Socially conscious businesses are more and more on the rise and one of them is Lucy & Jo who was founded by a dynamic mother-daughter duo, Joann Schilling and Amy Bond. They offer a wide range of Jewelries, accessories & home goods handmade in L.A. and ethically sourced in East Africa. Read on to learn more about their designs and collaboration with artists across Kenya and Uganda to create beautiful lifestyle accessories.
Tell us about yourselves, your backgrounds and your respective roles at Lucy & Jo?
Amy: I live in Los Angeles, I’ve been married for 4 years, we have a geriatric pug named Bo, my favorite food is pizza and I love to laugh. This is so weird, I feel like I’m writing an online dating profile (minus the married part). Lucy & Jo started in 2010 as a hobby for mom and I to sell our jewelry. It didn’t become a formal business until I left my job at the end of 2015 and established Lucy & Jo, LLC in California. I guess I am technically the founder though I consider Mom to be my partner and side-kick. I do reserve the right to boss her around…payback…so sweet…
Joann: After Amy and her brother started elementary school, I began my college education. We moved a lot with my husband's career so it was a long time before I was able to begin my career as a designer. I think the most important things I bring to our company is my experience as a business owner, as well as, my background in design. I totally see myself in a supportive role as this is Amy’s vision and dream and I am lucky enough to be a part of it. Plus, I do whatever Amy tells me to do so she won’t fire me!
"Ethical & sustainable isn’t about making the sale, for us, it’s the starting point for every decision we make." - Amy Bond
Amy, your mom taught you everything from design, creativity and being a girl boss. What it's like to work with Joann and what's the best advice she has given you thus far business wise?
Amy: I absolutely love working with my Mom, she makes every single idea better. And we each bring such different backgrounds & experiences to the work, so we tend to have differing points of view which is very helpful. As far as the best advice, it’s really more of a life lesson, and that’s to start wherever you are, be as creative as you can with what you’ve got and never compare yourself to others. Basically, my mom is a bad ass, why wouldn’t I want to work with her every day?!
Joann, was working with your daughter something you've always wanted to do? If so, why?
Joann: Working with Amy was never even a consideration because of her education and career track. After her first trip to Africa her love of the people and the animals are what have defined her. My career has been in design and although we have always enjoyed creating things together, it never occurred to me that we would one day be business partners. It’s been a real bonus for me at this time in my life and a gift from Amy that she would want us to work together. I continue to work as a designer, but my world has grown exponentially since Lucy & Jo.
Photo Credit: www.lucyandjo.com (Amy & Joann)
At 19, you traveled to Kenya and studied wildlife biology. In grad school, you returned to Africa studying gorillas and primate conservation. In what ways has these experiences influenced where you are now?
Amy: My education and experience has everything to do with where I am now. My love of the mountain gorilla began when I was 12 and had to do a report in my science class. From that moment, my entire life revolved around getting to Africa to study & save mountain gorillas. Gorillas are actually at the heart of Lucy & Jo and it’s all connected to the artisans we work with. There are 880 mountain gorillas left on the planet. Four hundred of them live in Uganda, a country the size of Oregon but with a population of 40 million, 10 times more than Oregon! People who are just trying to feed their families go into the forest looking for resources because they have no other way to make a living. Gorillas can catch human diseases, they get caught in snares intended for small antelope, their survival is greatly at risk. BUT, if you can create an opportunity for people, especially women, to earn a consistent, sustainable income, that isn’t dependent on the forest, both the people and the animals win! During my time in Africa I saw these beautiful handcrafts and extremely talented people but with no access to a larger market – that’s where we come in! 90% of the artists we partner with are women. These women invest in their children’s education and nutrition. It’s a powerful ripple effect that we believe will have an indirect positive impact on the gorillas. We’ve got a LONG way to go, so for a more immediate impact, we’ve partnered with the nonprofit, Gorilla Doctors, and donate 5% of every sale to them.
