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press kit // Spring/Summer 2014


Designed for development

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At age 19, Brittany Merrill Underwood saw the need to help desperate women and children in an impoverished and battle-weary east African country and took action. Led by her faith, her grit and her compassion, she undertook a daunting project; one that most of us would shy away from. In 2004, her sense of complacency was shaken when she spent the summer in Uganda and discovered that girls her own age, across the globe, were enduring hardships that bore no resemblance to her own experiences. She was moved to action by the dedication she saw in brave Ugandan women — widows with HIV and those who had survived the war in the North — and she dedicated herself to their cause. During her senior year in college, she founded the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO) to partner with local Ugandan woman to build a three-story orphanage with the capacity to house almost 200 street children. Her passion to help others was grounded in her belief that everyone is entitled to the basic human rights of decent housing, food and education and so, after graduation in 2006, she moved to Uganda and became fully immersed in her life’s work. Once the orphanage was completed, Brittany designed a more sustainable model to care for orphaned and disadvantaged children. She launched the Akola Project to provide vocational training and employment opportunities to local women so that they could generate revenue to meet the needs of volunerable children in their communities. In addition to the orphanage that she built from ground up, Underwood has been instrumental in the reconstruction of another local orphanage home and has successfully drilled over 23 clean water wells in displaced communities. Through the Akola Project, she has led her organization to build two vocational training centers in Eastern in Northern Uganda and created a thriving business enterprise for women. Brittany has been featured both nationally and internationally on CNN for her work in Uganda on Impact Africa and Young People Who Rock and was honored by clothing manufacturer Levi as one of 50 women around the globe who have changed the political, cultural, and spiritual shape of the future.

one orphanage built

twenty-three water wells drilled

two vocational centers constructed


fashion that funds empowerment

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100% of the net proceeds from each piece supports development projects for women, children and communities in Northern and Eastern Uganda. Akola Project has a decade of sustainable development experience in Uganda resulting in one orphanage built, twentythree water wells drilled and two vocational centers constructed to date. Akola Project designed a sustainable model to mutliply their development effects: invest in the caretakers who lack education and opportunities by training them, employing them, and teaching them how to invest in and launch their own local businesses within five years of the program. In this way, Akola Project empowers 1,400 women and children to end their cycle of poverty.

the collections

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Akola Project designs are hand crafted by the women in our program and utilize indigenous materials from East Africa including cotton yarn from Rwanda, stones from the coast of Kenya, beads hand rolled in Uganda and metals hand cast in ancient sand molds in rural Ethiopia. Akola Project offers seasonal collections with designs that are on-trend and inspired by the women who wear them. Akola Project impecctable designs compete with high-end, for-profit brands in over 250 high-end retailers nationwide.

two hundred women invested in and trained

two hundred women employed and providing for their communities

fourteen hundred people empowered through local business creations


Cow horn beads

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This season’s Akola Project collection reintroduces beads from the indigenous ankole cow horns. This cow horn that would otherwise be thrown out, is given new life as gorgeously delicate beds in black, tan and off-white tones.


Kenyan Glass Beads

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Akola Project expanded our investments in East African economies this collection with the introduction of beads from Kenya. These stunning sea glass beads are hand selected in Kenya and brought back to our Ugandan studio for the Akola Project women to work with.


ethiopian metal beads

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Handmade by local artisans, these beads are created from former artillery shells in wartorn Ethiopia. The metal from the shells is melted down and reshaped in a redemptive way to create beautiful jewelry. We pair the metal beads with turquoise in these exquiste designs.


Ugandan paper beads

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Meticulously hand rolled and hand strung with care, these pieces showcase the Ugandan craft of paper beads. The 10 solid tones represent each season’s latest colors and come in 4 different styles.


Ethiopian pendants

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Each paper bead design is paired with Ethiopian pendants, merrying the artforms of two East Afrian cultures in one stunning collection. The pendant designs draw on the imagery of the cross which is central to devotion in Ethiopia and it’s association with the hope of redemption has made it a potent emblem of triumph.


RECYCLED paper beads

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The recycled paper bead collection is made with recycled magazines, newspapers or posters to reflect one-of-a-kind, multi-toned color. These styles are only available as long as supplies last, making them uniquely special.


Hand woven clutches

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The Akola Project loom program introduced a new artform and trade that was not indigeous to these Ugandan communities. The women in this project use cotton sourced from Kenya and Rwanda to meticulously hand weave the textiles in our clutches. One weaver will spend an entire day to create the 1.5 yards of fabric needed per clutch. Some of our clutches employ a techique that combines local raffia grass and cotton to create a textured textile. Raffia grass is an accessible, organic material with a propensity for dying and weaving. Our weavers split the raffia to make it thin and soft before combining it with the cotton to create a special texture fabric.


Raffia Braided Boning

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The interior boning of each clutch is hand braided using stips of palm leaves. This complex process is done by hand and involves weavig with up to sixteen palm leaf strips at one time. It is a symbol of women who make them who are rebuilding their lives after twenty years of war.


Leather clutches

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The leather in these new clutches is sourced from a local tannery in Jinja town, down the road from the Akola Project studio. The craft and care put into each of these designs make them a true statement piece.


Dallas, Texas, SPRING/SUMMER 2014 – Akola Project, a high-end accessories non-profit and social business empowering 1,400 Ugandans to end their cycle of poverty, launches jewelry and handbag collections that add new materials to their meticulously crafted pieces. This collection will introduce sea glass from Kenya as well as cow horn and leather from Uganda. The new materials will perfectly complement the Ethiopian metals, Ugandan paper beads and hand woven textiles that are staples of the Akola Project brand. Since the inception of the organization, supporting East African economies through the sourcing of their indigenous materials has been a great complement to the mission of Akola Project. East African cultures each have their own artisans who employ unique techniques for creating accessory compenents based on their local materials. Akola Project is proud to partner with these artisans while training and employing 200+ Ugandan women to create the jewelry and handbags collections. “The Akola Project is a shared walk that bridges relationships with local women to establish a community committed to the possibilities of change. We proclaim good news to the poor by offering opportunities that extend beyond their reach,” says Akola Project Founder and President, Brittany Merrill Underwood. “Akola Project helps women in Uganda break free from poverty and create a new reality through their own efforts and hard work.” About Akola Project: Since 2006, Akola Project has successfully built two vocational centers to train and employ 200 women, 23 clean water wells, and an orphanage home for 200 children. The reach of Akola has empowered 1,400 Ugandans with more than an income – 100% of the net proceeds from Akola purchases go back in the Project’s community development programs such as savings and loans associations, family health education, family budgeting education, and more.


media mentions

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for pr inquiries

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Please contact Emily Heger, Managing Director, at emily@akolaproject.org. “At Akola, we merge a high-fashion social business and non-profit model that empowers marginalized women in East Africa to make fashion pieces that are sold in boutiques, generating revenue for their families and communities with international development assistance including drilling clean water wells, building vocational training centers, and agricultural programs to crate a holistic strategy for bring women and children out of extreme poverty,� Brittany Merrill Underwood, Akola Project Founder and President.


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