The Base Project is a brand that epitomizes form meeting function. Founded three years ago by brothers Chris and Doug Akin, the company sells gorgeous hand carved bracelets made by Namibian artisans. TBP came about organically, almost accidentally, when the two got together for dinner and discussed their mutual feelings of disenfranchisement from the corporate marketing and advertising world. In spite of the fact that Chris and Doug lived on complete opposite ends of the country, this dinner talk spurred the pair into collecting feedback from friends and family on sourced bracelets from developing countries. As their test group expanded, one thing became clear: a special bracelet belonging to Chris, one that was not being used in their test marketing -“a gift from a long lost friend”- was overwhelmingly popular. The brothers tracked the origins of the bracelet nearly halfway around the world to Namibia, where local artisans were producing jewelry from discarded and readily available goods. From there, The Base Project was born, a “triple bottom line” company (people, plants, profits, for those keeping track) that aimed to build “a bridge between artisans in the developing world and the US fashion market.” Tens of thousands of pieces later, the motto “Wear Your Impact” has clearly become more than a catchy tagline.
The bracelets are made from discarded water pipes, which are “collected, hand-cut and carved by local artisans from Northern Namibia.” Pipe is readily available in the remote desert region of the country and its culling by TBP artists is not only beneficial for the environment, it also allows for an ingenious method of up-cycling to create a more valuable product. The bracelets feature hand carved designs that are inspired by the “wildlife, landscape, and rich tribal history of the region,” each one is uniquely colored by sun exposure and the area’s distinctive red soil. The result is a piece of jewelry that looks like it could be made of engraved bone or horn, but in keeping with the company’s socially-conscious mindset, absolutely no animals were harmed in it’s creation. Additionally, the brothers have a line of metal bracelets currently in the works. Based on the well received traditional carvings, the line will fund a scholarship program to pay school fees for local children in financial need.
The Base Project’s local partnerships are largely based in the Kunene region of Namibia, a part of the country that is at once breathtakingly beautiful and somberly troubled. It’s a small wonder that Chris and Doug were drawn to this area, humanitarians essentially have their work cut out for them here: staggering unemployment, frequent water and food shortages, a rapidly increasing HIV rate coupled with a lack of quality healthcare, limited access to education and geographical isolation from farmable land, markets and water are just some of the serious problems the region the is struggling with.
The Base Project doesn’t aim to tackle simply one of these issues. Besides the income that the fair trade bracelets provide to the artisans for education, health care, and food, a portion of the company profits are re-invested into community development projects.
One of the first ‘Impact Projects’ taken on by TBP was the launch of a forty-two acre farm. The co-operative style farm provides materials and agricultural education to local participants, guaranteeing “lands, seeds, training, access to equipment and spring water, transportation to market and protective fencing from wildlife.” Half of the land is used for subsistence farming, to provide food and produce for the individual farmers and their families. The other half of the land is used for goods to be sold at the markets, which “empowers the community to sustain the farm independent of outside funding.” Their ‘triple bottom line’ business model is proven to be exponentially effective in the fact the community has also “elected to donate fresh produce from the farm to local HIV patients with critical nutritional needs.”
The Base Project came about when two entrepreneurial people realized that they could be doing more- and not just for themselves. Stemming from personal dissatisfaction within the “creative corporate” world, the company has grown to prove that a humanitarian outlook and an adventurous spirit can create a truly revolutionary concept. TBP has begun to bridge the gap between fashion minded shoppers at Nordstrom or Urban Outfitters and artisans in a rural and oft overlooked region on the other side of the globe. In doing so, it has effected positive change for dozens of creative workers, as well as their families and communities.
To shop the collection or for more info on The Base Project and all of the amazing work they’re doing, check out thebaseproject.com. You can score a rad piece of jewelry… and count that as your good deed of the day.