Since starting my blog, I’ve curated, shared, and researched hundreds of ethical brands, and the story and mission behind A Million Elephants is among the most powerful.
The inspiration for A Million Elephants began when founder Brittany Petrie decided to take solo backpacking trip through Laos in 2017. Though she understood the history of Laos well, with her father having grown up in Laos, the trip brought the realities in full view to Brittany. She specifically recalls the striking moment she encountered a child who was the same age as her own son selling goods handcrafted from war shrapnel.
That evening catalyzed the inception of A Million Elephants, and today Brittany works with artisans from across Laos to share their handmade, unique crafts with the world. This creates an important source of supplemental income for the artisans. The Lao artisans craft these goods from a variety of materials, including jungle vine, exotic wood, woven bamboo, silver goods, and even recycled aluminum from bombs.
A Million Elephants‘ collection encompasses a variety of scarves, bags, jewelry, home goods, stationery and other goods crafted by indigenous artisans from across Laos using traditional, generations-old techniques.
Artisans of the indigenous group, the Khmu, create bags made from jungle vine, while artisans from a small village in the Xieng Khuang province craft jewelry and goods from recycled aluminum from bombs and other war scraps.
Though it’s not widely known, Laos was heavily bombed during “America’s Secret War” from 1964 to 1973, when the U.S. flew 580,000 bombing missions on Laos. (To put that number in perspective, this would be the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes for nine years straight.)
This dark history has heavily impacted the communities in Laos. However, as Brittany points out, “Laos people are incredibly resourceful, resilient, talented, hardworking and creative.” And these crafts from A Million Elephants made by artisans in Laos are proof of that.
Founder Brittany kindly sent me one of A Million Elephants’ scarves handwoven by artisans in Northern Laos, and the detailed work on this piece is simply incredible. The beauty of the details are one of the reasons I treasure artisan-made goods so deeply. And this scarf was no exception—I’m mesmerized by the intricacy of the design on this piece, and love that I can keep it as a throw on my chair when I’m not wearing it.
And the design is gorgeous and practical—it pairs beautifully with white or beige, as well as reds and corals. I also really love how it looks with jeans and booties, like I have it styled in these photos.
From afar, the blanket/scarf looks like an abstract print, but the edges actually have elephant motifs lining them. I absolutely adore this small but meaningful touch, as it immediately reminds me of the brand, A Million Elephants, and subsequently, the mission behind the product and brand.
Plus, of course, being in the Chicago area, I need all the warm pieces I can get! So I’m excited to have this piece to wear the piece as a scarf outside on chilly days or to use as a blanket when I’m relaxing indoors. I often buy scarves (they’re probably my favorite accessory) but too frequently choose scarves because I simply like the style or color of them and they end up being far too lightweight to actually keep me warm.
Thankfully, this scarf has all the style—and also the warmth of a true winter weather accessory.
This versatile piece is also exactly what I’ve been looking for to bring with me when I travel on planes and trains.
I also received a sample of the classic bangle crafted with recycled aluminum from bombs and other war scrap metal. To see the work these artisans have done to use the materials that contaminate the land into art left me a bit awe-struck. After trying on the bracelet, I couldn’t help but think of the cliché, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
The extraordinary artisan crafts from A Million Elephants are undeniably special and I am looking forward to being able to tell the story behind this ethical brand every time I wear one of these pieces out.
WHY IT MATTERS
To be completely honest, before reading about A Million Elephants I wasn’t familiar with the history of Laos at all. And for anyone else who is also not familiar with Laos and America’s Secret War, here’s a brief history:
From 1964 to 1973, Laos was heavily bombed by the United States during the Laotian Civil War as part of the U.S.’s fight against communism. This nine-year period of continuous bombing activity is known as America’s “secret war” and is recognized as one of the heaviest bombardments in history.
This secret war led to the death of 10% of the Lao population. And the casualties extended far beyond the conclusion of the bombings—approximately 20,000 civilians have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance (UXO).
And the devastating harms are still felt today—each year there are nearly 50 casualties from UXO. Additionally, the remaining UXO have contaminated much of Laos’ farmland, creating economic hardships.
And while the U.S. has stepped up to contribute funds for UXO clearance, the money pales in comparison to the money spent for bombing. According to the organization Legacies of War, from 1993 to 2016, the “U.S. contributed on average $4.9M per year for UXO clearance in Laos” while “the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.”
If you’d like to support the civilians of Laos, I encourage you to check out A Million Elephants’ beautiful accessories and home goods. Not only does each purchase enable artisans to sustain their crafts, but 10% of A Million Elephants’ profits go to an NGO in Laos. Brittany will donate 10% of 2018 profits to MAG International, an organization that works in countries affected by conflict to clear landmines and cluster bombs, manage and destroy arms and ammunition, and educate communities.
This post has been generously sponsored by A Million Elephants. As always, I only share brands I believe in and would share otherwise. And as you could probably tell from reading the post, I feel particularly passionate about the work this brand is doing!