Your jewelry, accessories and home goods are handmade in L.A and ethically sourced in East Africa. What kind of materials are used to create your designs? How do you assure that all the right steps are taken when it comes to issues such as working conditions, child labour, fair trade and sustainable practices?
Amy: It is so good that you ask this question. Asking questions is one of the most important thing we can do as consumers. As I mentioned earlier, we started out by making jewelry but I always wanted to get back to Africa. So, our website still offers jewelry we make ourselves in our LA studio but we’ve now expanded to the jewelry and home goods made in Kenya and Uganda. The materials we use for our jewelry made here in LA is largely silver, gold fill and brass. The beads we use are a combination of new, recycled and vintage. The metals we use are made in the U.S. and often of recycled base metals.
When we first expanded to the ethically sourced goods, I traveled to Kenya and Uganda in search of artisans and to be able to see, first hand, the working conditions, equipment needs, raw materials being used, etc. We go at least once every year, we know all of the artists personally and we provide equipment and materials that can help make their work easier or higher quality. Nothing can replace being there in person and building the relationships. Three of the groups we found through a local wildlife conservation non-profit. They help ensure that the materials the women use for weaving baskets are sustainably harvested. We pay 50% upon ordering so they never have the burden of upfront material costs. We also help fund community development projects and have invested in a savings program started by one of the women’s groups we work with.
Photo Credit: www.lucyandjo.com (The Perfect Pair #4)
What makes your products distinct from other ethical and sustainable companies?
Amy: For us, it is all about design and quality first. When you look at our products you don’t necessarily think ‘Africa’ or ‘fair trade’ or perhaps even ‘handmade’ – and that’s good! We want it to be easy to integrate our goods into your existing style or your home decor. You’re buying it first because you absolutely love it and then the story behind it is a nice bonus! Ethical & sustainable isn’t about making the sale, for us, it’s the starting point for every decision we make. It’s about transparency. It’s about making that human connection with the goods we bring into our lives. It’s about believing that it’s absolutely possible to make money and elevate others at the same time.
Joann: I think the fact that we offer truly one-of-a-kind pieces (e.g. pillows) is one thing. We knew we wanted to offer a rich & diverse collection of goods that were both beautiful and functional. That along with our different backgrounds gives us a unique perspective when sourcing & designing.
How would you describe Lucy & Jo in 3 words?
Amy: Happy, handmade, hopeful
Joann: Making it happen
What are your must-have pieces in your latest collection?
Amy: I know we’ve been focused mainly on fashion but honestly, my most favorite thing right now is our newest collection of ‘Weaving Hope’ baskets that just arrived from Uganda. They are made by women survivors of acid attacks which is as horrific as it sounds and overwhelmingly targets young, impoverished women. The survivors receive support from the Ugandan non-profit, CERESAV (http://ceresav.org), and I met with their Executive Director in March. I’ve also met the founder, a survivor herself, living in the U.S. These baskets are exquisite and it’s hard to believe that so much beauty can come from such tragedy. We donate $25 from the sale of every basket to CERESAV which covers about one month of medical supplies for one woman. I also love our rings from Kenya, they are so stylish & look way more expensive than they are!
Joann: This one is difficult for me because our rule is we have to love it and want to keep it before it’s ready to sell. So, I love everything! And I’m influenced by the compelling story behind each one. We’ve got an earring coming out this fall called ‘Connect the Dots’ that I’m really excited about.
How important it is to maintain "slow-fashion", high-quality practices in an industry that's always changing and asking for more?
Amy: So, important! In our case, it’s not really an option to be anything other than slow. The jewelry that is made in Los Angeles, is literally me in my studio or Mom out in the garage where she lives in Santa Fe. All of our goods from Kenya and Uganda are also fully handmade. For the women especially, it’s often in between their other responsibilities like caring for children, cooking, fetching water or harvesting crops. One of the wonderful things about the hyper-connected world we live in now is the ability to show people what ‘slow fashion’ looks like behind the scenes. Consumers can watch videos or see pictures of the person actually making the product that they now have in their hand. Isn’t that amazing?! Consumers want to know, they want the connection and it’s forcing the industry to make changes. Not nearly enough and not quickly enough but it’s a start. If you’re one of those consumers - yay, you!
