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Celebrating Our First Artisan Summit in India!

Guest post by Karen Gibbs, Leader of Artisan Development, and Brie McNeal, Production Manager

Noonday Collection celebrated an entirely new level of “we are connected” in our community this fall. On November 8, we organized our first ever international Artisan Summit in New Delhi, India bringing together eight of our Artisan Business Partners for a full day of exchanging ideas, updates, aspirations – and having fun.

With many of our Artisan Business Partners already in New Delhi to attend the bi-annual World Fair Trade Organization conference (of which over a third of our Artisan Business Partners are members), it was a natural opportunity to pilot the Artisan Summit. In total, 14 representatives of 8 Artisan Business Partners from 2 countries, India and Nepal, gathered with us in a spirit of collaboration and transparency. Our goals were ambitious: create community; share business updates; discuss best practices; identify areas for improvement; and deepen our skills in storytelling.

The kickoff “get to know each other” session of the Artisan Summit was nothing short of heart-warming (we didn’t cry, but we came very close!). We watched long-standing friendships between leaders in the artisan fair trade community rekindled by recognizing their shared experience with Noonday. When our Artisan Business Partner Moon commented that “Noonday has given us a life” the rest of the room chorused in agreement—a truly humbling experience, and a reminder of the incredible impact our customers are having! We observed veteran Artisan business leaders inspire younger Artisan Entrepreneurs by sharing their mission and imparting wisdom in managing artisan production and impact. We heard people make commitments to supporting the social and educational programs of other Artisan Business Partners. We saw our partners make plans to follow up with one another to share further advice. We could immediately see that the Artisan Summit was a good idea!

In the spirit of creating community at the Artisan Summit, it was important to include the voices of Noonday’s different stakeholders. We shared updates from Noonday’s Home Office staff and included video messages from CEOs Jessica and Travis. Perhaps the most inspiring were the special messages from Ambassadors. Five Ambassadors sent letters and photos to share with our Artisan Business Partners. These Ambassadors spoke about the impact Noonday’s work has made in their lives, the income it creates for their families, and their own sense of meaningful empowerment.

Reading these letters were an “ah ha” moment for our Partners. Our Artisan Business Partner Sonica put it best when she said, “We don’t think about the positive impact we have on the Ambassador side!” Our partners recognized how they are important to Ambassadors and the impact they have made in Ambassadors’ lives. The tables were turned. They realized that we all need each other and that the equation is not one-sided but balanced. Ambassadors need the work of our Artisan Business Partners just as our Artisan Business Partners need the work of our Ambassadors. The true essence of “better together” was felt.

Transparency is a key tenant of fair trade practices. Noonday promotes transparency with our Ambassador community by sharing stories about the Artisans that make our products, organizing Ambassador trips to visit our Artisan Business Partners, and showcasing Artisan speakers at Shine. Our Product Team practices transparency with our Artisan Business Partners by sharing sales reports, performance reports, and business updates. At the Artisan Summit, we opened a new channel of transparency through dialogue between our Artisan Business Partners. Collectively we discussed how we are doing business together, what is working, what isn’t, and how we can work better and more collaboratively together. These topics could have opened a can of worms, so to speak, in a normal business environment by snowballing into a competitive dialogue or unconstructive comments. But Noonday’s community is unique and the collaboration demonstrated between our Artisan Business Partners was extraordinary.

What did we learn in the transparent conversations? We learned that what our Artisan Business Partners love best about working with Noonday is our investment in innovative designs, our large volumes (big orders!!), our consistency and commitment to long-term relationships, the recognition of Artisans in how we market and tell stories, and our clear value alignment. Are there areas we can improve? Certainly, and we had great discussions about getting better at predicting re-orders, helping with raw material procurement, planning more design trips, and investing in new production techniques. Throughout the conversation there was an underlying sense of sharing responsibility both in terms of the successes we created together and the areas of improvement we can collaborate on. One Artisan Business Partner reminded us of our collective impact and shared values when he said, “In the last three years working with Noonday, [Artisans] have their girls and boys going to school, getting married, and buying their own homes. We may not be changing the entire world, but we are changing lives.”

It was important that our Artisan Business Partners know how and why Noonday is successful. For many of our partners, Noonday has grown to become their largest customer. We talked about Noonday’s unique business model and talked about consumer trends in the US market impacting artisan and fair trade products. This conversation helped our partners see the future potential of Noonday’s business. Our Artisan Business Partner Devika commented, “To see [fair trade] going strong on both ends of the globe is very inspiring”. And everyone’s commitment to continuing to work together only grew during this dialogue.

Noonday’s first international Artisan Summit will not be its last! After a long day of exchange, we wrapped up the Artisan Summit with a lovely dinner at the Delhi Golf Club and we toasted the next Artisan Summit. The date and location are still to be determined. But the relationships forged between the eight Artisan Business Partners in New Delhi show us the importance of gathering our partners in this spirit of collaboration, and we look forward to a time when we can include all our partners in an Artisan Summit. We truly are better together!