Lauren Bush Lauren: Feeding the World

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Ask Lauren Bush Lauren where she hopes to see herself in five years and the answer may surprise you: out of work. For the last six-and-a-half years, she’s served as the CEO, creative director and co-founder of FEED Projects LLC, which has donated more than $6 million in funding and 60 million meals to children in underserved communities through the sale of environmentally friendly bags, clothing and other accessories. “My ultimate goal is for world hunger, hunger in the U.S. even, to be nonexistent,” she tells Haute Living. “Therefore, there’d be no need for FEED and we could close up shop.”

Until then, Lauren spends her days toiling away in her New York office, forging partnerships with national retailers like Gap, Pottery Barn, Godiva, Clarins, Disney, Whole Foods and Target, collaborating with overseas artisans, and building her brand into a worldwide symbol. “Our mission is to create good products to help feed the world. We’ve been lucky to kind of come to market at this time when consumers are wanting more conscious goods that give back and are better for the environment,” she explains. “Each product we make has a number on it, which signifies the number of meals that we donate through that purchase or kids that will be helped. It’s very tangible for consumers when they make a FEED purchase because they know exactly the impact they will have.”

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Though Lauren is hard-pressed to pick a favorite product, the 29-year-old fashion model turned philanthropist gravitates towards the original FEED 1 burlap bag. “That’s kind of what started it all,” she reveals. “I got the idea about 10 years ago when I started traveling with the United Nations World Food Programme’s School Feeding program while I was a student in college studying Anthropology. I was also taking fashion design classes every summer.” After traveling to Asia, Africa and Latin America and witnessing the harsh realities of hunger and poverty, Lauren felt inspired to take action. “I kind of had this aha moment that I could create a reasonable bag that would feed one child in school for a year because it would cost so little to make an impact,” she says earnestly. After asking Ralph Lauren, the father of her husband David Lauren, for manufacturing assistance, Lauren began selling the FEED 1 bag on Amazon.com.

Protect your gadgets with FEED’s new holiday tech and travel collection. Each backpack, tablet sleeve and laptop case—available in a variety of bold shades—provides school meals to children throughout the world.
Protect your gadgets with FEED’s new holiday tech and travel collection. Each backpack, tablet sleeve and laptop case—available in a variety of bold shades—provides school meals to children throughout the world.

As conscious consumerism gained in popularity, FEED expanded from bags to jewelry, scarves, sarongs and apparel. “The name of the company is FEED Projects. It was never FEED Bags, so it was always meant to be various products,” she clarifies. “I’d always hoped and dreamed that it would become many different products.” This month, FEED is launching its first tech and travel capsule collection comprised of backpacks, tablet sleeves and laptop cases inspired by Lauren’s journey. “Traveling is where it all started for me and why I was inspired to start FEED,” she divulges. “Part of my travels was also seeing artisans and their beautiful crafts, so we’ve begun to work with groups in Kenya, India, Guatemala and Colombia. We work really closely with the artisans themselves to come up with something that is not only sellable and wearable, but also utilizes their traditional crafts and materials.”

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Though Lauren makes it a point to visit with school children on all of her trips, she still feels captivated by a young girl she met in a rural, impoverished area of Rwanda. “I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, which is something I had not asked the children before, because you just don’t know. Kids in the U.S. are expected to dream of having big careers like astronauts, but children there, you just don’t know,” she recalls. “Her response took me aback: she wanted to be the first female President of Rwanda. It showed me that these children, like any children, have big ambitions but were born into a poverty cycle that’s not their fault. What we are doing at FEED is in a small, but significant, way hopefully helping these children achieve their ambitions. If these kids go to school—just to get the school meal—they start achieving some level of an education, which will serve them as they go through life.”

Eliminating world hunger may seem like an impossible goal, but Lauren comes from a long lineage of public servants, most notably her uncle, President George W. Bush, and her grandfather, President George H. W. Bush. “It’s hard to pinpoint one moment that inspired me to become involved with philanthropy,” explains Lauren, who spent her childhood in Houston volunteering at soup kitchens and homeless shelters with her mother, Sharon Bush. “I always thought it was kind of a given, but now that I’m older, I realize it’s not necessarily a given that kids are exposed to that,” she says. To expand her worldview, Lauren accompanied her parents on trips to Thailand and Kenya during her early teen years. “I got very inspired to travel and learn about different ways of life,” she admits. But the trips abroad also helped Lauren realize just how lucky she was. “We all grow up in a bubble in some way, so to be exposed to people who are born into poverty and chronic hunger was also really powerful at such a young age. Growing up, I was a really sensitive child. It always really struck me when I saw an issue or someone in pain.”

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Today, Lauren remains just as committed to helping those less fortunate, both locally and overseas. In addition to running FEED Projects, Lauren also oversees the FEED Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports programs and organizations working to fight hunger and eliminate malnutrition throughout the world. “The goal for FEED in general is to be a conduit for people to engage in the issue of hunger and make a real difference,” she insists. “If they want to do that by buying a product through FEED Projects, wonderful. If they don’t need a burlap bag or one of our other products, then they can make a donation or engage with us in different ways. It’s been beneficial to have both the for-profit and the non-profit.”

Whether she’s designing new products, creating new partnerships or running a 10K race for her foundation, this philanthropic wonder woman shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. “It feels like such a natural part of life in a way,” she says, “to give back and be mindful of people who do need a bit of extra help.” ∎

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