This fall, socially conscious accessories brand Akola graduates into fine jewelry, with help from a high-powered luxury retail partner: Neiman Marcus. Aptly named the Akola Neiman Marcus Collection, the line features locally made and Ugandan-sourced jewelry that benefits the women of West Dallas and their families.
Traditionally made with materials such as paper, glass beads, horn, and hand-cast metals, Akola jewelry is vibrant and bold — exactly the kind of thing we love around these parts. Although the flagship store is here in Deep Ellum, the company’s roots are in Uganda, where women earn a sustainable income and receive training in health and hygiene as a result of the company’s efforts.
The Neiman Marcus Collection represents founder and CEO Brittany Merrill Underwood’s most recent challenge: to scale the model to provide jobs to women in Dallas.
Akola is committed to paying a living wage, but a living wage in Dallas is higher than it is in Uganda. So the team designed an elevated line featuring gemstones, rough crystals, and sparkly druzies to support higher wages. Gray labradorite, white lace agate, peach druzy, ethically sourced horn, and aquamarine gemstones adorn many of the pieces, which start at $105.
Each item also includes Akola’s trademark paper bead, hand-rolled by women in Uganda to symbolize the connection between the women in both countries.
The Akola Project grew organically from Underwood’s experiences in Uganda, which began during a 2004 college trip.
“I had never witnessed extreme poverty before and was really out of my comfort zone,” she says. Then she met a local woman named Sarah, who had taken 24 orphans into her home, where they all slept on mats on the floor.
“Here I was,” Underwood says, “I had been given so much and really hadn’t given back to others. This woman had so little and gave everything to these kids. It really woke me up.”
From that day, Underwood decided to help in any way she could. Her philanthropic mission started out as a campaign to build an orphanage — she far surpassed expectations with nearly $1 million raised by the time she graduated from SMU — and grew into a more sustainable platform that became known as the Akola Project.
Today, Akola, which means “she works,” has helped nearly 400 Ugandan women and 100 Dallas women receive the support and income they need to, as Underwood puts it, “become agents of transformation” in their communities.
The Akola Neiman Marcus Collection launches officially September 22, at an exclusive invite-only party, where some of North Texas’ most influential women will be in attendance. It is available online and in stores across the country.