Fashion line owners speak at Bradley

January 25, 2011

The words “fashion design” usually elicit thoughts of glamorous Parisian couture showrooms or cramped, chic studios in New York City. They usually don’t draw up ideas of Africa.

Those notions are exactly what up-and-coming jewelry brand Keza wants to change.

Founder Jared Miller and COO Ilea Dorsey visited Bradley last September to speak to students about their line.

Founded by Miller five years ago after a trip to Rwanda with a different company, Keza employs and empowers women in Africa, giving them the opportunity and skills necessary to create jewelry.

Prior to joining Keza, the women were forced into prostitution to make a living. Now, they are respected businesswomen.

“We can do so much more than just provide an income – we can give them a path, a dignity they never had before,” said Miller.

To give the women more control, Miller said Keza educates them in both business and design in hopes that one day they will be able to stand on their own.

Keza also has created a partnership with the Rhode Island School of Design, to keep them ahead of the ever-demanding fashion curve, with the students working with the women to create fashion-forward designs.

Even when thinking forwardly, the look and feel of Keza is still very traditional.

“The inspiration is local, and we make it relevant and boost it up a notch,” said Miller.

Miller has been driven by a desire to make an impact in Africa since he was six years old.

“Since I was a kid, I wanted to do something to help in Africa,” said Miller. “I wanted to go listen and learn there instead of just coming up with a plan here.”

Besides helping women, Keza, which means beautiful in Rwandan, is also an environmentally and ethically friendly fashion line, attributes Miller sees gaining ground in the industry.

“We are creating standards we won’t be able to go back on and are becoming more and more ethically grounded,” said Miller.

For their most recent designs, they turned to an unlikely source – paper.  They collect excess waste, such as magazines, phone books, flyers and folders, and turn it into jewelry.

“We will always try to use stuff that is trash or waste and turn it in to something beautiful,” said Dorsey.

Miller hopes that other companies will see the great work that is coming from Africa and want to do business there, improving the continent’s competitiveness.

“The developing world is not recognized for excellence,” said Miller. “And we want to change that.”