In 2008, Elizabeth Suda quit her job at Coach to travel the world and consult on textile projects. During a trip through Southeast Asia, she found herself in the Loatian village of Naphia, which was carpeted with bombs during the Vietnam War, and met a group of artisans making spoons out of old American artillery shells. She decided to partner with the artists and helped them exchange cutlery for men's jewelry. Today, Article22 (named after the 22nd article in the U.N.'s Declaration of Human Rights) sells cufflinks, key rings, bracelets, and necklaces that offer a rugged look and an important backstory.
During the late sixties and early seventies, American planes dropped more than 2 million tons of bombs on Laos so there's no shortage of materials for Article22's workers. "This is about the past and war, but it's also about today, what we can do to address the kind of living war that still exists in Laos," she says.
Many of the pieces are engraved with pointed conversation starters, such as "Dropped + Made in Laos" and because the jewelry is made of military-grade aluminum, it's guaranteed to last indefinitely without tarnishing or fading. The prototypes are designed in New York before Suda brings them to Laos, where the artisans use plaster to develop custom molds. They then melt down aluminum from old cluster bombs or rockets found in the rural area southeast of Luang Prabang and pour it into the mold.
Much of the proceeds go to support the artisans, but a percentage is also donated to help rid the country of the estimated 30 percent of bombs dropped that never detonated. Unexploded ordnance has caused more than 50,000 casualties over the past decade. Each Article22 purchase de-mines somewhere between three and 10 square meters of land. "We can literally buy back these bombs," says Suda. [$65; article22.com]