About the Akola Project:
Akola founder Brittany Merrill Underwood is on a mission to better vulnerable women's livesone piece of jewelry at a time. In 2004, as a student in Southern Methodist University, Underwood's life changed forever when she spent the summer teaching in Uganda.
Named by the women it was established to help, Akolameaning "she works" in local Ugandan dialectis a nonprofit jewelry company dedicated to empowering disadvantaged women. Underwood's idea was actually quite simple: Teach the women a craft, pay them a living wage to make and sell said jewelry, then turn around and reinvest all the profits back into the community.
Bringing the idea to fruition was a little tougher, of course. But nine years after launching, Akola is thriving. Three "hope centers" in northern Uganda train and employ more than 450 women from nine different villages. The women earn four times the local minimum wage, which allows them to support not merely themselves, but also two other adults and seven children per household. (Do the maththat's more than 3,000 kids!)
Newcomers learn to source material, hand-roll paper beads, carve Ankole cow horn, and more. Once training is complete, they can return to their homes to do the work. True to the Akola mission"Absolutely do no harm, and as much as possible make a positive difference"every material is ethically sourced.
Building on the success of the Uganda project, Akola expanded to Dallas in 2014, working with women who were ready to make a fresh start but considered unemployable due to their troubled pasts.
"Opportunities like the partnership with Neiman Marcus are huge for us," says Underwood. "In our minds, it feels like Akola is officially launching now. It's a crazy thing that grew and grew and just keeps growing."