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Bosnia & Herzegovina: Kate Spade pays war-torn women to knit

"I remember hearing the bombs when I was living in Ancona [Italy, across the Adriatic Sea from Sarajevo], working for Byblos," Deborah Lloyd, creative director of Kate Spade, tells Anne Slowey for Elle. "So there was a connection to Bosnia for me, but I didn't realize how horrible the atrocities were. Sarajevo feels like an Italian provincial town, until you see the bullet-shelled buildings and listen to what happened to these women."

Many of those women lost sons, husbands, all of their financial resources and were taken to rape camps. Zainab Salbi founded Women for Women International (WfWI) in 1993 to help female victims of war with education, counseling, training and microcredit loans. Kate Spade has teamed up with WfWI to create job programs in both Bosnia and Herzegovina. Women who create mittens, hats, scarves and even dog apparel for the winter season earn $7-15 per piece—twice the average wage in the region.

"I've always felt successful fashion companies need to find ways to give back the customer," says Kate Spade COO Craig Leavitt. "But it's so rare to make an appropriate business decision that is proactive and can have an impact and change in the world."

About 300 women in the program are now employed by Kate Spade. They are not solely on the receiving end of the bargain, however. "These women are so good at the kind of playful wit we cherish at Kate Spade," explains Lloyd, nodding at the sunny colors and patterns the women create. Turquoise, lime green, bright purple—creations that will brighten anyone's hands, ears, necks and days. And furthermore, Lloyd works directly with the women, learning their stories and even their craft. She recalls, "It was surreal being in the river with these women, but seeing the beauty of their craftsmanship at a time when production is factory-oriented was so moving. You can't believe where these Kate Spade mittens are made!"

photos clockwise from top left: traditional crochet; the mouth of the Sarajevo Tunnel that connected the city of Sarajevo with the neutral territory of Sarajevo airport; Lloyd in a bombed-out assisted-living facility; a Serbian healer meditating on a former sniper's perch

[images © Alexandra Avakian/Contact Press Images & Kate Spade]
[images & quotes via Elle.com]

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