May 21, 2019

A Passion for Ethical Fashion and Education

Lisa manages our customer service and has been at 31 Bits for four years! She’s known for being on-top of every email and inquiry no matter what time of day. She also has a fun style, and our team is obsessed with her closet!

Lisa works part time at 31 Bits, because she’s working towards her PhD at Pepperdine University. We asked her a few questions about her passion for ethical fashion, and how it has become a large part of her studies.

When did your passion for ethical fashion begin?

My journey through ethical fashion officially began 8 years ago as a master’s student at USC. Yet my interest in fashion informally began as a little girl. I always loved art, style, and shopping. Growing up I understood this love as an outlet for creativity and not much more. I didn’t realize I could actually use fashion as a way to do good until later as the convergence of my passions became clearer.

I knew of TOMS Shoes while in college and loved the idea of using my purchasing power to make a difference in the world, but I began to find more companies who were taking it a step further than the traditional buy one give one model.

I bought my very first 31 Bits necklace and fell in love. This brand captured my heart to empower women and they created such beautiful products that told so many sweet stories. I realized they were based near me in Southern California so I started volunteering whenever possible.

What did you study in college?

I studied political science with an international focus in undergrad, knowing pretty soon after that I wanted my work in this area to empower women in some capacity. When I started my masters program in diplomacy I had that epiphany moment.

I came across a local store called Share & Do Good, that exclusively carried products made by artisans all over the world connected to a cause. Knowing I could wear the very beads handmade by a woman just like me thousands of miles away, made me instantly connected to her.

I was immediately inspired and started researching more. I decided to turn this newfound intersection of my passions into my master’s thesis.

Tell us more about the term “fashion diplomacy” you created.

I created the term “fashion diplomacy” to capture this new area, defining it in these four ways:

1.     The use of fashion as a tool to empower women on both ends, as a producer and consumer.

2.     Economically and environmentally sustainable style.

3.     The intersection of fashion and politics.

4.     The role of appearance as an international power player, both economically and politically.

(you can learn more about it here)

Tell us about your current PhD studies and your latest research project.

I am currently finishing up my PhD in Global Leadership and Change where I’m bringing awareness to ethical fashion through research in the academic world – applying the framework we use at 31 Bits to economically empower women as a policy recommendation for sustainable peace and development initiatives.

My latest research project brought me to India for five weeks where I worked on the field with artisan entrepreneurs as part of a Smart Village Project with UC Berkeley in partnership with the Indian state government. (It’s also how I met my husband!) Currently finishing up my dissertation to create a scalable prototype to economically empower women globally through a policy lens.

The journey of ethical fashion is holistic by nature. My personal journey in this area is ever evolving as I’ve taken an academic spin on it. I love sharing at conferences and in classrooms bringing the story of social enterprise and empowering women through fashion. It’s a whole new audience!

You recently visited Uganda and the female artisans from 31 Bits in Gulu for the first time. What was that experience like?

It was an absolute dream come true! To see firsthand the work we’re doing at 31 Bits personified in the incredibly strong beautiful women we partner with was overwhelming in the best way possible. To hear their stories of resilience, faith, and perseverance was inspiring. To see the business they have created and the needs they are meeting in their community was motivating.

Their contagious joy and laughter impacted me most and will stay with me forever.