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Discussing Sustainable Style and Global Female Empowerment with Tribe Alive’s Carly Burson

Meet the founder of Tribe Alive, the store selling (and telling) global stories

Carly Burson is the perfect spokesmodel for her self-started company, Tribe Alive. Dressed in all white and sporting a fresh face, she appears as light, airy and effortless as the goods stocked in her chic Fort Worth boutique. In fact, one could easily be forgiven for mistaking Tribe Alive for just another on-trend retailer along Magnolia Avenue. But this is not your typical clothing store and Burson is not your typical boutique owner. Behind her laid-back approach to style is a fierce passion for empowering women, an unstoppable work ethic and a commitment to changing lives for the better.

Burson left a career designing for large fashion retailers after adding two daughters and a granddaughter to the family. Now she’s rechanneled her fashion background into a sustainable, socially conscious commerce experience. Tribe Alive partners with at-risk women in Fort Worth and around the world, providing a living wage in exchange for quality handmade products. 

“Our main mission at Tribe Alive is to employ women, but we also really want to be a part of women knowing their worth,” Burson says.

You created Tribe Alive after you adopted your daughter, Elie, from Ethiopia. Can you tell us more about that experience?
We spent a lot of time with Elie at her orphanage throughout the three-year adoption process, and saw that she was so loved. So many birth parents came to visit their children—they loved them greatly but had no means to care for them, and giving them up meant that their children would get meals everyday and a roof over their head and access to education. I saw that the true cause of adoption is economic insecurity in the developing world. I wanted to continue growing my family through adoption, because it is very much a need, but I also wanted to take part in solving the root cause.

You ultimately decided to stay in the fashion industry and use your experience to make a difference in women’s lives. How did that decision come about?
After Elie came into my life, I had an obligation to set an example. The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world. There are parts of the world where women choose prostitution over the horrible conditions in garment factories. I realized that I was part of an industry that creates harm and perpetuates poverty all over the world, and here I was a mother of a child with a loving birth mother who had to give her up.

Tribe Alive started with the notion that women matter and they deserve opportunity, jobs, dignity, and they most certainly deserve to raise their own children. With the company, I’ve utilized my skills and experience in fashion in a way that would be helpful, not harmful.

All of the products sold at Tribe Alive are made by female artisans who live under dangerous conditions. How do you hope to empower these women?
Many of the women won’t look you in the eyes at first. They don’t have confidence and make the types of choices women make when they don’t have self-worth. But within months, they change into different people just from having a job. Women change through opportunity, through knowing they are worthy of a job, through being told that they are capable.

Your eldest daughter, Pricila, and her daughter, Flory, also play a big role in your outlook on life. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Pricila joined our family two years ago through refugee services. She arrived at the border as an unaccompanied minor: 15 years old, 8 months pregnant, alone and fleeing really difficult things in her home country. I never thought we’d be raising a teenager or be grandparents at the age of 35, but they are such a big part of our story. Pricila has come so far in a few short years. She had no education, and she’s now working and about to graduate high school. She is what motherhood looks like to me.

You are openly passionate and outspoken about human rights, motherhood and empowering women. Have you always had such a powerful voice?
Yes. I’ve always had a big mouth but I think I’ve just matured and learned how to use my voice. I was not easy to raise. I always spoke my mind and stood up for what I believe in. My mother never quieted my voice. She always let me be strong and let me have my opinions and express them. It took me a while to understand when it’s appropriate and how to speak to causes I’m passionate about.

What is your favorite thing about being a mom?
There are powerful moments in motherhood where you realize, “Maybe I am doing something right.” My teenager was raised in a community where women have no voice. But she sees me stand up for myself and she sees that my husband and I have a partnership. She once told me, “I didn’t know I could say no to men until I met you.”

If you could leave your daughters and granddaughter with one piece of advice, what would it be?
My mom always taught me to seek usefulness. The world I’m raising them in is self-seeking and can be narcissistic. I want to teach them to care about others and to know that other peoples’ issues are their issues. We all belong to each other and need to take care of each other.

For Carly Burson’s fashion favorites and can’t-miss places to shop and snack around North Texas, click here.