Searching for World Changers: India and Beyond
Since 1994, Karen Gibbs has dedicated her career to helping connect Artisans around the world with a growing marketplace for their handmade goods. She believes that keeping traditional art forms alive is key to creating opportunity for Artisans in the developing world. Karen is currently serving as Noonday’s Leader of Artisan Relations and Production. She is on the front lines of helping us form new Artisan partnerships –and grow existing ones! Read on to discover what she looks for in new partners and to learn about one very special artisan business in India.
Recently, Karen and Johanna, our lead designer, traveled to India to get to know our artisan partners face to face and learn about their fair trade practices. “One of my goals on this trip was to explore how these businesses are meeting our standards and practicing ethical business practices,” Karen shared. “I also wanted to talk with the artisan entrepreneurs about their goals and dreams for their businesses. What kinds of goals can we set for the future, and how can we grow together?”
Our partnerships with artisan businesses work when the partnership is mutually beneficial. We strive to understand the stories behind each of the businesses we partner with and to discover how we can best support them. Visits from Home Office staff members like Karen are one of the ways we work to develop relationships with our partners that foster growing trust and commitment.
While in India, Karen had the opportunity to visit an artisan business run by Devendra and Rashmi, a talented couple committed to bringing fair work to the Artisans in their community. Their business produces some of our most beautiful and elegant pieces. The couple lives in Jaipur, India, a region widely renowned for its jewelry making traditions, but they partner with Artisans all across India. Devendra and Rashmi’s business focuses on creating high quality silver and semi-precious stone pieces.
Devendra and Rashmi are a great example of business owners using fair trade to make a difference in their community. Karen shares that this vision to make an impact is the first thing she looks for whenever she is scouting new businesses. It’s important to ensure that the business owners share Noonday’s values for the partnership to be successful.”
Karen shared that her first question when visiting a new artisan business is, “Who are they employing? What are the criteria they look for when they are hiring? Do they prioritize people in their community who are vulnerable, whether that’s women, people with disabilities, members of a certain ethnic group?”
Devendra and Rashmi’s group works to create opportunity for vulnerable members of the communities they work in. Many of their groups are made up primarily of women, although the silversmithing groups who make some of Noonday’s pieces are composed primarily of men in keeping with local tradition.
“One of our main missions is to empower women Artisans,” Devendra shared. “We work to provide them with a sustainable livelihood, an education, and to help them with women’s health issues. We believe that educating and empowering a woman is the most powerful tool to bring sustainable change to a community.” In general, the business looks to make an impact for underprivileged and marginalized Artisans. They currently partner with 40 artisan groups in 17 different Indian states.
Karen shared that when she is looking to develop new artisan partnerships, she also looks for businesses that understand the importance of helping their employees flourish both personally and professionally. At Noonday, we want our partners to be as passionate about improving the lives of their Artisans as we are. We look for partner businesses that are taking measures to ensure that the people working for them have skills that are marketable. But we are also looking for businesses that are investing in initiatives like healthcare, daycare, and literacy programs that benefit the whole person.
Devendra and Rashmi’s business is an incredible example of a business working to create opportunity for their Artisans professionally and personally. The couple conducted research in the communities where they work to determine what programs would be of greatest benefit to the Artisans. The Artisans expressed that what they wanted most was the opportunity to be educated and to educate their children.
While in India, Karen had the opportunity to visit a literacy class sponsored by the business. In addition to literacy training, the business also engages in water projects to bring clean drinking water to the community. One of their most challenging, but most essential, projects involves women’s health. Karen shared that because many Indian women are ashamed of speaking about their bodies, it can be difficult to get them to open up about their issues or to attend programs. Slowly but surely, however, the women are beginning to understand the value of these programs and to get involved.
Karen is passionate about helping artisan entrepreneurs harness traditional craft techniques to bring change to their communities. One of the great things about the Artisans we partners with at Noonday is that they are keeping their culture and heritage alive while earning a reliable income.
“I am always interested in whether the business owners are building off of a traditional, indigenous skill or material,” Karen says. “What’s the origin or authenticity of this craft? Are the owners teaching people something brand new, or building on tradition? I’ve found that from a design perspective, when the products are rooted in tradition you have a much richer bank of techniques to draw from.”
At Devendra and Rashmi’s business, artisan craftsmanship is treasured. The couple seeks out Artisans who are already working to preserve their craft heritage by continuing the silversmith and gemstone techniques that have been practiced in the region for so long. Their process is similar to Karen’s when it comes to identifying new Artisans to work with. They identify individuals who are creating beautiful pieces but who are not able to flourish because of their lack of market access. By working with these talented Artisans, they connect them with buyers like Noonday who can offer reliable orders. These orders empower Devendra and Rashmi to continue to provide amazing resources to their Artisans and to offer dignified wages the Artisans can count on.
We love getting to form partnerships with amazing world changers like Devendra and Rashmi. Together, we are building a flourishing world not just for these for Artisans and their families, but for every Noonday customer, Hostess, and Ambassador who has the opportunity to wear and share their amazing stories.