Salvage Sri Lanka is a jewellery company with a difference, creating not only unique and sustainable products but also providing skills, jobs and support for people in need. Based out of Colombo and developed with the help of many passionate individuals, it’s an organisation built on two key objectives; to recycle and rehabilitate.
Salvage was founded seven years ago by designer and waste-warrior, Subha Grassi, in an innovative attempt to raise funds for Community Concern Society. CCS is a non-profit NGO set up by Subha’s parents in the 80’s. The organisation is responsible for developing and supporting a huge number of inspiring projects around Sri Lanka. However, in 2010, funds were running low for a Drop in Centre for HIV Positive people, and Heavena, a shelter for battered women. It was decided that instead of scaling back on these projects they would raise the money themselves. And so Salvage was born.
Best known for their jewellery, Salvage sells a large range of earrings, bracelets, bangles and beaded necklaces. Each product is unique in style and made with materials that would otherwise be sent to landfill. Their charming signature bottle-top earrings come in all colours and styles, and their leather Poppy Pom Earrings (a personal favourite) look just like something you would find in a high-end boutique. Salvage also make and sell bags, pencil cases, purses and handbags.
The materials used to create the products are collected from a whole network of donors that they have built up over the years, both small scale (local bottle cap collection, newspapers and bike inner tubes) and large (collecting leather or denim off cuts from high-end brands in factories around Sri Lanka). They have also recently been donated huge quantities of unused, premium kite surfing material, as well as large thick-plastic billboard posters, both of which would otherwise be burned or end up in landfill.
The dedicated team at Ruby Studios in Colombo is responsible for the design, marketing and distribution of the products, and their business objective is to be entirely sustainable in their practices. In addition to the up-cycled products themselves, Salvage has also put original thought into the packaging – they use recycled card from bulk boxes of tea sold at auction in Colombo. Their logo is applied using a simple stamp, and on the back of each product you will find a hand written note describing where it was made and by whom. Company administration is paperless with no commercial printing involved at all, communication and reports are done by email and their marketing is entirely online.
While the products themselves are indeed beautiful, the story behind how they are made is even more remarkable. Using connections established by CCS, Salvage has provided individuals and communities with an opportunity to learn new skills, earn a fair wage and be creative in their own time.
Initially it began with bottle top collections; kids would get involved by collecting bottle tops at school or in their village, they could then sell these to Salvage and make enough money for dinner. Mothers who drop their kids at day care could then come, scratch off bottle caps and use the money to buy books, pencils or school uniforms for their children.
More recently, in the small town of Panadura, an underprivileged beach town just south of Colombo, seventeen women have begun making beads for the very popular necklaces sold by Salvage. The women make the beads using recycled newspaper and magazines and are able to do so at home with their families, working in their own time and earning a good wage.
The initiative of employing marginalised workers started with just a few women, but like many good initiatives it spread quickly by word of mouth. Now as more and more employees are upskilled and trained in business, they find doors open to other trades and they inspire the younger generation (women in particular) to earn a living of their own.
Another group involved in the making of Salvage products are based in the Northern Province: recovering child-soldiers of the LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). These girls were recruited – often abducted – at a young age to become child soldiers, but when the war ended in 2009 they became displaced.
These girls could assemble an AK47 at age 13 but they did not know how to read, write or cook for themselves.
Significantly marginalised and psychologically damaged, they were given a home that was monitored by the government; this is where they were taught to sew. Despite successes in training the women, they were still not ready for a workplace environment. This is where Salvage came in, providing a bridge between education and the workplace that gave the women a chance to practice their skills while earning a fair wage and preparing themselves for an independent future.
For the first five years of operation, the profits from Salvage products single handily kept the Drop in Centre for HIV positive people open. Funding was provided on a month-to-month basis, so the uncertainty was challenging at times but successful nonetheless. The drop in centre supports a network of around 250 individuals who are HIV positive. More recently Salvage has begun working with children who are born into HIV positive families. These children often don’t find out that they themselves are HIV positive until much later in life. In 2017, with the money they made from their jewellery, Salvage was able to pay for these kids’ school programs and books.
Salvage supports and works closely with Heavena, a refuge and transitional shelter for women and children who have suffered domestic violence and abuse. In addition, Salvage also set up a gym that empowers men in impoverished communities. This gym gives the men a place to go where they can be part of something, a place to get off or stay off drugs and a place that ensures that they do not beat their wives or children. Even though this scheme is small, it is reported to have had a phenomenal effect on the surrounding community, supporting not only the men but protecting the women and children from harm.
Salvage has developed a loyal and organic following over the years, and aims to keep supporting people and charities close to their heart. Reliant on donations of both skill and time from a huge number of individuals, it is an inspiring story of people helping people.
Salvage accessories can be found in stores and pop-up markets in and around Colombo, and you can find a link to their Facebook and Instagram page below.