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Andean accessories sow seeds of growth

From Adriana Hauser, CNN
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Jewelry sales changing lives
  • American entrepreneur helping impoverished families in Ecuador sell their jewelry
  • Trade is bringing social change to villagers near Otavalo
  • Accessories in The Andean Collection made with local seeds from Ecuadorian rainforest
  • Villagers' products now being sold in 1,500 stores worldwide

(CNN) -- "We struggled so much in life," says Olga Moran, a wife and mother of three from an impoverished village near Otavalo, Ecuador.

"We made very little. It wasn't enough. So, one day we started making necklaces with seeds," she said.

Moran says that with the help of American entrepreneur Amanda Judge, she has turned her life around, selling her jewelry in the United States, making her family better off.

For Judge, The Andean Collection started as an academic project as she researched ways to help women out of poverty in rural Ecuadorian villages.


"I didn't see ways to increase the income in agriculture or farming, carpentry," Judge said. "However, I did see income potential in crafts."

She has encouraged the artisans to experiment with new designs which she believed would allow her to expand the business from local to international markets.

In 2008, the theory went into practice.

"They don't live hand to mouth any more. They have savings, they have consumer goods, they have TVs, they have cars," Judge said.

"They work from their homes, they don't have to get up and carry bags of 10 pounds of grain to the market...and come back only when they have sold enough to eat for the day."

The business has changed Moran's life.

"I spend time with my children, my husband, my home. I couldn't do that before," Moran said.

They don't live hand to mouth any more. They have savings, they have consumer goods, they have TVs, they have cars
--Amanda Judge, The Andean Collection

And with more means, she hopes to offer her children a better life.

In the future she hopes that they can go on to study, so they won't have to endure what she has.

Judge says all the accessories in the Andean Collection are made with local seeds harvested in the Ecuadorian rainforest and lowlands.

"The three main types are acai, tambi and tagua," she said.

"Using these natural materials promotes harvest growth because it allows the farmers who harvest the seeds to get a living out of their lands -- instead of selling the land to oil companies or logging it for the wood.

"So it actually promotes forest growth."

Judge now works with 40 artisans and besides bringing social change to their families she has seen her business take off.

Chic and green, these accessories are now being sold in 1,500 stores worldwide, as well as making a difference to the lives of the people who make them -- Moran included.

"I am so grateful. I don't know how to express it," Moran said.