These earrings were made from bombs.
Their components came from Laos, where an estimated 80 million undetonated explosives lie strewn across the countryside. The failed devices are remnants of America’s “secret war,” carried out in Laos from 1964 to 1973.
Today, workers in the southeast Asian nation continue the painstaking effort of locating, detonating and disposing of these dangerous munitions. At their current pace, it will take decades to clear the country of unexploded ordnance.
Article 22, a jewelry company, hopes to speed up this process and, at the same time, turn the ugly evidence of war into something beautiful.
Article 22, which takes its name from a section of the United Nations’ 1948 declaration of human rights, employs local craftspeople who transform bomb scraps into bracelets, necklaces, earrings and more.
These creations, part of Article 22’s Peace Bomb collection, retail at prices from $20 to $2,000.
The company donates 10 percent of its proceeds to the Village Development Fund, which provides underserved people in Laos with electricity and micro-loans for livestock and other small business investments. Article 22 has also donated enough funds to the Mines Advisory Group ― a nonprofit that clears landmines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones ― to clear more than 32 acres of land in Laos.
Founded in 2012 by an American, Elizabeth Suda, and a Parisian, Camille Hautefort, Article 22 sells its products online and distributes to 150 small partners around the world. The two women create the jewelry designs, and their specialists in Laos procure the materials and bring the designs to life.
The jewelry company’s workers don’t go searching for unexploded bombs, though. They leave that to experts who are trained in identifying and detonating the devices. Once a bomb is destroyed, the scraps automatically belong to whoever owns the land where it was found. Some landowners keep the materials to make farming tools, but most sell the scraps to nearby foundries. Article 22’s artisans then purchase the materials from the foundries.
In addition to bomb pieces, the craftspeople melt down plane parts and other scrap aluminum to fill Article 22’s orders. If a piece requires additional materials, like gemstones, those are added by a different specialist after the product is shipped to New York, where Suda and Hautefort are based.
Article 22 pays its employees in Laos at least five times the local market rate, a company spokesperson told The Huffington Post. This allows the workers to afford items that were once out of their reach: They have cell phones; they’re able to send their kids to school and pay for supplies; some even have cars.
Suda, who studied art and history in college, admits she knew nothing about America’s bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War ― until she first visited the country in 2008. In her defense, she’s probably not the only American who’s been surprised to learn of the “secret war” in Laos.
For nearly a decade, U.S. warplanes dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions in Laos, making it the most bombed country in the world, per capita. The U.S. aimed to block Vietnam’s supply lines on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in the south of Laos. It also wanted to support loyalists of the Laos government who were engaged in a civil war against communist forces in the north.
Since the war ended, more than 20,000 people in Laos have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance. Farmers are the most at risk since their livelihood depends on working the land. Children are also vulnerable, since they often mistake bombs for toys.
“I felt ashamed for not knowing that,” Suda told HuffPost. “It just really motivated me, in a very humble way, to do what I could to tell the story.”
Suda first came to Laos after quitting her job at luxury fashion company Coach, and she was eager to learn about the country’s textile industry. But when she came upon people who were fashioning spoons out of bomb parts, she decided to focus on the process of turning scraps from explosives into new items.
“Everyone needs a soup spoon to eat noodle soup,” Suda said. She also had a feeling that people around the world would be drawn to jewelry made from weapons of war.
Article 22’s first item was a bangle with the words “Dropped and made in Laos” inscribed on it. The bracelet also had etchings of arrows, to signify “pointing toward the future without forgetting the past,” Suda said. Today, all of the company’s pieces have varying inscriptions that allude to the war.
“When I first started I didn’t know if people would find this offensive,” Suda told The Wall Street Journal in 2012. “But so many Vietnam vets wrote in asking for bracelets and telling me a little bit about their story.”
Suda feels that telling the history of Laos through the products is just as crucial as clearing the country of explosives and enabling locals to have a reliable income.
“What they have is so special,” Suda said, “to transform something so negative into something positive.”
This article has been updated to clarify information previously provided by Article 22 regarding the beneficiaries of its philanthropy. Ten percent of its proceeds go to the Village Development Fund, rather than the Mines Advisory Group. The company did not specify how it determines its giving to the latter.
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