, and good luck in the giveaway!

Becky Straw, Ember Hero

Becky Straw is our Fall 2012 Ember Hero. We’re donating 50% of all online sales now thru November 9th to her organization, The Adventure Project! Shop our new Fall Lineup here!

Do not start a nonprofit, says Becky Straw, co-founder of The Adventure Project, a nonprofit. She makes a strong case. If you start a nonprofit you’ll be broke, stressed, and you’ll have to be boring while you work long hours with no money. You will be rejected a lot. And, by the odds, you’ll fail within a few years.

Becky has been through all of it except the failing. For the last two years she lived couch-to-couch, maxing out her credit cards and relying on gracious friends and family, and working with her co-founder Jody Landers to build the foundation of an enormous vision. They aim to create one million jobs in the developing world within a decade.

Sitting across the table from Becky in a cafe in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, she says she’s tired from flying across the world and spending three long days in the field catching up with a social business she partners with. Still she crackles with energy. I’ve been in the country three extra, less busy days and I’m fading with jet lag. She shares with me the grand vision she and her partner are building, lamenting that it’s hard to shrink it down to the elevator pitch that many would-be backers want.

Her vision sees good businesses in poor countries as the final solution to poverty, and to many other endemic problems, like access to clean water and affordable healthcare. The Adventure Project aims to focus international attention and money on these businesses, helping them scale and make the biggest positive impact.

And, in a way, it all started with swimming.

“As a kid I was terrible,” Becky told me later over email. “I’m not trying to be modest, I have multiple last place ribbons to prove it.” Then, when she was twelve, a swim coach took her aside and gave her this advice: “Everything in life is 90% hard work and only 10% talent, so just work harder than everyone else.”

“That stuck with me, and he was right,” said Becky. “I put my head down and never stopped trying.” Her hard work earned her a scholarship to swim collegiately on a team that won two conference titles. She still wasn’t the fastest on the team (“I was the worst of the best”) but, she recalls, “it didn’t really matter to me, because I learned that I love to work hard, and will go to great lengths to make something happen.”

 

“I experienced that feeling that hits you in the gut, and you know you’ll never be able to live blissfully ignorant again.”

 

That sort of determination, ‘Grit’, as it’s often called, is being hailed by top researchers as one of the most important characteristics of successful people. And Becky clearly has large grit reserves. Which means that she could likely succeed at just about anything: movie making, real estate development, technology startups, fields that could win her fame or fortune or both. So why put all that determination towards stopping poverty?

“I think the main experience for me was volunteering in Romania after college,” she said. A couple from Ohio ran a group home for kids who had been orphaned and abused. Some of them had been confined to cribs for the first ten years of their lives and had to learn to walk starting at age eleven.

“I experienced that feeling that hits you in the gut,” said Becky, “and you know you’ll never be able to live blissfully ignorant again. It made me horribly sad to see the vast disparity between the rich and poor. But it was also incredibly hopeful, because I witnessed resilience and love. And it gave me purpose.”

She earned a Master’s in International Social Welfare from Columbia before joining a fledgling non-profit called charity: water. Becky was employee number three, and helped launch one of the most innovative and successful non-profits in the world. She left charity: water during some challenging organizational growth pains and soon reconnected with a donor named Jody she had become fast friends with a year earlier during a trip to Liberia. Over dinner in Colorado they discovered their common passion for social enterprise and started a Google document titled, “Launch List,” filled with items like “Assemble a board” and “Get charitable status”.

They started in on the to do list in October 2010 and launched The Adventure Project a month later.

So far they have partnered with four social ventures in four developing countries, creating over 350 jobs. These businesses are helping solve the problems of hunger, water, environment, and healthcare, and are serving almost 900,000 people.

When I met her in Uganda she had been visiting one of these partners, a company called Living Goods that combines the Avon door-to-door sales model with the effectiveness of community driven healthcare. Women are trained as community health workers and visit the homes of their neighbors, checking on family health and offering advice and selling low-cost solutions where necessary.

On her organization’s blog Becky shares a story (with beautiful photos from Esther Havens) that epitomizes the impact she and Jody are having. A Ugandan woman named Gertrude, recently widowed and left with three young children, was hired and trained by Living Goods as they expanded to her village. When she started visiting homes she met a woman who had three children sick with malaria and no money for medication. Gertrude decided to trust the woman and paid for the medications herself before moving on to the next house. Two days later the children had recovered, the woman had repaid Gertrude for the medication, and the village was buzzing that Gertrude had saved these children’s lives. Now her new health business is booming and she can afford to send her kids to school. And all throughout the village she is known as “the Kind One.”

Becky’s dream, and the vision of The Adventure Project, is to take Gertrude’s story and multiply it by a million. One million new jobs. One million people solving their communities’ problems. One million families out of poverty. It’s the kind of goal that will take, more than anything, a lot of grit.

Learn more about Becky’s work here. We’re donating 50% of all online sales now thru November 9th to The Adventure Project! Shop our new Fall Lineup here!

Behind the Scenes

Ember Arts is all about creating beautiful jewelry and helping our Ugandan partners fulfill their dreams; but with the fun parts comes a lot of behind-the-scenes work that doesn’t often make it into the limelight.

First and foremost is choosing the paper. Most of the recycled paper that we use comes from Owino, a bustling and crowded marketplace in the center of Uganda’s capital. After winding through a maze of temporary stalls, piles of used clothing, boda boda motorcycles, and giant loads of goods strapped to the backs of bicycles, there’s an aisle lined with booths of paper stacked ten to twelve feet high.

