Fashion

The business of hope: how Ariela Suster is empowering a community

After her little brother was kidnapped and held for ransom, Ariela Suster began planning ways she could help break the sequence of violence in her war-torn home of El Salvador.

How change starts

Growing up amidst the violence of El Salvador’s civil war, Ariela Suster witnessed how a single moment can forever change the sequence of events in a person’s life. But along the way, she also witnessed people’s capacity for positive change—even after they may have made decisions that led down a dangerous path.

In her twenties, Ariela moved to the United States to attend Skidmore College, eventually making her way to New York City where she began a career as a fashion editor for publications such as InStyle, Lucky, and Harper’s Bazaar. But her heart was always halfway in El Salvador, and she promised herself she’d find a way to help the country she left behind.

During the civil war, my family and I experienced violence firsthand. [...] It rocked me to my core and lit in me a desire to create change.

Ariela Suster

After a decade working in New York’s fashion editorial world, Ariela decided it was time to take action. She wanted to create opportunities for young people who, while seeking a sense of protection and belonging, become trapped by gangs on a path of violence. In 2011, she founded Sequence, a jewelry and accessory line featuring brightly colored, knotted designs made by local youth in El Salvador.

“I want to create something really grassroots, really community-based, where young people will be the agents of change in their community.”

Ariela Suster and friend looking over her Microsoft Surface.

Bridging the communication and technological gap

Sequence’s artisans are learning how to use Excel, Word, and PowerPoint for presenting style sheets and design concepts. The team meets over Skype when Ariela is visiting the United States (she lives part-time in New York City), or when violent activity in the area necessitates employees not traveling outside their homes. The tech training, as Ariela sees it, is much bigger than Sequence. It’s about learning valuable life skills and building a sense of self-esteem. Her hope is that working at Sequence will become a stepping stone to a better future by teaching reading and writing and offering fully funded high school and university-level education opportunities—tools that give her students and employees the chance to create positive change in their communities and their own lives.

El Salvadorian friends with Sequence Collection beaded bracelets
Handmade bracelets by Sequence Collection

Change together

When it comes to change, you have to start somewhere. In Ariela’s own words: “It’s not about altering your lifestyle or abandoning a career. It’s about stepping into your awareness of how your current business can address worldwide issues that we all face, and therefore make an impact that surpasses your doubts of what you are capable of achieving.Yes, these problems are huge, but when you know your potential and tap into your purpose, you can begin to take ownership of the impact you want to have and discover exactly how to do it.”