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This past summer, Bush headed to Uganda with the social-good fashion brands 31 Bits, Akola Project, and Sseko Designs to see just how each company is helping women and girls in the country rebuild their lives by producing fashion and accessories that are sold in the United States. “It provided me with the personal touch point to tell this story in a way that feels much more exciting than, ‘Hey I found this brand that’s cool,’” Bush tells InStyle. “It’s more about, ‘Hey, I know the women whose lives are different because of this.'” You can learn more about each brand by watching the video above — and if you happen to have a VR viewer, you can look up, down, and all around, as you listen to Bush gush about how these organizations are changing lives, including her own.
InStyle recently spoke with Bush about her trip, her new beauty brand I Smell Great, and — given her penchant for promoting social good — if she’d ever consider going into politics.
InStyle: Anyone who follows you on social media knows how passionate you are about certain issues. What made you focus on ethical fashion?
Sophia Bush: “It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I was given the data on the fact that fashion is the No. 2 industry polluting the planet. My heart stopped. Once I delved into that more, so much information came up about child labor around the world, about slave labor around the world, about sweatshops and all of the stuff that breaks your heart and makes your head spin. Rather than just feeling completely dejected about that, I said, ‘Okay, well, how do we change it?'”
And so you went on a trip to Uganda.
“With my schedule, this summer really was my first opportunity to go, and not just be talking about and wearing the things that I believe in, but actually going to see where they’re made. I took some of my girlfriends with me and we had this incredible adventure across Uganda visiting with three of the brands that I think are doing it the best: 31 Bits, Sseko Designs, and Akola Project. I spent time in their work spaces, on their compounds, getting to know the women who make these organizations run, and hearing their stories about what life was before these organizations came versus what life is now.”
How do companies like 31 Bits, Sseko, and Akola help change lives?
“Not only are each of their employees making jewelry, and using their artisanal skill and learning beautiful design, but they’re also now investing back into themselves and into their communities. There’s a number of these women who are running farms, who have started their own general stores in their village. That is a major shift in gender roles in a place like Uganda. Some of these women’s husbands came to meet with us and I loved hearing their stories about how their life is so much better that their wives are — in their words — ‘the big boss lady.’ I was like, ‘Do you guys know what you’re doing for gender equality?’ This is so much more than just job training for this one woman. It changes her life, it changes her family’s life; it changes her children’s lives.”
Are you gifting any of these items for the holidays?
“Yes! Actually I’m putting together little packets for my friends. I brought home a bunch of handbags from Sseko, and I have necklaces from Bits, and necklaces from Akola, and little travel cases from Sseko as well. I want them to see and feel, and touch all of these materials. It’s a really amazing feeling of being bonded to this place and these people.”
Anything you’ll be buying for yourself?
“It’s funny, since I was in Uganda, I’ve been carrying one of Sseko’s bags and people stop me everywhere and ask me what it is because it’s clean and it’s sleek. I feel like I should actually just have extras on me so that I can be, like, handing bags to people!” [N.B. to readers: It’s the Safari leather bucket bag; $150; ssekodesigns.com.]
You also just launched a beauty line, I Smell Great. How’s that going?
“It’s an arena that I’ve always really loved. I used to always mix my own fragrance, and to be able to bring my sense of things that I want to do with a brand to the forefront of our company, like making sure we’re affirming women and changing the way that they talk to themselves, that excites me. My little nerdy heart is finally able to put all the research that I’ve done about positive versus negative speak and the psychology of affirmation into a brand, and that feels exciting because I’m so sick of beauty that tells women, ‘You’re not enough, buy this, feel better.’ I’m like, ‘No, you’re perfect.’
Tell us about your recent partnership with The Girl Project.
“A dollar from every single product sold goes straight to them, and again, it’s all because we want to be impacting communities around the world. We want to make sure that we’re elevating women. It’s the reason that I went to see Sseko, Akola, and 31 Bits, and it’s the reason that I wanted to build my brand in the way that we are because it’s not that hard to choose to make the world a better place.”
This all makes me wonder if you’d ever consider going into politics.
“Gosh, I don’t know! All of my friends who work in politics are so exhausted! There’s so much red tape and part of me thinks, sure, maybe that could be great, and part of me goes, well I’ve got a pretty big megaphone right now. We’ll just have to see. One thing at a time I guess!”
Sophia Bush: Fashion of Uganda
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