Lauren Bush is an Elite Model, a Princeton graduate, a photographer, and a kick-boxer. She has appeared on Friends, been named one of the World's Sexiest Vegetarians (pretty uncommon for a born-and-bred Texan) and made it on Vogue’s best dressed list (twice). She is the niece of President George W. Bush and granddaughter of George H. W. Bush, and the soon-to-be wife of David Lauren (son of Ralph Lauren). And yet, the most impressive fact about this dynamic 26-year-old is her work traveling the world to find ways to help address huge and important hunger and nutrition crises, through what she knows best — fashion.
In 2007, Lauren Bush launched FEED Projects in conjunction with the UN World Food Program. Her signature FEED bag, a stylish carryall whose proceeds pay to feed one child, for one school year, is now known worldwide as a symbol of hope, love and philanthropy. In honor of Earth Day, I sat down with the CEO, Creative Director and co-Founder of FEED to discuss the epidemic of world hunger, her love of local markets and how to find a bit of the Lauren Bush magic in your own life... and check out Lauren's favorite green hotels on Jetsetter.
JetsetFarryn: Your work has been so inspired by your travel experiences. Is there one moment that stands out as truly transformational?
Every trip, I feel like I have another moment. And it’s not always about the trip but also about thinking through things after. But, the first trip I took to Guatemala with the UN Word Food Program was really an eye-opening experience.
Tell me about it.
I was an honorary student spokesperson for the WFP when I was a sophomore in college in 2003, and my first trip with them was to Guatemala. It was such an eye-opening, life-changing experience to travel and really see the realities of hunger and poverty firsthand. You know, hunger kills more people than AIDS, TB and Malaria combined, so obviously it’s this huge world issue. I came back from that trip just inspired.
One place they showed me was a therapeutic feeding center, which is where children are taken when they’re severely malnourished. There was one boy, who was 7 or 8 years old, and he literally looked like he was four. When you’re not fed properly, you just don’t grow properly. That was really jarring. He was in great physical pain, and I later found out passed away a few days after I met him.
FEED is such a unique program. How did you decide to address world hunger this way, of all ways?
For one, I really love design. I was already thinking, “What do I want to do with my life after college?” and I had taken courses and internships in design so my head was kind of there. And actually the whole reusable bag movement really had just started.
So, naturally, you thought, “I’ll create a line of super-hip burlap tote bags”…
Well, what always shocked me in these travels is how little it cost to do so much. The world average to feed a kid in school is between $20 and $50 dollars; that’s 200 warm, nutrient-packed lunch meals. When you think about that in relation to what we spend here in our daily lives, it’s a hard thing to make sense of. And then, I had the simple idea of building that cost into a consumer product that people would want to buy and, as a bonus, it’s actually helping someone. And that’s how the idea behind the FEED 1 bag came about, because it feeds one child for one year.
Because it was the material used to distribute these bags of food rations around the world. I wanted to use it in a way that’s fashionable and that you wouldn’t expect. I wanted it to make a statement and be different. I wanted the aesthetic to reflect the cause.
I’m a big fan of the Guatemala bag myself — do you have a personal favorite?
If someone held a gun to my head and said you can truly only keep one of your bags, I would probably keep the original one. Personally, it’s just so special because that was the bag that started it all — the FEED 1 bag.
You’ve designed two disaster relief collections, Japan and Haiti. How do you react to global issues and how does that play a role in your process and design?
Haiti was the first emergency relief product we did, and now we have a FEED Japan line. We want it to be something people want to buy and carry around, obviously, but we also want to make a product that we can turn around quickly. The FEED Haiti and Japan bags are actually the same shape — a white, simple organic cotton tote. They’re really quick to produce, because in emergency relief situations you want to get funds there as quickly as possible because people’s lives have been so disrupted. It’s almost less about design.
Has your work with FEED taken you to any surprising places?
One of our greatest success stories was our partnership with Whole Foods Market. We produced a bag that benefitted school feeding in Rwanda, called the Feed 100 Bag. For each bag we sold we were able to give 100 school meals to kids in Rwanda. Whole foods really got behind this thing and sold enough bags to feed the entire school-feeding population in Rwanda for a year. So we all went and visited Rwanda, which is a beautiful, vibrant place. Obviously the country has a difficult past, so to visit and know that every school child within that country is fed… it was awesome.
Your travel and humanitarian work go hand in hand; but do you still find time to be a traveler and explore other cultures and places?
I do, and I studied anthropology, so I love seeing a country and learning about its culture. I also love shopping in local markets. So I try and carve out a day or two that’s not work but rather taking it easy and soaking in the culture.
For me, the ideal travel day includes some adrenaline sports and local food; what’s an ideal day of travel for you?
Definitely shopping. I love going to local fabric shops! I find it really inspiring, and it has really inspired what I do now. So that’s a big part of it — discovering local fabrics and markets and traditional crafts. I’m a vegetarian, so sometimes food isn’t always my friend, but sometimes it’s amazing. It’s hit or miss. For me, it’s all about walking around, exploring and taking photos.
When traveling, does sustainability play a role in your hotel choices? Do you think about the hotel’s environmental impact?
I think it completes the picture! Being sustainable or eco-friendly also shows that the hotels are in touch with what’s around them. For me at least, I don’t want to be isolated. It’s nice to be in a hotel that’s mindful, considerate and in touch with its surroundings.
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Do you even time for true vacations?
Well, I’m actually leaving today for Jamaica….
Take us with you!
Ha! Well, I’ve been blessed with a lot of fun trips. Again it kind of goes to back to FEED, but I did a Safari in Africa, in Tanzania and Kenya, which I just thought was just amazing, being out there in the wild with these intense, never-ending landscapes.
You have a pretty well known family, and it’s safe to say the Bushes qualify as Jetsetters… How do you balance exploring a destination while also being on a family trip?
This is actually something I learned from my fiancé [David Lauren]. On every trip, he always has at least a dinner reserved each night, wherever we are. I think it’s nice to not have every minute of every day scheduled. You want spontaneous wandering to happen, but each day you have a centering, and at 7 p.m. we all come back together. That’s not how my family used to do it, but it’s nice because everyone kind of goes their own way, but we know that at a certain time we’ll all meet back and have that close to the day.
You have so much ahead of you! What’s the next step for FEED and where do you see the program going?
We continue to expand! Bags are what we’re focused on most, but we do have other accessories as well. And last year we launched FEED USA, so we’re really starting to address hunger issues, nutrition education and healthier school meals here in America.
Text and photos courtesy of Jetsetter.com, where you can get exclusive deals on good and green hotels.