The Purple Rock Story
Purple Rock was founded by two sisters who grew up in a large family in Zimbabwe, Africa. Political turmoil forced their family out of the country when they were young, but they never forgot their homeland. One sister, Diane, settled in London. The other sister, Keren, lived in Israel for a time, then returned with her husband and children to Zimbabwe ten years ago, where she opened a bead shop. Sadly, the chaos in Zimbabwe had only grown worse.
Zimbabwe, a poor, landlocked country in southern Africa, has been devastated by continuing political unrest. It has the highest inflation rate in the world. It is experiencing one of the harshest AIDS epidemics on the planet. It is estimated that one in seven adults is living with HIV. (UNAIDS 2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic)
In a country with such a tense political and social climate, it has been difficult for the world to respond to the crisis. President Robert Mugabe and his government have been widely criticized by the international community, and Zimbabwe has become increasingly isolated, both politically and economically.
Life has become a daily struggle. Women — unemployed, widowed or even sick themselves — forage or beg on a daily basis to feed their families and their children. There is little or no food in most villages. Homelessness has become a chronic problem. The average life expectancy for women is 34 — the lowest anywhere in the world. (Physicians for Human Rights (January 2009), Health in Ruins; A man-made disaster in Zimbabwe)
From her bead shop, Keren was a witness to the plight of these people, and wanted to help provide work opportunities for Zimbabwean women. She came up with the idea of employing women to create "beaded bra straps" that would be shipped to the UK for her sister to sell to fashion-conscious women in London. Made of crystals, shells, and beautiful glass beads, these straps would represent the marriage of beauty, fashion, and social justice. The straps were an instant hit and the orders began to roll in.
Today, there are two Purple Rock sites where the women come to work. They enjoy their job, as it means sitting in large groups of women chatting and beading and being able to have their children with them.
Often Purple Rock must organize transportation for the women. In addition to being paid, they are given 2 meals a day, usually the only food they will eat for that day. They are provided clothing and are given uniforms for the children to attend school. Purple Rock also coordinates medical care for the women and children. Not all women can come to the Purple Rock facilities to work, but the company allows these women to come and pick up the materials so they can sit at the roadside making the straps while selling their other goods. Women are begging for work from Purple Rock, which is always dependent on large orders. Our goal is to improve the lives of as many families as we can, by selling as many straps as we can! African woman have a great love for beads … it brings beauty and color into their lives. It gives them immense hope, and unbelievably, the people of Zimbabwe are an optimistic people!
Purple Rock is a Fair Trade company, where the product is "made by women, run by women, worn by women." A company we are proud of, and believe in! We are dedicated to the principals of Fair Trade, in which the strategic intent is to help otherwise marginalized people become more stable and self sufficient. Our goal is to enrich the lives of the Zimbabwean ladies, as well as the lives of those who buy our beautiful beaded bra straps.
The Purple Rock USA connection began over 20 years ago when Diane was a young woman traveling in the United States. While in Southern California, she met Cissy and Kevin Maxwell. Fast forward 20 years and by providence Kevin and Cissy reconnected with Diane who now has her own family and lives in London. While visiting with Diane, Cissy was introduced to the fledgling Purple Rock company. She was moved by the story and began selling the straps back in Northern California. She is now the U.S. Retail Sales Director.
Valerie Scaglione, a friend of Cissy's, is a former operations manager for Bullocks-Wilshire and Pottery Barn. She has tremendous knowledge and experience in sales & marketing. When Cissy told her about Purple Rock and the women of Zimbabwe, Valerie joined the company with whole-hearted commitment as the U.S. Wholesale Sales Director. Purple Rock has become a passion for Valerie in the effort to empower the women of Africa to help support themselves and their families.
This is the beginning of Purple Rock USA. Today as partners, we want to make a difference in the lives of Zimbabwe's women. Though many people who buy the straps are not always aware that these lovely accessories are changing lives, Purple Rock is proof that out of death and devastation that life and beauty can emerge, one small bead at a time.