They say that ‘from death comes new life.’ It’s a phrase we all interpret differently depending on our own personal believes. But to Lara Stephenson, founder and creative director of Ann & Arayata, it means honoring the memory of her late mother by building a company that encompasses the things that mattered most to her: helping people, and giving love and positivity to the world.
“My mom and I were very close. It was after she passed away that I had the inspiration to start this company. I wanted to create something that connected me to her,” describes Lara. “My mom was from the Philippines and the charitable organization she founded has always worked in the Philippines. Towards the end of her life, my mom started talking about Africa and wanting to bring projects to some areas there. Even when she was very ill, she was still thinking of how she could help others.”
“My sister’s job brought her to Rwanda around the same time. So it was through these serendipitous circumstances we were able to fulfill my mom’s desire of helping those in Africa and we were able to start our first project in Kigali by creating a post-secondary scholarship program for young genocide survivors,” continues Lara.
Because the roots of this business are so close to Lara’s heart, she takes a lot of pride in her work and in making sure that Ann & Arayata’s products are of high standard. The company creates contemporary accessories including handbags, necklaces, and scarves. The entire production process, from sourcing the materials locally to assembly of the product by skilled artisans, is done in the Philippines. “One of the biggest challenges for me is to ensure I am working with the right people who either share our values of transparency and fair-trade or are willing to adopt them. You really have to be on the ground there, meet the people first hand, visit the workers, and see their environment.”
Proceeds from Ann & Arayata products support the livelihood of rural Filipino artisans, as well as contributing to sustainable livelihood, infrastructure, food, and educational projects in both the Philippines and Rwanda. After only one year in business, Lara has already been able to bring more work back to rural weavers and beaders and she aims to bring much more with future collections.
Ann & Arayata is excited to expand its jewelry line with their upcoming 2013 Spring/Summer collection, as well as add home accessories and introduce a new material called Tinalak (made from abaca fibers, a plant similar to the banana plant) into their handwoven hand-loomed textiles.