Vi Bella is a jewelry, accessory and home goods social enterprise that provides full-time, well paying employment opportunities to artisans in vulnerable communities in Haiti and Mexico.
When Julie Hulstein, a recently retired band teacher, traveled to Haiti in 2010 – five short months after a massive earthquake left hundreds of thousands of Haitians dead, injured or displaced – she witnessed more suffering and generational poverty than she ever knew existed. Employment was scarce, as were basic necessities. Severe poverty and a lack of resources forced parents to put their children in orphanages in order to survive.
As she continued her trip, Julie saw many NGOs offering initial assistance, but wondered what more could be done. Were there sustainable solutions that could provide deep and long-lasting change? As she explored this thought, she learned about the power of dignified employment, which would offer empowerment and financial stability to the people of Haiti while helping parents to provide for their children.
This was the start of Vi Bella. Translated as “beautiful life,” Vi Bella was founded in 2011 as a job creation social enterprise that provides steady, livable wages in a safe and encouraging work environment, and ultimately, helps to keep families together. The Vi Bella team is passionate about creating meaningful, well-paying employment in vulnerable communities where jobs are hard to come by and people are at risk of trafficking, hunger, homelessness and violence. The company mission is to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly,” and that philosophy shapes everything they do.
Since its formation, Vi Bella has grown to provide excellent, full time employment to over 60 artisans, who are primarily women. Many of Vi Bella’s Haitian artisans are also amputee survivors from the 2010 earthquake or are from a nearby Deaf community, for whom finding employment in Haiti can be next to impossible. Vi Bella also expanded operations to Mexico, where several artisans come from histories of domestic violence and abuse, or have a family member dealing with addiction.
At Vi Bella, artisans begin by learning the arts of jewelry making and sewing – practical skills that will last a lifetime. Artisans handcraft jewelry and sewn goods using natural materials like coconut, horn, seeds, leather and recycled materials to create quality pieces that convey stories of restoration and redemption. In addition to learning valuable skills and earning a steady income, artisans have found a meaningful community with each other that fosters empowerment and healing. Vi Bella provides important resources as well, like licensed therapists and a safe and uplifting environment.
Within the artisans’ communities, dignified employment has a ripple effect: one employed person can help support up to ten others. Vi Bella’s artisans have shown the courage to choose joy and hope, and are steadily transforming their communities day by day. A beautiful example of this is Adeline, who says “my job gives me encouragement. When I was at home without a job, I was really sad and depressed; but now, I have hope.” Adeline has been with Vi Bella since the beginning, originally identified by one of Vi Bella’s managers as someone in dire need of a job to improve her living situation. She was trained on the job as a jewelry maker, and continues to work hard to hone her skills. Her joy, positivity and sense of responsibility make her a natural leader, and she recently accepted a promotion to a management position. “Having this job makes me happy. Seeing that I am in good health and my family is in good health as well as being able to provide for them makes me extremely happy.”
It is Vi Bella’s goal to continue to grow this powerful community and expand to accommodate a long waiting list of future artisans. The Vi Bella team’s desire is to connect cultures through social enterprise by giving artisans the dignity they deserve by sharing their talent with the world, and giving consumers a real connection to the people they empower through their purchases. The employment Vi Bella offers is truly life changing and they are committed to doing their part to create a flourishing world.
To learn more about Vi Bella, check out their member directory profile.