Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Turning Broken Glass into Beautiful Gems: The Story Behind “Gems of the Antilles”

Ryan Lally, "Gems of the Antilles" intern
Ryan Lally used to spend his college summer breaks running a very successful painting and subcontracting business. But even with an uptick in sales, Ryan says, “I wanted to do something better with my time, something bigger than myself.” So, he left his business plans at home and shipped out to Haiti for a summer internship with Partners in Development.

Ryan was charged with starting a fair trade jewelry business (uncharted territory even for this business student) to support a group of women in Haiti. The jewelry line would be called “Gems of the Antilles,” and would symbolize Haiti’s restoration as a country. Now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti was once called the “Pearl of the Antilles” because of its natural beauty and resources. As the Haitian government restores the country’s charm and beauty, PID would begin turning broken glass into beautiful faceted gemsrepresenting a new beginning and hope for Haiti.

Eager to get started, Ryan dove right in, educating himself on the fair trade jewelry market and production process. Working with a donated faceter machine and seven Haitian women, he set out to create a functional, attractive bracelet design that stayed true to Haitian style. The team would shape broken glass into polished gems, and affix them to metal bands made from the typical 55-gallon oil drum barrels used in Haitian art and jewelry. Some gems would be reserved for more delicate necklaces or pendants, with the hope of adding additional pieces to the line in the future. And the women, many of whom had multiple children and another job or two, would be paid generous wages to support their families. The goal was to create “beautiful products with a beautiful purpose,” Ryan explains.

But finding a plausible method for attaching the glass gems to the bracelet bands without destroying both parts was a task that proved more challenging than anticipated. After significant trial and error, Ryan and the team eventually landed on a style and effective production method. “We got our first prototypes and they were awesome. It was very exciting for me,” he says, “to see some tangible progress.”

After spending the summer battling language barriers, building relationships and braving a new world of jewelry production, Ryan returned to his studies at Franklin & Pierce University, leaving the new venture in the capable hands of his Haitian team. “I have a whole new appreciation and understanding of the culture of Haiti and the obstacles of management in a different country,” he says. “This project is an awesome example of a business venture’s growth from idea to reality.”

With plenty more broken glass to be collected, shaped and polishedand plenty more lives to be transformedthe project is really just beginning. “You can give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, or you can teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. It is the same concept,” Ryan explains. “By providing jobs with fair wages, we are providing viable income for the future, not just now. It is our hope that this small business will continue to grow as people discover the beautiful products and the good it does.”

Browse our “Gems of the Antilles” necklaces, bracelets and pendants.

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