Lauren Akins, Thomas Rhett's Wife, Launches Jewelry Partnership to Support Communities in Uganda (Exclusive)
By Sophie Schillaci
Lauren Akins continues to give back.
The 28-year-old philanthropist, mother and wife of country star Thomas Rhett has joined forces with Nashville-based fine jewelry designer Emily Dee to launch the Lauren Akins X Ladybird line, offering delicate charm necklaces in support of Love One International's charitable efforts in Uganda. The East African nation holds a special place in the Akins family's hearts, as it's where daughter Willa Gray was born.
Each dainty necklace -- offered in white, rose and yellow gold, with diamond encrusted options, as well as sterling silver -- holds three charms representing the mantra "Love +1" and is built to withstand the wear and tear of every day. Prices on the high-quality collection range from $99 to $749.
"I wanted to design something well-made," Akins tells ET exclusively. "I'm really bad about taking my jewelry off, so it's got to be something that can get wet. It's got to be something that can withstand two toddlers all day."
The Love One International nonprofit, for which Akins is a board member, was built from founder Suzanne Mayernick’s work with 147 Million Orphans. Focused on better serving the communities of Uganda, Love One's mission is to provide malnourished children with food, water, education and medical treatment while empowering parents, helping to rebuild families and develop sustainable homes.
"It's so hard when you look at the world as a whole and kids in the world, you want to help them all," Akins says. "You wish everybody was happy, you wish nobody had a rough life or had to grow up without something."
"The reality is, the thought of wrapping your brain around helping every child in the world seems impossible," she continues, "but loving one is not. Everybody can love just one, or just love the one in front of you, whatever loving them looks like. I really think that people can change the world if you love the one in front of you."
Akins first became involved with mission work in the fall of 2015, around the same time that her husband released his sophomore album, Tangled Up. Her first trip was to Haiti.
"I'd never been out of the country, really," Akins recalls. "Certainly not a third world country on missions. I'd always wanted to, but I didn't really envision me doing it with total strangers for the first time when my husband's album was coming out."
In the end, it was the "Die a Happy Man" singer who convinced her to take the plunge.
"He was like, 'You need to go. I need you over there praying for me more than I need you here in L.A. and New York' or wherever he was going to be."
It turned out to be the most life-changing decision the couple ever made, helping to establish Akins' identity outside of her role as a supportive wife.
"It was a medical mission trip and it was like somebody had hit me across the face with my mission in the world. It was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is the reason why I'm here,'" she muses.
"I'd been traveling with [Rhett] and it had been so much fun getting to watch him do his passions and live that out, and do it so well. There was always something in me that was like, 'Why did I go to nursing school? There's got to be a reason,'" she continues. "'There's got to be something that comes after all the hard work I've put in, other than just going with my husband wherever.' Although I love it, I needed something that I felt like I was giving back to and getting to use what I'd set out to use initially."
By the spring of 2016, Akins embarked on another life-changing journey. This time to Uganda, where she would meet the five-month-old baby that would become her daughter.
"When I held her, she just grabbed ahold of my heart and never let go," Akins says of her first contact with Willa Gray. The couple went on to pursue adoption through an agency and welcomed their first daughter home to Nashville in 2017.
Stay tuned for more from ET's exclusive interview with Akins, coming soon to ETonline.com.