This article was originally published in 2009, on the Organic Spa Magazine blog. The Andean Collection is now Faire Collection.
There is no better way to spread happiness than providing the opportunity for others to enrich their lives. The Andean jewelry collection, founded by the multi-talented Amanda Judge, is not only eco-conscious but is also a humanitarian effort. Amanda’s story and her collection started in Ecuador. Amanda holds a degree in International Law and Diplomacy, which she has decided to put to use by studying the survival strategies of women in extreme poverty. The study ended up being a path to a new life for both Amanda and the women of Northern Ecuador. The Andean Collection was born.
How did you meet the women that you work with?
AJ: I met the women of The Andean Collection when I was in Ecuador doing research for my Masters thesis, which was going to be on the survival strategies of rural indigenous women in the face of extreme poverty. To set up the project, I had to go into rural villages and try to get in contact with the village leader (literally just knock on doors asking who the leader was) and then request his (always his) permission to interview the women of his village. If he gave me his permission I would go back the next day to meet with the women of the village.
What were the first steps you took once you found out Ecuador’s talent and natural potential?
AJ: I had a background in micro finance (the provision of small loans to groups or individuals who lacked access to commercial loans) and so I had initially structured my research around on how access to credit may help these women. But after talking more with these women, I realized that what they really needed was a way to reach a market where they could sell their products. So I shifted my project. I saw what beautiful materials they used in their craft-making, and realized that with just a little help on the design, these pieces would be incredibly marketable in the United States.
Who specifically creates The Andean collection?
AJ: I talked with a number of different artisans before settling on the 2 main artisans that we work with today – Nancy and Olga. As it turns out, they are cousins, but I didn’t even know that when we started because they are from different communities! Basically I just really got along well with 2 these women and they seemed the most excited about the prospect of working with me on this new project. Their dedication was apparent from the beginning, and today I am so proud of how much they have learned and how well they have adapted in our first year!
Where is The Andean Collection being sold?
AJ: In NYC, Sustainable NYC. We’re brand new to NY, so we’re looking for more retail outlets! You can also find the collection in over 35 retail stores all of the US. We sell the pieces online as well, visit http://www.theandeancollection.com.
Where do you plan on taking The Andean Collection in the future?
AJ: On the Ecuador Side: For the next year we will refine our operations in Ecuador and work on expanding operations within Nancy and Olga’s communities. They have a number of unemployed cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends who are looking forward to joining us as we grow. The next step will be to start working with recycled metals, as well as with alpaca products from Peru. I know a wonderful group of extremely talented indigenous weavers from Ayacucho Peru that I want to work with just as soon as I can get the funding to start up a new line of knitwear.
On the US Side:
I am really excited about expanding the reach of our website and using that as an avenue to educate people about socially responsible jewelry. Also, we have been featured in a lot of great high end boutiques that had not previously sold fair trade or eco-friendly products. I would love to reach more boutiques like that to help bridge the gap between fair trade and high fashion.
Describe your personal style.
AJ: I have always been into recycled fashion – most of it emerging through my love for thrift stores. Since launching The Andean Collection, and getting more involved in the eco-fashion arena I have new love for organic cotton and eco-friendly fabrics. But honestly, I have been spending so much time in Latin America that I am only newly discovering all of the amazing eco-fashion stores in here at home.
As for my design background, I have been designing beaded jewelry since I was 10 and my godmother used to take me to craft fairs with her and give me a small space on her table where I could sell my wears. I think it was the 7th grade when my friend and I started a ‘store’ in her garage. We sold beaded eye glass holders, necklaces and chokers (quite illegally I’m sure) It’s funny that now I have a company that draws on those experiences I had when I was only 10 years old!