One of the most enduring symbols of the fight against cancer is a yellow piece of silicone, worn on one's wrists. Lance Armstrong's "Livestrong" bracelet, bought by over 70 million people, has raised millions for cancer research over the past six years, and become a philanthropic, fashion and cultural phenomenon.
So couldn't the same kind of accessory help another worthy and high-profile charitable cause, rebuilding Haiti, a nation trying to recover after this year's decimating earthquake and now grappling with a sudden outbreak of cholera? That's the idea of two American business executives who founded Choose Haiti, a philanthropic initiative that has already brought much-needed manufacturing work to the island by selling shirts made in Haitian factories. Since early October, they have been selling a multi-colored bracelet made out of recycled plastic that is being assembled in Haitian tent cities. "As we approach the first anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, sustainable work, more than cash aid, is still needed more than ever," says Elizabeth Brown, a branding expert who, along with textile entrepreneur Mesh Gelman, founded Choose Haiti earlier this year.
In order to produce the bracelet, tent city residents collect hundreds of plastic bottles that have littered the streets of Port Au Prince since the earthquake. These displaced Haitians then cut the plastic into rings, and paste recycled Haitian newsprint onto the surface to give each bracelet a unique look. The bracelet will retail for $5; Choose Haiti has already sold 10,000 pieces on the website of its parent company, Blanket America, a linen brand. Beginning in mid-December, Lady Foot Locker will sell the bracelet in 400 stores across the country. Anna's Linens, a home furnishing retailer, has ordered 75,000 bracelets that will go on sale starting in December; Forever 21, Beyond the Rack, Haute Look and QVC are among the other retailers that have committed to selling the Choose Haiti bracelet. Choose Haiti is in talks with J. Crew about selling the bracelet in early 2011, close to the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake on January 12th. "The bracelet is a fashionable way to make a difference, and spread awareness," says Carie Doll, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising at Anna's Linens.
In total, Choose Haiti has already secured 200,000 bracelet orders from consumers and retailers, which will create some 1,100 jobs in Haitian tent cities. According to Brown, $2 from every $5 sale will go toward labor costs, $1 will be channeled to a Haitian crafts company that is managing production, and another $1 will fund job training. Bill Clinton wore the bracelet at an event for his foundation in September; actor Kevin Bacon has also agreed to market the bracelet through his charity, Six Degrees. "I don't think there are many bad ideas when it comes to helping people in Haiti," says Bacon. "But if a person can spend a few dollars on a bracelet and know that they helped someone get off their feet, that's a really cool idea. And a powerful one."