Photos by Steve De Neef
Would you be surprised to find jewelry designers living off a city dump? Well, meet the women of Lumago Designs, a jewelry company that turns trash to treasure, puts the profit in the right pockets, and is run by a group of women who live off the Dumaguete City dumpsite in the Philippines.Not only do the women of Lumago Designs create bold pieces that any stylish eco-girl would love; they do it with the best of intentions. They buy their upcycled materials from the locals who scavenge the dumpsite, sell their jewelry for reasonable prices, and return the collective profits to the community.
Its current jewelry line is made from polished pull-tabs from cans, patterned fabric from discarded clothes, soft leather from old purses, recycled bamboo, and torn out magazine pages.
Lumago Designs is the co-creation of the Lumago Ladies, a self-run women’s co-operative, and Whitney Fleming, who runs the business end of Lumago. Ecouterre spoke to Whitney Fleming on her the importance of community control in making development programs like this one a sustainable force.
Fleming told us that the purpose of Lumago Designs was not initially to make fabulous jewelry, but to find ways to create more funding for the dumpsite community. After starting a community-run soup kitchen for school children there (ASK), Whitney began brainstorming with its participants.
At first they decided she would sell paper-bead necklaces to a nearby resort. “I was so humbled by their drive, determination and creative talents,” says Whitney. “One day I showed up to buy ten necklaces and there were one hundred to choose from. I started to cry, knowing how much they wanted this, and I knew at that moment that we could build something amazing together.”
As a result of their collaboration, Lumago Designs now ships its pieces around the world, and the Lumago Ladies see the profits. In a community where most people live off the dump and the average income is $45 a month, the profits from their jewelry go a long way. Whitney explains, “The Lumago Ladies Co-operative holds shares in Lumago Designs, and these profits are voted on within the co-op and dispersed to one of the following categories: health care, education or entrepreneurial ventures. We all meet weekly to discuss any problems that may arise, and everything is done with voting and open forum. With as much hardship as the community faces, they fight back with a sense of happiness and joy for life that captured my heart.”
Whitney can’t contain her excitement at providing a flourishing example of a community driven, for-profit business model, which she believes is the best way to create a sustained impact in an impoverished community. “These women are capable, productive and creative. What they lack is opportunity. They never came to me and asked me for handouts– they were searching for what we all often are, a hand up. Offering that hand up does not have to mean sacrificing your own opportunities.”
“The business world is starting to see a triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit, and Lumago Designs is damn proud to be a part of the movement.”