Jennifer and I were first introduced to Amy and her company, Lucy & Jo, after getting her insanely amazing, handmade earrings in the Fair Trade Fashion Show's swag bag. (Now there's an example of why swag bags work!). Seriously, Jennifer and I both got a pair in brass and we literally have to rock, paper, scissors whenever we are headed to the same event because inevitably we both want to wear them! Fast forward to today, past the Instagram DMs, having Amy on the ethical shopping panel at SHE Day, and fun lunches where we talk about everything under the sun, and we can't imagine being on our sustainable, healthy, ethical (SHE) journey without having Amy around! She is enthusiastic and authentic, and she always has the best insight, which is why we are so excited to share more of her story with you all in the latest installment of SHE Spotlights! Read on to be inspired. - Heather
SHE: Do you remember when you first became aware of “ethical” shopping and the impact of your purchases?
Amy: Oh, yes! I was in grad school at UC Davis and my world just expanded so enormously! Davis, California is a very progressive city and I had come from a small town in the Midwest so bicycle lanes, farmer’s markets, food coops, fair trade, critical thinking, global ideas, all of it was new to me and it just blew my mind. It sounds so silly to say now but this was nearly 20 years ago before the Internet & social media were everywhere!
SHE: Lucy & Jo is designed to create change in Africa. Can you tell us a few key moments in the creation of Lucy & Jo? Take us back in time with you!
Amy: We are going to go WAY back! It all began in my 7th grade life science class when I had to do a report on the mountain gorilla. I had never heard of it and once I saw the first black & white photo that was it. My entire life revolved around getting to Africa and "saving" the mountain gorillas. Fast forward 10 years and I saw my very first gorilla in the wild. But it was followed by another key moment – I realized I wasn’t going to make the biggest impact as a scientist. The forest the gorillas lived in needed to be protected. And to do that the people living around the forest needed ways to make an income that didn’t depend on going into the forest for resources.
A seed was planted – empowering people with jobs could save gorillas!
That is very simplified but at the most basic level I do believe this is possible and that’s one of my missions with Lucy & Jo.
This approach will take a time and depends on consumers demanding more and more ethically sourced goods, so for a more immediate short-term impact, we’ve partnered with the non-profit Gorilla Doctors and donate 5% of every sale to support their incredible work.
SHE: You co-founded the company with your mom (so cool!). We really want to know. Who was “all in” first? You or your mom, Jo?
Amy: It was definitely me. But Jo has been supportive and involved from the beginning. I think she really went “all in” this past spring when she traveled to Kenya with me – her first trip to Africa at 70! How amazing is that?!
SHE: Wow, if that doesn’t spotlight that you’re never too old to do new things, we don’t know what does! Keep your dreams alive, ladies!
SHE: Actually, what’s the best piece of advice your mom has given you as a girl boss?
Amy: One of her favorites that she learned from her father and passed down to me: “You have to crawl before you can walk and you have to walk before you can run.” In this age of placing so much value on “instafame,” and “instasuccess” this one is an essential reminder for me every day.
“You have to crawl before you can walk and you have to walk before you can run.”
SHE: We have a lot of amazing small ethical and sustainable companies in the SHE community. You’ve worked with fair trade, start-ups and nonprofits for 15 years before starting Lucy & Jo. What is the biggest piece of advice you would give them?
Here’s my top 5:
1. Learn to love the process. It’s the day to day grind over time that will produce results so you better embrace it.
2. You will have set-backs. Use them as opportunities to learn. They will make the "wins" that much sweeter.
3. Don’t underestimate the value of being practical. It’s not sexy but it gets the job done.
4. Slow and steady wins the race. And let’s redefine the ‘race’ to be a win for all, not more for just a few.
5. Never give up. If your intentions are pure and your idea is solid, the right people are going to come along to help you grow and succeed.
SHE: What is the biggest challenge and the greatest reward of working with artists across Kenya and Uganda?
Amy: The biggest challenge is definitely communication and consistency with quality. Some of the groups we work with literally do not have electricity so forget access to smartphones or Internet! The women making our fabulous, one-of-a-kind, hand-embroidered pillows haven’t had any access to outside markets or what women in the U.S. might expect with regard to design, colors, quality, etc. That’s where we come in! We spend a lot of time working on these things, running workshops when there, and providing tools and resources to make it easier for them to succeed.
So, naturally, one of the greatest rewards is seeing the light bulb moments – we have a wonderful video that shows me explaining one of the products I had them create but they couldn’t figure out what it was for. When it "clicked’'we all just started laughing and clapping. It was so awesome.
But the biggest reward so far is seeing the impact resulting from the people buying our goods. Part of our model is ordering multiple times throughout the year so the artists have a consistent income stream. We are only able to do this because of all the amazing people supporting our brand and shopping Lucy & Jo. As a result, our artisan partners making the brass jewelry have been able to hire two more metalsmiths!
One of the groups of women in Uganda, entirely on their own, started a savings program for themselves!
It’s the first time they’ve ever had extra income and the first thing they did was set up a structure where women in the group can take out loans and they are each contributing a small amount into a larger, permanent savings account. This will have a profound ripple effect because women invest in their children’s education and nutrition and they have an average of 5 children each!
This is how we will permanently break the cycle of poverty. And THIS is why we dare to believe that something as simple as a piece of jewelry or a handwoven basket can change the world!
We dare to believe that something as simple as a piece of jewelry or a handwoven basket can change the world!
SHE: You sell beautiful capsule-closet-worthy jewelry. What’s your top secret for caring for it and making it last?
Anything handmade should probably be handled a bit more delicately than you’re normally used to. And sometimes they require a little extra love but that is part of the joy in choosing handmade.
Our brass jewelry is a perfect example – brass oxidizes over time so to maintain the gold-like shine you have to polish it or use jewelry cleaner.
The tradeoff for the effort is getting beautiful pieces that look like gold but don’t cost the same as gold AND every time you bring back the sparkle, you can remind yourself that you’re also creating a thriving livelihood. Now that’s really something to shine about. OMG, I am so cheesy!
SHE: What's your favorite healthy guilty pleasure when the going gets tough?
Amy: Well, if I can be perfectly honest, I’m not sure my guilty pleasures are very healthy. One of the biggest challenges I’ve had since starting my own business is balance – self-care seems to be the first thing that goes when I’m busy or stressed even though I know it’s one of the most important things I can do to support the growth & success of my business. Lately, I’ve been trying to do just 10 minutes of exercise a day. If I tell myself it’s only 10 minutes, I can always find 10 minutes. Then it usually ends up being 20…sometimes we just have to play games with our minds to get it done!
SHE: How can our readers best cheer you on??
Amy: At the end of the day, our success depends on people purchasing our goods, so shopping Lucy & Jo is always greatly appreciated! Actually, anytime you are shopping, remembering to support ethical, sustainable and mission-based companies elevates us all. We’d also love it if you would follow us on Instagram @lucyandjoexploring and please feel free to reach out anytime you have questions or want to learn more.