Motherhood is a life-changing milestone for any woman, but for Fort Worth resident Carly Burson it sent her down an unexpected route of women empowerment with her ethical fashion brand, Tribe Alive.
Five years ago, while doing store design and merchandising for a large fashion retailer in New York City, Burson and her husband began the process of adopting their first daughter, Elie, from Ethiopia.
The adoption process required that they stay in Ethiopia for an extended period of time to finalize the adoption. While there, they spent time in Elie’s orphanage to get to know the staff and other kids who were her first family.
They witnessed birth parents returning to the orphanage during visiting hours to see their children. Burson was struck by this.
“My whole life I had wanted to adopt, and that was what I wanted to be my legacy and mark on the world—wanting to impact the orphan crisis, but then here I was in Ethiopia, adopting my child, and I saw all of these parents that wanted their children, but weren’t able to care for them because they weren’t able to feed them, or house them, or give them the basic needs that they needed. It felt like such an injustice to me,” she said. “Poverty shouldn’t be the reason that a mother can’t care for her child.”
“Poverty shouldn’t be the reason that a mother can’t care for her child.”
Burson wanted to be a part of giving women the opportunity to keep their families together and raise their own children, rather than her legacy being rooted in raising other women’s children. She wanted to use her experience and skills in fashion to help women and honor her daughter’s birth mother, so she created Tribe Alive, a fashion brand that operates as a responsible commerce platform for handmade products crafted by female artisans around the world.
“Our designs exist to give women life,” she said. “It’s not just you purchasing a beautiful dress. It’s you purchasing a beautiful dress that was made by a woman—that has so much value and so much dignity, and that dress gave her the opportunity to take care of her family.”
“For us, we always wanted to do things the right way and in an educated way, and these countries have complicated issues and problems, so we walk alongside nonprofits that have been in these countries for decades facilitating service work and community development,” Burson said.
Tribe Alive, which launched as an e-commerce website in 2014, started small by working with a group of jewelry designers in Honduras, and has grown since. Now, it employs more than 200 artisans in six countries and has a staff of five full-time employees in Fort Worth, where Tribe Alive opened its first brick-and-mortar store in May.
The space is a divided storefront with a micro-retail section in the front and a design studio in the back. Customers can have a transparent view of Tribe Alive’s process from concept designing to selling on the floor.
“Our model is not rooted in charity, but it’s rooted in employment and opportunity because we feel that’s a sustainable way to help, and that’s how you break cycles.”
While Tribe Alive is working with female artisans in Guatemala, Haiti, India, and Honduras, it’s also making an impact in Fort Worth through a partnership with The NET, a nonprofit that works with women transitioning out of sex trafficking, prison, and addiction. The Worthy Co, is a new leg of the nonprofit that helps women in these situations find employment.
In Dallas, Tribe Alive also is working with Vickery Trading Co., a children’s clothing company that provides jobs for refugees in the area.
“Our model is not rooted in charity, but it’s rooted in employment and opportunity because we feel that’s a sustainable way to help, and that’s how you break cycles,” Burson said. “The people that we work with, they don’t want to be given anything. They want opportunity, they want employment, they want dignity, and the chance to lift themselves out of poverty.”
Tribe Alive’s fall collection will launch in stores this month and online Sept. 1.
Burson said that for now, the brand is focusing on strengthening its relationships with artisans and being more involved in community development. Establishing an education sponsorship program for artisans’ children is its next goal.
“Education is key in breaking the cycle of poverty, but education is expensive, so we really want to take that burden off of our artisans,” Burson said.
Rachel Linch contributed to this report.