It’s a long way from Houston to rural Uganda (8,421 miles, to be exact), but Tribe + Glory founders Loren Thomas and Caragh Bennet have found ways to make the world a lot smaller, a bit kinder, and more self-sufficient. Their nonprofit sells stylish jewelry and housewares handcrafted by female Ugandan artisans who learn business and entrepreneurial skills while earning wages to lift themselves out of poverty.
Thomas, 25, who was raised in Houston’s Memorial area, and British native Bennet, 23, now make the small Ugandan village of Kamuli their home, but they're in the Bayou City this week to showcase the collection at several holiday markets. Among the distinctive offerings are attractive statement cuffs, bangles, earrings, bracelets, and such home items as vases and tumblers—all made from recycled Ankole cattle horn.
“People love the way they feel on their skin,” Bennet says.
“Every single piece is a work of art,” Thomas agrees.
Prices range from $7 for a silver star ornament to $140 for a cattle horn vase.
When the duo came to Houston this time last year to launch their first capsule collection on the local holiday market circuit, every single piece of inventory they had could fit in two suitcases. “Now we’re making two to three shipments a month,” Thomas says.
“We’ve been big dreamers right from the start,” Bennet chimes in.
Thomas and Bennet met in Uganda in 2014 when Thomas was taking a break from her studies at the University of Texas to volunteer with the faith-based nonprofit Empower a Child and Bennet was doing a gap year before attending Oxford University.
They created Tribe + Glory two years later with a business model that empowers women under the poverty line with education, capital, and training to eventually start their own businesses. Each applicant comes with a business plan (starting a dairy farm, charcoal business, and salon are some of the goals) and is required to save 60 percent of earnings during their tenure, which lasts from 18 months to two years.
The program has grown from nine to 22 participants within the past year and a half and, during this time, Thomas and Bennet oversaw construction of a headquarters to house manufacturing and training, entrepreneurship, team-building, and literacy classes.
The biggest thing they've learned through the experience? “The ability to take the first 'yes,'” Thomas says. “A lot of times the biggest jump is the one at the starting gate. To just say 'yes' to something that seems completely crazy and outrageous and fall into it as you go has been the catalyst for our biggest adventures and our biggest successes.”
And they don’t plan to stop. “We have big dreams for expansion,” Thomas says. “We are really passionate about rolling out the model to countries around the world.”
Tribe + Glory products are featured at the Memorial Drive Methodist Church Hearts & Hands Holiday Market, October 22-24; the Artum Fest at City Centre on October 27-28; and available online.