Peace Bombs: Jewelry Made From War Shrapnel

by Celia Shatzman

It’s the Bomb

Made from plane, bomb and scrap metal, Article 22 is an ethical jewelry line crafted by Laotian artisans to spread the message of peace

It all started with a hunch. Elizabeth Suda was working at her first job as a merchandising assistant. “I worked closely with product at all points along the supply chain,” Suda says. “That got me thinking about the products we buy and the impact they have, and how powerful the fashion market is. I had a feeling there was a possibility to shed light on the issues of the world.”

Suda knew the fashion industry could be more sustainable, so she started researching methods of textile-making. That led her to Laos, where there is a living culture around the textiles crafted by artisans. Suda ended up living with a local woman who owned a textile company, and her family, for six months.

One day she saw artisans working behind their homes. They had built an earthen structure to melt down a pile of scrap metal and they were pouring it into spoons. “It was shrapnel from U.S. bombs [from the Vietnam War],” Suda says. “One said ‘rocket mortar’ on it. You see bombs everywhere, in cafes and tourist centers. In Laos the homes are stilted and deactivated bombs were essentially holding them up. It was really a wakeup call.”

Laos is considered the most heavily bombed country per capita. The bombing occurred every eight minutes for nine years, amounting to approximately 270 million bombs. About 30 percent didn’t detonate, meaning they are still a deadly threat to locals. Suda was determined to share their story. That’s when she got the idea to make a bracelet that would allow us to buy back the bombs while opening the global market to this community.

“I thought this would resonate with people on both sides of the political spectrum because it’s such an emotional part of our history,” Suda says. At that time there was no other commercial jewelry made from weapons. It took the locals about a year to figure out how to make a bracelet. Suda built a website, and named the line Article 22, after the universal declaration of human rights. Suda took on a partner, Camille Hautefort, to help with the business side.

Article 22 caught on like wildfire. “I received emails from Vietnam War veterans saying, ‘Thank you so much for doing this,’” Suda says. “I also got validation from Laotian Americans whose parents had been targets of the war and part of aerial bombardment. That got us to where the company is today, and speaks to what the jewelry means to people.”

Now a full line, Article 22 is based in Brooklyn, NY, and Suda’s vision has been realized. Sixty percent of sales are domestic and 40 percent international. Overseeing the brand is her full-time job, and she hopes it will continue expanding, as growth means reaching new communities. “We help clear an ordnance for each piece we sell; 10 percent goes to removing bombs from the land,” Suda says. “We’ve been able to bring income to Laotians that is greater than the average Laos government salary. The collection tells a story and allows people to talk about something that’s uncomfortable in a creative manner. It’s a matter of transforming something bad into something good.”

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