When we asked Tribe Alive founder, Carly Burson, to sit in as Guest Style Editor for the month we knew she would provide interesting and eye opening information about shopping for beautifully made, ethically designed goods. What we did not expect is how inspiring, dedicated and humble she would be - read on to hear about how Carly's adoption forever changed the trajectory of her life, what a typical day looks like for the artisans she employs and why she believes investing in women is investing in the future...and changing the world.
You have a background in fashion retail and have worked for some of the biggest names in the industry. You made a career pivot, and while staying within the fashion field, chose to start an ethical retail company whose mission is to " build sustainable partnerships with marginalized women in developing countries by connecting them to the global marketplace." What served as the impetus for this change?
I always knew that the adoption of my daughter would alter the course of my life but never imagined it would alter the course of my life’s work. I viewed adoption as an opportunity to support an individual child and a way to contribute to the orphan crisis in the developing world. I always saw it as a solution to the problem and believed that we’d solve the issue if more families were willing to invite children into their homes. Once our daughter came home, I couldn’t stop thinking about her birth mother, a young woman I had never met and only read about on a piece of paper. The privilege and tragedy of her child calling me mommy was never lost on me. I was struck with a desire to address the core issues of child relinquishment - mainly the economic insecurity women face - and saw fashion as a platform to do just that. I always envisioned adopting multiple children. In a way it was my life’s dream. Now I dream of building a brand that will empower women with the means to raise their own children, and I hope to teach my daughter that women like her birth mother deeply matter.
How do you identify the countries to partner with and the artisans to employ? Can you tell us about this process?
We partner with international non-profits to connect us to our artisan partners. Rather then work with artisan partners directly, we believe in working with established organizations that are on the ground, connected to the community and aware of the needs and challenges of our women. In the beginning we worked with two non-profits in Guatemala and Honduras, and now we’re connected with organizations in Haiti, Ethiopia and India. In the beginning we sought out these organizations, but with recent growth new organizations are now finding us. These organizations assist us in the hiring and training of the women we employ and remain committed to providing them with the resources needed to reclaim their future - one that goes far beyond our production.
Forming these partnerships takes time and it’s imperative that our mission and values are in line with whomever we work. They must be committed to alleviating poverty among women, believe in fair and ethical production, pay a living wage and demonstrate the communication and organizational skills needed to meet the demand of a social enterprise. Once we commit to a partnership we curate designs to fit the skill set of the new artisan group and work with the organization to develop exclusive Tribe Alive pieces. This process can take anywhere from 3-12 months and involves a great deal of sampling. Once we feel samples are ready we put them into production and bring new handmade artisan goods to our online marketplace. It is a labor of love from all angles!
What does employment with Tribe Alive allow these women to do for themselves and for their families? Can you share what a typical work day may look like?
Employment through Tribe Alive means something different to all our women. For some it means that they can feed their family. For others it means they’re able to send their children to better schools. For another it’s as simple as being able to afford to sign her son up for soccer for the first time. And yet, for another it’s as significant as being able to buy a home to call her own. Everyone’s story is unique. The common denominator of every story, however, is that our women are empowered to take control of their lives through the production of our goods. With this empowerment they recognize their worth and that they are capable of more than they ever imagined.
Typical workdays vary in each country where we have artisan partners. In Guatemala our weavers work from home so that they are able to earn an income without having to be away from their children. When our textiles designs are complete they are turned into the office of our non-profit partner and sent to our tailor who finishes our bags. In Honduras our women gather at an open-air studio in a small Honduran town to produce our jewelry. They typically work from 8:00am to 3:00pm with an hour lunch break. We never ask our women to work a full 8 hour work day, knowing the enormous responsibilities they have waiting for them at home. We plan our production around the needs of our women and foster an environment that honors their full life.
We can only imagine how the adoption of your daughter and now the creation of your company has impacted your life. What have been some of the biggest changes and greatest challenges? What have been some of the unexpected benefits and gifts?
Finding balance is my greatest challenge and one that I may never quite overcome. I often allow the business to be all consuming and have the tendency to work non-stop. My husband has sacrificed so much so I can live out my dream. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the travel and the long hours creates space between us. We now have to work extra hard at our marriage. We schedule our alone time together, agree on boundaries, commit to technology shut downs by 8pm (he says 7pm, I say 8pm), and make efforts big and small to show our appreciation for each other.
What I’m grateful for though, is that my greatest challenge has also been an incredible gift. We’ve been married for over six years and I never had any idea of how selfless his love for me was, nor did I realize the incredible father he was capable of becoming. This journey has introduced me to an entirely new side of him that I don’t think I would have uncovered otherwise.
At Clementine, we believe that when you empower a woman anywhere, you empower women everywhere. Have you witnessed this directly with your work?
This is exactly what we believe! We believe that women are the key to our future. Not only are women more apt to inspire and mentor, they are also statistically more inclined to spend their money in ways that benefit the whole. It's called the 'muti-plier effect.' When we invest in women, then women will reinvest in the health and wellbeing of their communities. When you reach one woman you reach one hundred more. We witness this everyday through our artisan partners as they choose to invest their newfound incomes in ways that will impact the future of their children and their communities.
We imagine your job can be all consuming, what are a few, simple ways you keep yourself centered and grounded?
No matter how busy I get I insist on finding the time each day to exercise. I usually head out for a run or spend the early hours of the morning practicing yoga. I find that if I start off each day in a healthy and positive way I am less overwhelmed by the never-ending to-do list that follows. Exercising and eating healthy keep me centered because they are things I do for me and me alone.
What's next for Tribe Alive?
We’ve recently taken some time to step back and re-evaluate what the future holds for the brand. We’ve seen a great deal of growth over the past year but it hasn’t always been the smartest growth. We’ve decided not to take on new artisan partners next year so that we’re better able to invest in the ones we’ve already committed to. We’re focused on fewer, better designs and developing a collection that is known for it’s strong design aesthetic in the same way it’s known for it's message. We believe that if we focus most on the product and image of the brand we’ll be able to build a movement that will serve women for the long term - and that’s our goal. We want to be around for awhile.
Do you have a personal saying or mantra you rely on to keep yourself grounded?
“It is what it is.” Working with small non-profits in the developing world comes with great challenges and obstacles. As soon as we navigate through one roadblock another seems to present itself. I could spend hours trying to make sense of the madness but most days I choose to accept that it just is what it is and there’s nothing I can do to change it.
What are 5 everyday items you cannot live without?
A yoga mat, lavandar essential oil, chambray shirts, cold pressed green juice and Madewell denim.
p.s. Have you met The Journalist?