10 Memories for our 10 Year Birthday
It’s our 10 year birthday, and we have LOTS to celebrate! We thought of our top 10 most meaningful memories from our journey thus far as a fashion for good company.
1. Our First Trips to Uganda
There is a certain advantage to starting a company when you’re 20 years old. We could risk everything, because there wasn’t much to lose.
The five of us girls were adventurers, dreamers, and learners. We weren’t afraid to travel to Uganda with only 400 dollars in our bank accounts. We didn’t mind sleeping in hostels. We didn’t overthink a business plan, because we didn’t know we needed one. Of course there are plenty of things we wish we knew from the beginning, but the naïvety of those first trips gave us more room to dream and learn.
We dove into the culture to learn everything we possibly could. We went to countless dinners in our artisans’ homes, played with their kids, visited their family members in the hospital, attended church together, and even stayed the night out in the villages where they grew up. Before we ever partnered with artisans as a business, we simply became friends. Everything we do at 31 Bits is built out of relationships.
One of our co-founders, Anna Toy, recounts, “Our first trip to Uganda was so crazy. I remember being there, meeting our first group of ladies, getting to visit their homes, and thinking oh my gosh we’re really doing this! We weren’t experts and didn’t know exactly what we were doing, but we knew we had to follow through.”
2. Our Big Break: The Reef Ugandals
“The lead sandal designer at Reef wants to use our beads on a pair of sandals!!!” Alli (one of our co-founders) told us the news and our jaws dropped. We gathered in our college apartments, crunching numbers on scratch paper, trying to figure out how to make it all work.
We showed up at our Reef meeting with a few necklaces and photos of our artisans. We were drilled with questions about lead times, tech packs, and the ingredients in our varnish (none of which we knew the answer to). But for some reason, the team at Reef handed us an order for 18,000 strands of beads, and when they asked if we could fulfill it, we confidently said yes! In reality, we had no idea if we could pull it off, but when the biggest sandal company in the world hands you a purchase order, you say yes.
They named the sandals The Ugandals, and put them in surf shops nationwide. Our partnership with Reef felt like our first big break. We threw a giant launch party for the sandals in San Diego, and started working with some of their sales reps. We even went on to collaborate on five more pairs of sandals together. They may not realize it, but our partnership with Reef gave us the confidence to move forward with 31 Bits as our full-time business.
3. The 31 Bits Community was Born
The first year of 31 Bits was a mixture of focusing on the Reef Collaboration, finishing up college, and living in Uganda. In early 2010, we realized we needed to start putting real processes in place. We wrote job descriptions, rented our first office, hired sales reps and interns, and produced our first catalog.
It was then that 31 Bits felt less like a part-time hobby, and more like a growing business. Most importantly, this was the year the 31 Bits community was truly born. Graphic designers, photographers, and stylists offered their services (many of which we still use today!)
We rounded up friends to be models in photoshoots and help us tie tags on big jewelry orders. Sales reps came to us asking for opportunities to sell our jewelry. Past college professors helped us map out a plan for our Uganda development program. 31 Bits wouldn’t exist without the extended community that continually gathers around us.
4. Harper’s Bazaar Feature
If you’ve ever worked in PR, you know that getting into a magazine is NOT easy. We can’t tell you how many strangers make suggestions such as, “Have you ever thought about getting on Oprah?” Of course we’ve thought about it, but unfortunately, it’s not easy! 10 years ago, no one was really talking about ethical fashion. There were very few products on the market focusing on the people who made them. Though it was exciting to be one of the pioneers of the ethical fashion movement, it was A LOT of work trying to be recognized by the big guys! Until Harper’s Bazaar.
Katy Perry graced the cover of the December 2010 issue, and there, in the middle of a Holiday fashion round-up, was a glorious 2-inch square dedicated to 31 Bits. Our hearts exploded. WE MADE IT. Or at least for a few days, it felt like we did.
Since then, we’ve been so thankful for the countless publications who took time to write about ethical fashion and the importance of knowing how your products are made. We give a BIG thank you to magazines, networks, and websites that have recognized 31 Bits, such as WWD, Forbes, Vogue, Inc.com, People Magazine, People Stylewatch, E! News, Hallmark Channel, Darling Magazine, Relevant, Good Housekeeping, Dujour, Locale, OC Metro, OC Register and MANY MORE!
5. Our First Group of Graduates in Uganda
Our five-year program in Uganda consists of classes, counseling, and mentorship (read about the program here!) with the goal of each artisan graduating with her own business in Uganda. This has been our mission since the beginning, but the program developed organically over the first six years. Every program was created as a direct response to a need amongst the artisans. As we built the different programs, we surveyed the women annually to understand their progress and measure impact. We adjusted to make sure each artisan was being set up for long term success.
