Disrupting Violence and Empowering a Community One Accessory at a Time

 |   Ariela Suster

Ariela Suster

I grew up in the midst of El Salvador’s Civil War. During this time, my family and I experienced violence firsthand: my brother was kidnapped and held captive for a year. This rocked me to my core and lit in me a desire to make a change.

My family has always valued the importance of education, so I moved to the U.S. to attend Skidmore College. I promised myself that I would, somehow, find a way to help the country I left behind.

The big move was hard. My English wasn’t great, and I struggled. During my first year, I remember not speaking a word because I was still trying to figure out my voice and place. However, I wanted to go the extra mile and focused on working hard, seeking out mentors and applying to internship programs.

After graduation, I made my way to New York City, where I began a career as a fashion editor for publications like InStyle, Lucky, and Harper’s Bazaar. After a decade working in this world, I decided it was time for me to take action. I knew I wanted my work to be geared towards a bigger purpose. In my heart, I never left El Salvador, and I wanted to translate my experience in the fashion industry to something that would help make a difference back home.

My new goal was to disrupt the sequence of events that keep El Salvador, and its people, in violence. That’s why, in 2011, I founded Sequence, a jewelry and accessory line made by local youths in El Salvador. Many of these young men live in gang-ridden communities, and Sequence offers them an alternative to violence: they can make money, be creative and work for a cause.

With my workshop based in El Salvador, I’m always on the go – I’m in constant communication with my team through technology. To bridge the communication and technological gap with my team, we trained the artisans to learn how to use Skype as well as Excel, Word and PowerPoint for presenting design concepts. We also trained the young men in basic computing, graphic design and coding to change the way we design. I first started out with three employees and now have 42!

As we grow, I want to reach more people from the community. We’re now launching the Sequence Academy, a program that focuses on free art and technology trainings for kids. I want to inspire others to succeed and make a difference. That’s why next endeavor, with my friend Heather Summerville, is “I’m a Disruptor”, where we will feature people disrupting different issues around the world, giving our audience simple, impactful and immediate ways to get involved.

My message to young Latinos is to plug yourself in to something that you are really passionate about. If you don’t have a mission that inspires you, it’s going to be really hard to achieve your dreams. I’ve spent many years of trying to figure out how to fulfill my mission while also having fun. We are a powerful community, and with persistence and resilience, we can achieve anything – even disrupting violence.

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