Interview with Social Entrepreneur Stella Romana Airoldi
Stella, this week’s Woman Crush Wednesday, is the founder of 22STARS, a sustainable jewelry brand that sells exclusive handmade jewelry created from recycled paper by women in Uganda.
She is a huge advocate for “fashion that gives back,” and empowers people through her company’s mission. “Our mission is to design and sell high quality jewelry made with respect for the environment and the people that make them.”
Since she was little, Stella’s lucky number has always been 22 and she loves sleeping under the stars, hence her company’s name. Stars symbolize the interconnectedness of the world because we can all see them from wherever we are. For the artisans in Uganda, stars mean hope, guidance, protection, and balance. And Stella’s hope is that this jewelry, and the stories behind it, will inspire people to reach for the stars, too.
NLIA: What do you do and why do you do it?
SRA: I have a social business in designing and selling jewelry made by post war victims in Uganda. In addition I have a foundation to send children to school. And, this year I added a third thing to it – I will organize social workstations in Uganda.
Following in the footsteps of my parents, I lead a very active life and traveled all over the world. It all started in 2008 when I decided to travel around the world alone for about 8 months. During these travels I was regularly confronted with poverty and injustice. For that reason I decided to do my Master’s degree in Public International Law and became a board member of SIFE Leiden, where I learned that the best way to help people out of poverty is by making sure that they can provide for themselves. I wrote my thesis about girl child soldiers within the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) and visited Uganda in 2009 to volunteer at an Aids Information Center and do research for my thesis. This is how my passion and interest for Uganda started.
For my thesis, I interviewed a couple of women who all fled from the LRA and the war in Northern Uganda to the Acholi Quarters in Kampala. Those ladies were already making jewelry from recycled paper. So after Uganda I was busy writing my thesis and thus still busy with Uganda in my head. I decided to order some more jewelry from them to give to my family and friends for X-mas and thus help them.
At that time the idea of starting a business with them popped up in my mind, but I was still busy with my studies and internships. After living the past several years every 6 months in a different country it was quite weird to decide where I would like to live long term. I was busy looking for jobs in the international law/human rights business, when I decided to go back to Uganda and start up 22STARS.
At the beginning I never thought I would do this full time, it was just more something that happened.
NLIA: What’s the best gift you ever got?
SRA: Haha. Laughing out loud now. While going through all my memories, I really cannot think of a better gift actually than the gift from my ex-boyfriend after we broke up with each other after 4 1/2 years. Although we still really loved each other, we realized love alone was not enough and we just had too many conflicts on other topics. Anyway, his gift to me was a lot of sweet little personal gifts that reminded me about the good times we had, including HIS PASSPORT with the note that he only wants to travel the world with me, so I should keep it. That was actually really cute. So yeah getting someone’s PASSPORT was the best gift ever! Haha. PS: In the end, we did not travel the world together, so I gave him back his passport, but we still follow each other on Facebook and read about each other’s travels.
NLIA: What’s the worst gift you ever got?
SRA: In my opinion, a gift can never ever be the worst, because at least that person still tried. Or perhaps I just really never ever got a bad gift?!
NLIA: What’s your advice for all things love, sex and dating?
SRA: My advice is just do what you feel like in the moment. There are no real rules. Love, sex, dating depend on so many factors and circumstances that no love is ever the same as the other. So let things just grow naturally. Time will tell whether that means growing apart or finding each other.
NLIA: What’s your go to pick-me-up?
SRA: If I am down I usually go to the gym or beach and eat good healthy food, and watch old pictures and movies as memories of how amazing life can be.
NLIA: Tell us about your first heartbreak.
SRA: My first heartbreak was when I was a little teenager, around 15 years old. I had a crush on a guy in my town for almost a year. Then we were together for 3 months, but we broke up because I was not really ready to have my first boyfriend. But I was still very heartbroken, for at least a month or so.
NLIA: Tell us about a time you Bounced Back better than ever.
SRA: When I lived in Venice, Italy for 6 months I had quite a hard time. But after Venice, I moved to Sevilla in Spain! That was such a big change! I loved it! In that city it is just impossible to feel sad or alone. Every day I would wake up with a blue sky and sunshine, run around the beautiful, cute colorful streets with orange trees. All the people were so friendly. I really loved the food, the music, the drinks. Just everything! So whenever you need to bounce back from something I can definitely recommend going to Sevilla! Sunshine just makes me happy!