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Jewelry supports social change

PurpleDirt was inspired by a vacation to Central America

In a remote area of northern Nicaragua, eight women are making jewelry to support themselves and their community.

Together, these women form the Artesania del Mar artisan co-operative. And they recently teamed up with North Vancouver resident Erin Walker to create a 25-per-cent artisan-owned jewelry company called PurpleDirt.

"We create a lot of boho jewelry primarily made out of recycled materials, so we use recycled guitar strings as well as some scrap metal from the revolution down in Nicaragua," says Walker, CEO and founder of PurpleDirt. "Ten per cent of all sales are donated back to one of our partner charities in Nicaragua," she adds.

Walker launched PurpleDirt a little less than a year ago, inspired to do so after vacationing in Nicaragua with friends in the spring of 2013.

"Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They've been through so much political turmoil, so much national turmoil, yet they're such a positive culture," she says. "They're community oriented, they're family oriented and it just really inspired me to be able to do something to give back to those less fortunate."

So, she took a leave of absence from her corporate job to make PurpleDirt a reality. Running the organization involves flying down to Nicaragua several times a year to check in on the artisans.

"They were already a co-op," Walker explains, "but had very basic foundational skills, so I worked with them to introduce new materials, new techniques, new designs."

Walker accompanies the women on trips to the capital city of Managua where they pick up raw materials to craft their necklaces and bracelets. The finished jewelry represents a fusion of Nicaraguan and Canadian designs. Walker says the biggest sellers are pieces that incorporate second-hand guitar strings (sourced from Canadian guitar shops) and their Elephant Shoe bracelets, which play on the idea that the words "elephant shoe," when mouthed without sound, resemble the words "I love you."

PurpleDirt jewelry is sold mainly online at www.shoppurpledirt.com but is also available on the North Shore at Hollyburn Country Club and Joy Hair Salon at Lonsdale Quay.

The name of the organization reflects its motive, Walker says. "Purple is the colour of kind and caring and nurture." And dirt "is sometimes underestimated," she says, but if you give dirt seeds, water and light "it can flourish and grow into something absolutely amazing and beautiful."

By arming the Nicaraguan artisans with the appropriate tools, techniques and education, she hopes they will be better able to support themselves and their families.

"They're able to grow and sustain themselves and really empower themselves within their local communities." Looking ahead, Walker would like to get PurpleDirt jewelry into more retail stores and grow her organization. "The hope would be to expand beyond Nicaragua once we've got a great process in place and foundation to move into other countries and other regions."

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