Several years ago, over a two-week Christmas break, the Alley Family went on safari in Tanzania. “I remember on the plane ride home asking my sisters if they’d like to go back and they said ‘maybe someday,’” recalls Abby Alley. “But for me, I couldn’t wait to get back there.”
Two years passed before Abby could make her dream of returning to Africa come true. But eventually she found herself teaching in a school and living with a local family. “When I came back to the states after working in Africa, I knew that I still had more to do. So I began looking for some way I could be giving back to this place I loved, even if I was back home here in the United States.”
Abby discovered an organization called Noonday Collection, which is committed to creating meaningful opportunities for artisans from around the world through fashion. Specializing in jewelry and accessories, Abby got her feet wet in the fair trade business space as an ambassador for them.
“It was a great learning experience for me,” explains Abby. “But I knew I wanted to build something of my own that really showcased the beauty of Tanzanian artisans because I hadn’t seen anything like that here in the states.”
Abby powered forward with her plans after watching The True Cost, a documentary that dug into the inner workings of the fashion industry and how most clothes come from places where the workers are terribly oppressed. “After seeing that, there was no going back,” Abby says. “I couldn’t unsee what I saw,” she says. “I realized that there aren’t a lot of opportunities for people who love fashion but also want to be more conscious in how they’re shopping.”
Last summer, Abby returned to Tanzania looking for artisans—hoping and praying to find one artisan to work with, but was thankful to come home with five solid relationships. In October, just in time for holiday shopping, she launched her company Zuri Collection. In Swahili, “Zuri” means beautiful.
“My tagline is ‘beautiful style telling beautiful stories,’” says Abby. “These pieces on their own are stunning, but the connection my customers can make to the people behind these products is what truly sells these pieces. I want to tell all of the stories and that’s what so beautiful in life—the ups and the downs. When they buy something, they are having an impact on a life, on a community, and that’s such an incredible thing.”
Currently, Zuri Collection offers skirts in African prints, jewelry, handbags, and housewares. “When I started, I really wanted to focus on clothes,” Abby adds. “There is a learning curve here. I realize there are only so many African prints one needs to have in her closet. My goal, though, is to not be representing other brands, but to create my own, working with the artisans in Tanzania and in other parts of the world.”
It’s been an adventure as Abby has uncovered some of her sources in the rural parts of Tanzania. “There is often a language barrier. Sometimes I’m the only westerner they have ever seen. And sometimes teaching them how we size and what is sellable is not easy,” she says.
But Abby is clear that she has a viable business plan and wants Zuri Collection to be a fashion business, not be confused with a curated line of crafts. “My hope is that people will buy our items because the aesthetic and quality is as good as any reputable line the world currently offers—whether it is socially responsible or not,” she says. “That will take time, but that is the goal.”
To learn more or to purchase items, visit zuricollection.com. You can also find them on Facebook or @zuricollection on Instagram.