"I guess I'm just the entrepreneurial type," laughs Beth Schaeffer, who designed her own clothing label for fifteen years before pursuing a passion for painting and, most recently, for jewelry-making. Founded one year ago, her latest venture, Bluma Project, specializes in African-inspired jewelry and a small range of textiles crafted by hand at women's cooperatives in Rwanda and Ghana.
"I've been going to Rwanda since 2007," explains Schaeffer. "We spend quite a bit of time training women to have advanced jewelry-making skills, so we come up with the ideas but they can make them."
Glass, wood, and paper beads are all commonly used materials in Bluma Project's eye-catching necklaces and bracelets, as are the Masaii-inspired prints used for tote bags and handy zipper purses. "The line has been evolving," says Schaeffer, and though the collection is designed here in New York, she stills feels "it's important to keep culturally connected to where we're working, in some way."
The humanitarian aim of the project is to provide steady employment and income to the women in these communities, a goal Schaeffer is likely to accomplish with innate business savvy and a realistic strategy for her company. "We're a design company number one," she explains. "And I do believe you have to come up with products people want." For this reason, current trends and sought-after colors are taken into consideration when creating Bluma designs, making them more marketable and, thus, more likely to provide sustainable employment to the women crafts-persons.
In addition to expanding the global scope of the project, seeking more women's groups in communities around the world, Schaeffer is interested in laying down local Bluma roots. "I'm working on developing a group here in Brooklyn, because I think there's a lot of people here who need work as well," she explains. "There are amazing designers and artisans here in Brooklyn, even moms who need work but are 'stay at home' and need to work from home, so I'm trying to develop the Made-in-the-USA collection." Indeed, what we New Yorkers lack in traditional patterns and materials, we make up for in vintage savvy and and a peculiar devotion to tote bags -- fodder, perhaps, for Schaeffer's future line.