Have you heard of Tribe Alive yet? If you haven’t, settle into this interview with their founder, Carly Burson. Tribe Alive is an ethical fashion brand that creates beautiful clothing, accessories, and jewelry while empowering artisans in the developing world. I was so excited to talk with my friend, Carly, about her social enterprise, and I was even more excited to hear about how much she and her company value dignity, respect, and self-sufficiency of the artisans they partner with! As a founder of a social enterprise myself, I was so happy to hear how intentional Carly is about growing her company.
1. How did Tribe Alive begin? Tell us a little bit more about your story.
When I began my adoption journey, I knew that becoming a mother would profoundly impact my life, but never imagined that it would alter the course of my life’s work. Although adoption presents an opportunity to support an individual child, I was struck by the desire to address the core issue of child relinquishment on a global scale: namely, the economic insecurity facing women in the developing world. Tribe Alive was born from a decision to utilize my years of experience in the fashion industry as a platform to alleviate poverty among people in the developing world through fair employment and marketplace access. I decided that I did not want my legacy to be rooted in raising other women’s children, but instead in giving them opportunity and a chance to raise their own.
2. What’s the meaning behind the name “Tribe Alive”?
The name came from my ambition to build more than just a fashion company, but rather from my desire to build a movement.
Only a community can build a movement.
We believe that when people, fashion, ethical consumerism, and marketplace access are combined, they have the power to breathe life into the communities that our artisans live in. Hence a Tribe Alive.
3. There are so many up-and-coming socially conscious brands on the market. Something unique about Tribe Alive is the intentional design of your pieces. Can you tell us more about your design process and why aesthetics are so important to your brand?
At Tribe Alive we believe that the product we design and produce is equally important to our mission. We strive for sustainability and want to be able to employ our artisans long term. We recognize that meeting the market demand for beautiful, unique, and on-trend designs is the only way that we’ll still be around, walking alongside our partners for years to come. Our artisans are capable of creating beautiful, high fashion goods. When we provide them with unique and challenging opportunities, they’re able to recognize their true worth and abilities.
Our design process mirrors most of the fashion industry. We focus on trend analysis, obsess over color, and put most collections through multiple rounds of sampling before we’re confident in the final result. When we do land on a final assortment it’s always something that we (our US team, and our artisan team) are extremely proud of.
4. What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome while starting your own business?
We work in really hard parts of the world and employ people who live difficult lives. There is nothing easy about what we do, and we face challenges every single day due to the sheer nature of our business model.
I’m a perfectionist with incredibly high expectations - it took me years to learn how to gracefully approach constant conflict management and embrace all the challenges.
At the end of the day, the ‘hard’ is the reason we’re here and why we’re on a mission to do what we do. But yes - the challenges are constant, and I’m finally in a place where it has just become a messy but beautiful part of it all.
5. As a mom and an entrepreneur, how do you find time to balance everything?
I run or practice yoga almost everyday. It’s my way of pretending that I’m a calm and balanced person. As a mother, grandmother, and female CEO I am always asked, “How do you balance it all?” The truth is that I don’t. There is nothing balanced, calm, or slow about my life. I have chased after this elusive idea for far too long, and have finally accepted my life for what it is; which is completely crazy, void of sleep, full of stress, but jam-packed with love and intention.
I believe that women can have it all, but I do not believe that we can do it all well, all the time. Some days I’m a distracted and terrible business owner. Other days my youngest daughter cries because she wants me to stop working and my oldest daughter shows annoyance over how imperfect of a mother I can be. All I can tell them is that I’m doing my best. That I love them. That I love my work. That they matter. That my work matters. That I know my family needs me. That my work needs me. And that I need them both. In the end, if I’m lucky, my kids will grow up to recognize that balance isn’t something that we all have to strive for. Some of us can say yes to balance and some of us yes to doing it all (imperfectly).
6. I love that you value collaboration, as seen through your partnerships with the female artisans you work with around the world! What are your other values as a company?
We really value dignity and believe in spotlighting our artisans in a dignified way. We’re very sensitive about how we market our partnerships and makers, and want to always respect their privacy and protect them from exploitation. We do not believe in sharing stories of poverty and hardship in order to sell our products, but instead choose to share the talent and beauty found in our makers and the places our products come from.
We all desire for our own stories to be shared in a positive light, with a focus on strength and ability, and we believe that our artisans are deserving of that same respect.
7. Can you tell us about your artisans and how they benefit from working with Tribe Alive?
We work with incredible artisan partners all over the world. They are artists, mothers, fathers, friends, survivors, jokers, and dreamers. They’re everything really, and have taught us so much about strength, perseverance, and why we have responsibility to each other. Some are highly skilled and some desire to learn. We employ a diverse team of makers and each bring so much life and personality to our brand. Each one is equally important and contributes in their own meaningful way.
We offer our partners fair and safe employment through the production of our products. We also invest in free skill training and education funding for our artisan’s children.We believe in employing this generation and educating the next in order to truly break the cycle of poverty.
8. Many Yellow readers are looking to find new ways to give back and live a more conscious life. What would you suggest to them?
Everyone has a unique skill set that the world very much needs. I would encourage women to focus on what they personally do well and find a way to turn it into an avenue to give back or to enrich the life of someone else. It could be photography, teaching, mentoring, art, dance, sports, fashion… In my opinion there is not a skill set out there that cannot be used as a catalyst for change and service.
9. If you could give one piece of advice to purpose-driven women entrepreneurs who are just starting out, what would it be?
Just get started and never stop. Ignore the voice that makes you question your abilities. Keep in mind that everyone had to start somewhere, and in the beginning no one knows what they’re doing. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to ask for help. I’m more than 3 years into this business and I still don’t always know what I’m doing, so be humbled and hopefully encouraged in that.
10. What is your hope for Tribe Alive? Are there any exciting plans in the near future?
My hope is that we continue to move the fashion industry toward a more sustainable approach, and that we stay focused on a model where success is measured on more than just profit margins. I hope we never lose sight of who we are, why we started, and hold on to a belief in a better world.
Photos courtesy of Tribe Alive