Jessica Hendricks is the founder of The Brave Collection, a line of jewelry designed and handmade by Cambodian artisans. Enchanted by the Buddhist country’s ancient history, yet saddened by it’s shockingly violent past and heartbreaking present, Hendricks set out to support fair-trade artisans and fight human trafficking through a curated collection of authentic pieces. Since the Brave Collection’s 2012 launch, Hendricks has partnered with Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky Movement and others.
Tell us about how you came to launch The Brave Collection.
I taught English in Southeast Asia when I was in school and I traveled over to Cambodia as a tourist. I fell in love with the magic of Angkor Wat and this beautiful, tropical Buddhist oasis, and yet was horrified when I learned the depths of destruction the 1970s genocide caused, and the modern day challenges with human trafficking. Brave was ignited out of a desire to spread the story of what I had seen and offer an accessible way for those back home to make a real difference.
Did you always want to have your own business?
Yes! I grew up in a home of entrepreneurs where dreaming up new business ideas was commonplace dinner conversation, so I think this path was in my blood.
Why did you choose Cambodia for production?
Ninety percent of the artists were killed in the 70s genocide, and just 35 years later, the rebirth of art and culture is really just beginning. I wanted to support artisans who were producing handmade products in a free and fair environment in Cambodia to support and accelerate this rebirth.
What is unique about their indigenous artisan population?
The ancient Khmer culture is breathtaking — this a culture with so much to offer in the art space, but they need access to the global market in order share their stories.
What have you learned about human trafficking that the average person would be surprised to discover?
The magnitude. At the peak of the transatlantic slave trade, 80,000 slaves were brought from Africa to the new world, and today there are an estimated 30 million people across the globe who have fallen victim to trafficking, yet everyone thinks slavery was abolished with Lincoln.
How often do you travel to Southeast Asia? Do you feel safe when traveling there?
I go back every few months. It’s quite safe, but when you know as much about the slave trade and I’ve learned, it’s hard to feel completely at ease.
Do you think most of your customers know what it says (“Brave”) on the bracelets?
Yes! The meaning is vital, and I love hearing about what Bravery means to different people. It’s so deeply personal.
Does the packaging come with any information about the brand and your efforts?
Yes. Each piece is packaged in a silk pouch handmade in Cambodia, nestled in a custom box with a card that describes the meaning behind the jewelry and our work to support artisans and fight trafficking in Cambodia.
Where is the collection currently sold?
We sell on our website, www.thebravecollection.com, as well as to select boutiques like Figue, Peridot Fine Jewelry, Sunset Beach and Melissa Joy Manning.
Do you find people are drawn to your product because of the sustainable and ethical efforts involved? Or is that something they learn after purchasing?
I think it’s a mix — some people just love the design of the Cambodian alphabet, others connect deeply to the idea of wearing a piece of Bravery on their wrist, and for some it’s all about the give back. I wanted to create a product that was cool and beautiful on its own merit, so we wouldn’t risk falling into that “pity purchase” category — that is not empowering!
How do you see the brand evolving?
The culture of Cambodia is a total feast to explore! All designs begin with the desire to share a piece of Cambodia — whether it be a motif, a symbol, a word, or a color. We are excited to learn more about the crafts and designs being brought back to life post genocide, and finding a way to share their beauty with the world.