Own ‘Jane the Virgin’ Star’s Handmade Jewelry, Help Kids in Five Countries
Each week TakePart columnist Sara Mohazzebi highlights the founders and stories behind socially conscious product lines that benefit communities in need. From children’s education to women’s empowerment, clean water, and more, we’re curating products that let you purchase everyday items and handcrafted artisan gifts that have an impact on the livelihood, health, and well-being of so many around the world.
Azie Tesfai is burning the candle at both ends these days, starring as Nadine Hansan on the CW’s hit TV show Jane the Virgin and moonlighting as the founder and designer of Fortuned Culture, a top-selling charity-based accessories line at TOMS Marketplace.
While acting has long been Tesfai’s principal career, in between jobs the Eritrean American actor and activist often volunteers with charities or makes jewelry for friends and family. Now, her passion for both has melded into Fortuned Culture, a personal line of handmade accessories whose proceeds benefit a variety of nonprofit projects.
Below, she takes us inside the story behind her business and her mission.
TakePart: Fortuned Culture is an accessories line that works with charities in Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Mexico that you personally work with from start to finish. Tell us about the model and what inspired your business.
Azie Tesfai: Fortuned Culture works on a direct one-for-one model, so for every piece of jewelry sold, it directly supports the specific needs of a charity we work with. For example, if you buy the Lion Strength Chain Bracelet, it pays for a doctor’s visit and a filled prescription for a child in Ethiopia.
What made this process so unique was that I didn’t start it as a business but rather as a reaction to when the meal plan was being pulled for an educational charity that I love and volunteer with in Ethiopia. The founder came to me and said, “I can’t educate a hungry child,” especially since their nutrition is the foundation of their school program working. Those are the only meals most of them receive all day. I had a hard time being successful at traditional fund-raising, but I started being commissioned by friends for the jewelry pieces I was making as a hobby. It was such a dire situation at the school that I figured I’d charge $30 for each piece of jewelry, since I knew that would buy 65 meals for the students.
This plan worked so well that I created a bracelet line bearing the words “health,” “love,” or “wisdom” in the Ethiopian language Amharic—and Fortuned Culture was born. Fast-forward just a few years later, and we have various jewelry collections and pieces for three different nonprofits, and we’ve helped numerous children across the globe with their direct and urgent needs.
TakePart: What’s the story behind your new Evil Eye Arrow Necklace?
Tesfai: I work closely with the incredible orphanage Corazon de Vida in Baja, Mexico, because there is no foster care in the country. If a newborn is left on the street, he or she is left to die. Founded by an orphan, CDV has never turned away an orphan. What they needed was a safe way to get kids to school every day. They told me, “These kids aren’t getting to school. Some of them are six-year-olds who we just got birth certificates for, and now we have to worry about the drug cartel kidnapping them.” So I designed the Evil Eye Arrow bracelet, earrings, rings, and now the necklace. The evil eye in the Arrow design symbolizes that every day is a protected journey for the user and the child it benefits. For every Arrow necklace you buy or an item from the Arrow collection, it provides six months of safe transportation for the kids from school to the orphanage and back, with adult chaperones.
TakePart: Your pieces are often unisex and made in antique silver, gold, brass, and leather. What’s the inspiration behind the designs?
Tesfai: Everything comes out of need. I go and visit every charity I work with and break down the costs of exactly what the organization needs and how to create a piece that will give back in a meaningful and effective solution-based way. Then I figure out how to incorporate local and cultural designs or stones.
TakePart: Volunteering plays a big role in your life. Where do you volunteer in your hometown of Los Angeles?
Tesfai: I actually volunteer with my fellow cast members on my show Jane the Virgin at A Place Called Home in South L.A. It provides a home for kids ages eight to 21 who don’t have a home, and it’s inclusive of their families. The kids are real fans of the show, and we genuinely bond every time we’ve visited, and we’re doing a bowling fund-raiser soon. There is a actually a 400-kid waiting list since the need is so great.
TakePart: You’re East African and American and you live in Los Angeles. What’s the one thing you wish people knew about global culture?
Tesfai: I grew up in a time when those commercials of African children with big bellies and flies were always on, and with my heritage, it was so hard to see that. I want people to see the beauty, history, and traditions of all cultures. So my mission with Fortuned Culture is create a cultural connection with two people who don’t know each other and most likely live in different parts of the world. Jewelry is a really beautiful and simple way to do that.
Visit Fortuned Culture to explore the collections, and enter for a chance to win either the Evil Eye Arrow Bracelet or the Evil Eye Arrow Necklace.