The holiday season is for giving, a virtue that movie producer-turned-philanthropist Francine LeFrak embodies. LeFrak, founder of fair trade jewelry company Same Sky, offers employment to HIV-positive Rwandan women and American women recently released from jail in New Jersey, who make pieces that have been worn by Bono, Alicia Keys, and Queen Latifah.
LeFrak’s journey to jewelry began with a film she was producing about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that brought the quarter of a million women who were raped during the genocide, 70% of which had contracted HIV, to LeFrak’s attention.
“I’ve always believed that the best philanthropy is a good job, not a handout,” LeFrak tells Billboard. The jewelry company thus provides an essential economic infrastructure for disadvantaged women — Rwandan women can earn an entire year of health care with just one bracelet as Same Sky artisans and, at the same time, the American artisans experience a 0 percent rate of recidivism [relapse into crime/correctional institutions].”
Since its beginnings in 2007, Same Sky has garnered attention from a wide range of celebrities, including prominent musicians Fergie and Usher. “Usher really cares about youth and prisons, and he’s very impressed with the Same Sky model,” LeFrak explains. “Alicia Keys runs Keep A Child Alive, and its focus is all about AIDS, so she just completely related to Same Sky’s work in Rwanda.”
And aside from philanthropic value, it’s clear to see why Same Sky is favored by the music industry’s finest: The bracelets, necklaces, rings, and cuff links shine with careful craftsmanship and intricacy. Prices range from $19 to $500 for beautiful metallic glass-beaded pieces, semi-precious gems, and fabric wrap items. The website features a gift guide that accommodates different styles and budgets, with the Benefit Collection and Destiny Collection as LeFrak’s personal favorite gift options.
With 2017 (the brand’s ten-year anniversary) approaching, LeFrak and her team see Same Sky expanding its reach. They’re particularly interested in the company’s possibility as a future pre-trial opportunity and diversion program that acts as an alternative to correctional institutions and poverty for at-risk women.