Upcycling may have become a trend in the Western world, but for many in Laos it’s long been a livelihood. Local villagers have been crafting spoons by melting scrap metal for generations.
They don’t use average scrap metal either, but rather the remnants of undetonated bombs, left after the US attacked the provisional south-east Asian country during the Vietnam War. More than 250 million unexploded ordinates (UXO) were dropped on Laos, and today 80 million lie in the dirt, maiming locals, preventing farming and continuing the poverty cycle.
New York designer Elizabeth Suda visited the capital of Laos, Vientiane in 2009, and suggested locals melt the metal into bracelets. The sale of one bracelet goes towards clearing approximately three square metres of land, and the mission to ‘buy back the bombs’—the ultimate form of upcycling—began.
Named peaceBOMB, the project shares the story of Laos’ secret war with the world.
PeaceBOMB partners local artisans with the distribution network ARTICLE22, a sustainable fashion company. Today 15 local families in Ban Naphia are paid to create jewellery by melting the bombs and casting them. They work from their homes using this generational practice, earning a sustainable income in one of the world’s poorest countries.
The bomb bracelet is just one of the options for the fashion- and socially- conscious. Rings, necklaces, coin bracelets and cufflinks are all available, some inscribed with words like ‘peace’ and ‘dropped + made in Laos’.
The initiative also enables the bombs to be cleared safely, giving locals back their livelihoods one square metre at a time.
A perk of upcycling is the story behind a ‘new’ item. Whether it’s a reupholstered chair or a blanket, there is a lifetime of memories now readily accessible to the owner. Each item crafted through peaceBOMB also carries this same beauty, a message of triumph over evil, peace overcoming fear, and love overcoming tragedy.
In the Bible, the book of Isaiah talks about a day when humanity will ‘beat their swords into ploughshares’ and ‘Nation will not take up sword against nation’.
PeaceBOMB is a step towards this day, showing that upcycling really can change the world one fashion accessory at a time.
This article was published in Warcry on July 11, 2016. Read it here.