Last year, when jewelry designer Becky Hosmer was in Marrakech for a campaign shoot, everything that could have gone wrong, did. "I was beyond stressed," says Hosmer, who founded Anna Beck over 15 years ago in Bali. "I couldn't get permits, the police were on me...." Then kismet struck. On a recommendation of a friend, she emailed Maryam Montague, an American expat who owned Peacock Pavilions, a gorgeous estate with its own boutique hotel in nearby Douar Ladaam. Shoot solved.
But the story doesn't end there. The two clicked and found they shared a love of philanthropy. Hosmer pays it back—in spades—with numerous collections that give back to charity, like her elephant pendants for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Orphan Project and her Circle of Life designs in support of the Bumi Sehat Foundation, which provides health and emergency care for children and expectant mothers in Bali. As for Montague? In addition to the hotel and her own line of handcrafted home goods—and her book, Marrakesh by Design—she's the founder of Project Soar, a nonprofit that empowers and educates underprivileged girls in Morocco. Not only do proceeds from her hotel and M.Montague Souk collection go straight to this initiative, but the former humanitarian aid worker has built a school next door, too. Plus, she's spreading her message even further with Soar TV, an inspiring online news channel in the Middle East and North Africa dedicated to highlighting female empowerment and achievement. (Be a part of the launch here.)
So Hosmer and Montague did what any two women with a love of design and giving back would: They collaborated on a capsule of beautiful silver and gold necklaces, with 30% of proceeds directly benefitting the Project Soar cause. Here, we listen in on a conversation between the two as they tell their story and share advice on how to how to make a difference, one step at a time.
Becky Hosmer: I don't know if you know this, but after hearing you talk about your values for Project Soar, I went back and created values for Anna Beck. My whole company changed because of you. The way your foundation is set up really taught me to think about my intentions: "Who are we and where are we going as a company?"
Maryam Montague: Oh, my goodness. I love that so much. Here's the thing—as a company, we are very value driven. Our mission is "Be good, make good, do good." Everything we do supports that premise and our cause, girls' empowerment. Our mission is to invest in the leaders of today and tomorrow. We don't say "to help you one day when you're an adult." No—you can step into your leadership now. It's not about a bunch of adults figuring out what's right for these girls; they're walking at our side.
BH: What's the chant the girls do at the school?
MM: "I am strong. I am smart. I am capable. I am a leader. I am a feminist." We must believe these about ourselves. The reason for "I am a feminist" is because we don't live in a world that treats us equally. Laws may give us equality, but culture does not. We'll never get our rights unless we demand them.
Top, from left: Anna Beck's Becky Hosner; Maryam Montague. Here: The two at the latter's estate in Morocco.
BH: What you are doing there is unbelievable. When I was there, I really got choked up. I really do think the universe brought me to you.
MM: You know, we're very careful about our collaborations. When I looked at your site and saw how significant your give-back was... And the fact that you really spent time, with your whole team, at the school getting to know the girls—that impressed me. And then we hit it off on a personal level. I thought, OK, let's do this; let's make this collaboration happen.
BH: The design of the necklaces—it was so effortless working with you. You already had this idea of the arrow. I couldn't believe it. You were a natural designer!
MM: I just took a Sharpie and sketched up a few designs where it wasn't about the jewelry; it was about the value. What were we trying to achieve with this collaboration? It's about putting the girls first, the whole notion of soaring and moving forward. When you see the arrow, it's done in a way that looks like wings. And the vertical bar pendants—we want girls to be able to stand tall on their own two feet and be advocates for themselves. We don't want to do for girls; we want to empower girls to do for themselves. I want every teenage girl and young woman to have agency over her life.
Montague with the students at Project Soar
BH: That's such a powerful thing to give them—agency.
MM: Agency is connected to empowerment. When you empower someone, you help someone see their value. If you give them the skills and potential to live up to that value, then all of a sudden, they have agency, right? They are doing for themselves. That's the best investment—helping these Project Soar girls see that power. Just think of all the doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists and journalists we won't have because of all the girls who have their agency taken away from them when they're 14 or 15 and are forced to get married.
BH: Why did you decide to do this?
MM: I couldn't live in Morocco and not do anything.
BH: That's exactly the experience I had living in Bali. It was this moment of clarity. I was providing jobs with Anna Beck, but I felt like there had to be more. I love to design and create, but philanthropy is really where I am supposed to be. It feels good to give. What are we doing if we're not helping and loving each other? I asked a friend once, "How do you stay happy?" And she said, "I always try to have an attitude of service." I never forgot that.
Anna Beck's Becky Hosner
MM: Ultimately, we're all on this planet for a short time. We have to get very clear about our legacy, what we are and what is it that we're here to do. All of us can have an impact. It doesn't mean you have to start your own nonprofit.
BH: Right. A lot of times people think philanthropy is a big, abstract word. They don't know where to start.
MM: Understanding your "why" and picking your cause is important. I really do believe that people are inherently good and inherently generous but just don't know how to go from A to B. Go to a place like New York Cares, test out various causes and see if they align with who you are. For example, I volunteered doing books on tape for the blind, but found out that wasn't what I wanted to do because it was very solitary—I wanted to have a connection with people.
BH: I really do believe that giving is a self-searching thing. It's about finding out what makes you tick...
MM: Then figure out ways to give consistently. A lot of times we say we're too busy, but we all have the same 24 hours in the day. We shouldn't be too busy to live a life with purpose. Also, look at your skills. Sometimes people think that to do something philanthropic, you have to have a lot of money. Ask yourself: Can I use my skills in a different way for a cause? If you're a writer, offer those services. I also encourage people to look at small organizations, without the big endowments. That's where you can take up some space and really make a difference.
BH: Giving back can be something simple or something grand. And everybody is different. People have to find out what works for them.
MM: If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. So we better all decide to be part of the solution, right? And we can be, each and every one of us.