You're collaborating with artists across Kenya and Uganda to create beautiful lifestyle accessories?
Amy: Lucy & Jo with Friends is what we called our line of handmade goods from Kenya and Uganda. The artists are extremely talented. Together, we co-create designs, providing input on what we think women here in the U.S. will respond to with respect to colors, styles, pattern, etc. We also work with them to take their traditional skills and make it easier for them to make more money. A great example is our one-of-a-kind pillows hand embroidered by two groups in Uganda. When we first met these women they were embroidering these large-scale ethnographic stories that could take them up to 6 months to complete. But there was zero market for those in Uganda and very few tourists. So, we introduced them to the concept of decorative pillows, and showed them if they scaled down the work, they could produce more in less time leading to a consistent income. We provide the fabric & the sizes and let them do whatever they want creatively. We have the hardest time letting go when they sell, isn’t that silly?!
Joann: There is nothing quite like the experience of being in a totally different culture and interacting with the artisans right in their workshops. It is very fulfilling & exciting to combine their talent with our esthetics. In Kenya, I’m not called by my name, it is a sign of respect to call me Mama Amy.
Photo Credit: www.lucyandjo.com (Joann w/Bernard in Kenya)
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Amy: I don’t! LOL! Right now, I’m working seven days a week but I couldn’t be happier! I love what we’re building and I believe in its potential to transform lives. That’s a pretty lofty goal so there’s a lot of work to do! My secret weapon is my husband! He keeps me grounded, makes me laugh and always feeds me! Not taking myself too seriously is also a great way to stay balanced. And wine…
Joann: I get up very early to either read, be in my garden or just enjoy the peace of morning. Things like hiking, being out in nature and having fun with friends and family. I know I’m out of balance when I get stuck creatively. That’s always a red flag for me.
"Creating change requires commitment and courage." - Joann Schilling
As women entrepreneurs, what do you think are the most significant obstacles to women’s leadership? As a society, do you think we're failing to take more actions regarding the gender pay gap situation?
Amy: I think one of the biggest obstacles as a woman is not being taken seriously by people in positions of ‘power’ – but, this can also be an opportunity! If they don’t take you seriously, then they really aren’t paying attention so you can totally disrupt the market and create a force for good they can’t ignore! If they took us seriously right away, it might be even harder, if that makes sense.
We absolutely aren’t doing enough to address the gender pay gap. How can we when the majority of people in leadership positions are men? Unless these male leaders start to recognize our contributions as equal OR the number of women in decision making positions dramatically increases, this is going to remain an issue. The other option is for more & more women to start their own businesses then we can simply stop waiting for men to catch up in their thinking.
Joann: I think one of the biggest obstacles female entrepreneurs face is the persistent misconception many have about strong women. We must all pay attention to the words we use when describing successful women. I also think as female entrepreneurs we need to educate ourselves about those who are running for office so we cast well-informed votes. I think this is one way we can lessen and eventually close wage gaps. We must be bold about these changes. Creating change requires commitment and courage.
In 5 years, how do you envisage the future of Lucy & Jo?
Amy: I love Mom’s answer! I love the idea of becoming an ‘ethical empire’ but I don’t ever want to lose the direct connection with the artists and our customers. As long Mom and I are there, on the ground, then there is only one degree of separation between the person who made it and the person who buys it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Joann: In five years I hope to be in the same city as Amy so I can be an even more integral part of the company. I see us having offices and a warehouse! We are working with more artisans from around the world, expanding our products and impact. If we’re doing that, then it means we’re spreading the hope & change we dream about.
Photo Credit: www.lucyandjo.com
Where can customers purchase your jewelries, accessories and home goods?
www.lucyandjo.com. If you’re not based in the U.S. but see something you ‘have’ to have, you can email us for the shipping rate at: email@example.com
Connect with Lucy & Jo:
Instagram, Facebook: @lucyandjoexploring
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