Laguna locals started The Peace Exchange to empower artisans around the world.
By Bria Balliet and Katherine Duncan | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Educators-turned-philanthropists Katie Bond and Iris Bourne are leaders of The Peace Exchange, a Laguna Beach nonprofit that partners with organizations in developing countries to create sustainable jobs for women in need. It began a few years ago with a sewing facility in the Congo producing fair trade throws, napkins, yoga bags, totes and more, and now includes a second sewing center in the region. Today, Katie and Iris are planning for a jewelry-making workshop in Nepal; they aimed to visit the country in April, but were forced to postpone the trip due to the earthquake.
But the group’s vision goes beyond providing jobs. By receiving pay per item as well as premium wages—five times the daily rate of other workers in the region—The Peace Exchange artisans in the Congo can afford to send their children to school. “At the foundational root, we believe lasting change will come from the education of these women’s children,” Katie says. “But in order to do that, we need to give the women work.”
Laguna Beach Magazine: What inspired you to take The Peace Exchange to the Congo?
Katie Bond: The Congo is the worst place for women to live in regard to rape and sexual violence. It’s called the rape capital of the world (by several news organizations as well as Margot Wallström, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict).
LBM: What is the most vital thing that you wish people knew about buying items from The Peace Exchange?
Iris Bourne: Just the impact of buying one article, how that changes these women’s lives. Because they tell [us] all the time how their lives have changed by just being able to work and make money for themselves. It gets them out of these abusive relationships and poverty. And I think people in Laguna think you have to make a big contribution to make a difference, but you actually don’t. It’s just the little things along the way.
KB: We’re trying to go in and give the women money and also have them keep their kids in school. … Education comes with a cost. … The purchase of one yoga bag will keep a child in school for a month.
LBM: Where can The Peace Exchange products be purchased?
KB: We sell our products online via the website. We also wholesale to 15 different locations across the globe; three of those are located in Laguna Beach. If [you’re] looking for yoga bags, they can be found at The Art of Fitness. Beach bags, book bags and [satchels] can be found at Laguna Beach Books, and other products such as napkins … and beach throws can be found at Tuvalu.
LBM: Why are groups like The Peace Exchange important, both socially and economically?
KB: I feel like everyone is a modern-day humanitarian or wants to help. And what we offer with The Peace Exchange … gives people a chance to feel like they’re a part of something bigger.
IB: And I think that’s where the trend is going—where everyone is buying something to improve someone else’s life … and the millennials are at the cutting edge of this. … It’s a completely different way that we’re purchasing products, which is way more healthy.
LBM: You plan to revisit The Peace Exchange’s efforts in Nepal next year. What are your expectations for that operation?
KB: We will work with an orphanage called Chhahari, also founded out of Laguna Beach, and we will work with CDO Nepal, a nonprofit rehabilitating women who have gone through massive trauma. … Jewelry and paper goods will be made.
LBM: As women, how does it feel to be able to help your peers who are in need?
IB: I think women helping women, that is the answer to peace. … If you empower women, you can change the world. Being a mom and being a woman and having two daughters, I think it’s the most important thing I’ll ever do.