Then it happened…in 2014, we graduated our first eight women from the program! This graduation was the moment where the five of us founders could look back and say, “It worked. It actually worked!” Eight Ugandan women who were living in poverty, went through our program that led them to TOTAL SUSTAINABILITY. They became strong, healthy, independent business women!
One of our founders, Jessie Simonson, recounts, “I remember a few years ago when I was visiting with our artisans. I always knew the program was having a positive impact, but I don’t think I realized the extent of it. I’ll never forget when one of our artisans, Abio Vicki, told us, ‘Had it not been for 31 Bits, I’m not sure if I’d be alive right now. I used to think about committing suicide because I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. Now I have a family and I belong. I’m so happy.’ That’s the moment that I realized 31 Bits wasn’t simply a program, it was giving life to each of these women.”
6. Sophia Bush Going to Uganda
A few years ago, we were honored to have Sophia Bush take a trip to Uganda to meet our artisans. She participated in an aerobics class, listened to their stories, learned to roll beads, and designed a necklace. Beyond that, Sophia continued to use her platform to share the 31 Bits story and promote ethical fashion. We’ll be forever grateful for the spotlight shined on 31 Bits through Sophia’s authentic voice and genuine passion.
We’re so thankful for the many inspirational women who have worn 31 Bits and talked about our mission, such as Jessica Alba, Candace Cameron Bure, Hilary Duff, Julia Engel, Natasha Bure, Rocky Barnes, Lauren Scruggs, Becca Tilley, Kathie Lee Gifford, Witney Carson, Giuliana Rancic, Oh Joy!, Dallas Shaw, Sara Forte, and SO MANY MORE.
There ain’t no party like a Bits party! We’ve hosted dozens of parties at our headquarters, often with food trucks, live music, giant Christmas trees, and displayed artisan stories. Jessie remembers, “The first party we hosted, we were hoping to have 30-40 people attend. To our surprise, over 250 people showed up. We couldn’t believe it!”
Since then, parties became our thing. There was something so special about opening our doors to the community to thank them for following along. It was a great chance to share a drink, tell stories, and dance our faces off. And, our other claim to fame…there are at least four married couples we know who met at a 31 Bits party!
8. The Leap of Faith in Bali
A few years into 31 Bits, we started dreaming about other countries we could work in and products we could add. We researched India, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Bali. Every place had different obstacles, and the timing never felt quite right financially. Then, on a trip to Bali, our co-founder Kallie met a man named Ignatius. Ignatius specializes in 3D drawings and brass jewelry design, but more importantly, shared our belief that artisans should be paid fairly and work in safe conditions.
To be honest, it wasn’t the right time financially to start something new, but we remembered our foundation. 31 Bits wasn’t born from a business plan, it was born from relationships. So we went for it! We teamed up with Ignatius and added brass jewelry and accents to our collection. Since starting with Ignatius in 2016, he’s been able to hire more artisans and build a new workshop for them.
9. The First GOODS
Kallie and her family ended up moving to Bali in 2017 to focus on our new jewelry partnership. As they moved into their home and started buying furniture and decorating, Kallie made friendships with incredible artisans. She recognized the opportunity to bring these artisan-made finds to the global market, and by the end of the year, she designed a complete set of woven bags and home goods. The new home collection also gave us a chance to start creating home products with different Ugandan artisans that we had met years ago!
We introduced the collection just before the Holidays, calling it our GOODS collection. This collection was a spark of energy for our team, with opportunities to share new stories and products. Our vision continues to expand, as we use our platform to share the stories and talent of artisans worldwide.
10. Our Customers
We can’t talk about favorite memories without including our INCREDIBLE customers. YOU are the ones who made 31 Bits possible. YOU chose to shop ethically and know where your products come from. Many of you have followed along since the beginning (you know who you are!) and I hope you know we are forever grateful to you.
From opening your home to sell jewelry in a “house party,” to showing up for an event or party, volunteering to help tag jewelry, dropping us an encouraging note, buying product to put in your boutique, or repping 31 Bits on your college campus. Whether you ordered something online for yourself, sent something as a gift, or told someone in line at a grocery store where your necklace is from, YOU are the reason 31 Bits exists, and why hundreds of artisans worldwide are achieving their dreams. FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS, THANK YOU!
10-YEAR BIRTHDAY BRACELETS
In honor of celebrating our 10-year Birthday, we created this set of beaded stretchy bracelets with charms that say “DREAM BIG”, “CHOOSE JOY”, and “LOVE WELL”. These have been three of our core values since the beginning of 31 Bits. We’ve implemented these values into our programs and operations in Uganda, Bali and the U.S., and now want to use these bracelets to pass them onto you, our customers.