As babies, Molly Bocock and Everett Chapman played together on the floor, babbling and cooing as their mothers lovingly watched. Today the girls, now high school sophomores, design jewelry together for their own line, Osita—and their mothers are still looking on.
Bocock’s mother, Nora Brookfield, and Chapman’s mom, Shannon Worrell, are longtime friends and founders of Charlottesville-based jewelry company Mi Ossa, which partners with women-owned studios in the U.S., Haiti, El Salvador and Ethiopia to create fair trade, one-of-a-kind pieces. Mi Ossa, which loosely translates to “my bones” in Italian or “bear” in Spanish, is the parent company of Osita (“little bear”).
“I consider Mi Ossa and Osita’s styles to be very different,” says Bocock. She says Osita is more preppy and colorful in style, while Mi Ossa sticks to earth tones. Osita is also geared toward a younger clientele at a lower price point.
But that doesn’t mean only high school and college students are wearing Osita designs.
“My friends wear them out and about all the time,” laughs Brookfield. “It’s fun to see people buy their products.”
Bocock and Chapman began making jewelry as sixth-graders, using leather scraps and leftover beads from their mothers’ buying trips to exotic locales.
“We started experimenting with it for fun,” says Chapman (whose father is C-VILLE co-owner Bill Chapman). They made bracelets and necklaces for friends, posted photos of the pieces on Instagram, and gained a following. They began selling their jewelry at local craft fairs, and soon, the demand was more than they could keep up with.
Today, Bocock, who attends Charlottesville High School, and Chapman, who attends St. Anne’s-Belfield School, are placing orders in the hundreds and selling out of their products online and in local stores such as Petit Bebe and Finch.
The girls design many of the items in collaboration with the same artisans who create pieces for Mi Ossa. And just like their mothers, they try to source only from women-owned studios, many of them in El Salvador and Haiti.
“The opportunities for women there are limited,” says Bocock. “Culturally, women are subordinate.”
The girls got to see this first-hand on a recent trip to Haiti with their mothers (over Chapman’s spring break) to meet with the businesswomen and artisans and create new designs.
“The artisans need work,” Bocock explains. “We realized that the more orders we can fill, the more work we can provide, the better it is for them… they can keep making money for their family, maybe send their kids to school, maybe get better water.”
Chapman agrees, “It definitely changed my mindset and inspired me to do more.”
The trip also inspired the girls artistically.
“When some people think of Haiti they don’t think of it as a very beautiful place,” says Bocock. “And a lot of times it’s not; it’s impoverished, there is rubble everywhere.”
Chapman continues, “But everything in Haiti is so colorful —the stores, the tap taps (buses) … there’s artwork everywhere. We want to showcase the art, to show off Haiti.”
Their latest products, which they designed in and sourced from Haiti on this trip, are a result of that desire. They created two necklaces using organic Majok seeds, brass, steel and horn, which were made by Haitian artists and metalworkers as they watched. They also selected colorful bracelets and beaded wallets by “hip Haitian designers,” as Brookfield describes, to incorporate into their line.
“They have a great fashion sense,” says Brookfield. “They have a good eye for what is going to sell, which is hard to have.”
They also know how they want to help, and donated a portion of the proceeds from their May Days sale (held May 4-9 at the Mi Ossa lab downtown) to the Restavek Freedom Foundation, which works to help end child slavery in Haiti.
“It’s become more than just two girls from middle school or high school designing stuff for their parents for fun,” Bocock says. Chapman agrees. “We didn’t think about the social entrepreneurship thing back then,” she says. “It was more like, ‘Oh, these are some cool beads from Haiti,’ but now we really understand what we are doing.”
“In Haiti, they were so professional,” says Brookfield. She recounts an important meeting with the head of that country’s Artist Business Network, Nathalie Tancrede. “She’s our cornerstone person, and has ties with all the artisans we work with. She said, ‘We would really like you to come again in June,’ and she meant Molly and Ev, not Shannon and me.”