This paper comes from all over the city, in the form of outdated brochures and advertisement posters, mistakes from local printers, and pretty much any other source of used paper you can think of. This is Kampala’s version of a recycling program, where virtually no scrap goes to waste. The women scour the stacks of paper, looking for colors like rich reds, blues, and the elusive favorite turquoise. Gladies is an expert at negotiating and has a great eye for color, so she’s often one of the representatives sent to the market to choose paper. She’ll also pay a visit to one of many small jewelry supply shops in town to buy things like spacer beads, ear hooks, and string.

 

 

After the paper makes its way back to Acholi Quarters, the co-op has opened their office to paper cutters who come with their machines, a stapler, pen and a ruler to cut the paper down to size. Most beads start as long, skinny triangles. The paper cutter are experts at knowing how different weights and lengths of paper will affect bead size and shape.

 

 

Last but not least is quality control. The women have chosen a leadership team to direct their group, and that team is also responsible for counting and checking each order. They spend several days in the office measuring necklace lengths, sizing necklaces, and making note of how many pieces of jewelry each member of the co-op has made. Gladies (below left) and Alice (below right) are two of the women responsible for quality control.

 

 

Perhaps the most interesting part of this behind-the-scenes work is that it also creates employment for others in the community, like the expert paper-cutters or the entrepreneurial women of Owino market.

Each piece of jewelry represents many hard-working hands, and we hope you’ll be excited to carry all of these stories with you.

 

Back to School

Early on a Monday morning, all of Acholi Quarters is buzzing with children in freshly washed uniforms as mothers, fathers, or grandparents help them carry a term’s worth of school supplies to the first day of classes. There are notebooks, pens, crayons, and even some very practical classroom supplies like bundled grass brooms and toilet paper. Six year-old Tracy is ready with all of these, plus a completed packet of homework assignments.

She looks a little dazed as her mother pulls on her socks and shoes. The sun is barely up, after all, and it’s the first day back to school after a long break. Her older sister Margaret, four years ahead of her in P5 (primary school level 5), is a seasoned morning veteran. She is in and out of the room preparing the breakfast while she works on shirt buttons and shoe buckles. Both girls finish up a cup of tea and some bread before heading out the door to walk down the hill to their school.

Our partners here in Uganda are eager to show off their freshly washed and uniformed children on the first day of school, and throughout the day they drop by the office with children and a pile of school supplies to make sure their child is photographed too. Education of their children and grandchildren is one of the highest priorities and biggest dreams for their future.

School fees, though, are too often an obstacle in this community. As the sea of uniforms dies down and the students settle in to their first day of classes, the neighborhood is still surprisingly full of children playing games and sitting on front stoops, children whose families cannot afford to send them to school. Steady jobs with fair wages are a profoundly important way to bring about change in Uganda, allowing parents like our partners in Acholi quarters the opportunity to educate their children and provide them with everything they need to succeed.

Meet our jewelry designer, Emily Grace Goodrich

Making Jewelry

Designing beautifully elegant jewelry isn’t simple. Designing beautifully elegant jewelry out of recycled material adds even more complication to the process. 

Emily, our jewelry designer, designs beautifully elegant jewelry out of recycled material and then teaches a group of 28 Ugandan women how to make all of our designs ready for our American retail market. 

Emily Goodrich, spends a majority of her year living in San Diego fulfilling various roles at the Ember Arts office. However, her greatest contribution to our company is her tremendous ability to design paper bead jewelry. 

For the next four months, Emily, will be living in Uganda teaching all of our Ugandan partners how to make our 2013 collection, a collection we believe to be our best yet. 

To learn more about Emily and to understand how she continually pushes the limits of what is possible with paper jewelry, we asked her a few questions. Her answers, about the work she does, are fascinating and reveal a side of Ember Arts most people never get to see. Here is what she shared. Enjoy.

As a jewelry designer what exactly do you do for Ember Arts?

My job entails forecasting jewelry and color trends in the U.S., and using what I know about our own market and the available materials in Uganda to find a middle ground. I do a bit of resource research as well, I just finished a day of scouring the markets to see what sort of new materials we might be able to incorporate into our jewelry. I also spend time in Uganda teaching things like color theory. For an idea of what that looks like, check out the sway earring, which is a piece I’m very proud of the bead makers for mastering, as light tints and a dark shades of a central color were once new concepts for them. We are continually working to build a color vocabulary that makes sense across cultures.

What will you be focusing your attention on while you are in Uganda?

We’ve already had a touch-up training session to remember the new designs for Fall/Holiday 2012, and to learn about making a great multicolor piece. In the next weeks, I’m going to be working with a smaller group of women to experiment with new bead shapes and new materials, and potentially some entirely new products. Then, I’ll be narrowing down a group of designs to start the training for 2013. I’ll also be looking for new kinds of materials that we can incorporate into the jewelry. In the past we’ve used ‘cavera,’ which is the local word for plastic bags. There are lots of interesting materials in the market, but they’re often available only once. Part of the work is to determine which items will be available consistently.

How many times have you been to Uganda?

This is my fourth trip to Uganda.

What is it like to work with a group of 28 Ugandan women, some of which you can not communicate with because of the language barrier? 

It’s a little challenging at times, sometimes I have to work with a translator, and I’ve definitely had to get used to being laughed at. These women love to joke, and it doesn’t always translate! But they are also starting to feel more and more like old friends. I’ve learned about 30 words in the Acholi language, and they get a huge kick out of it. They are also quick learners, mostly they teach themselves by looking at the samples, which makes things a lot easier for me. And I’ve learned a lot from them as well, like how to get a fair price for fabric at the market. You should see the glaring look of disgust that our smiling Gladies can pull off, which usually drops the price by at least 10,000 shillings!

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