Where global responsibility meets artisan crafts – Joan Shifrin, CEO of Global Goods Partners (GPP), speaks up about making a difference by making sustainable connections that create positive change for artisans from developing countries.
Lola Who: What is the inspiration behind GGP? Was there any particular moment or experience that inspired the idea?
Both Catherine and I previously worked for international development organizations where we had the privilege of meeting women throughout the Global South and being invited into their homes, where much of handmade craft production still takes place. What they producedfrom embroidery to weaving to felting to jewelry making was often extraordinary but there were few if any outlets for them to sell products and earn income from their craft. The inspiration to launch GGP came from the talented and tireless women we met. We saw the opportunity to serve as the bridge between the western marketplace and poor, often isolated communities where beautiful handmade products are made.
While products labeled as “global crafts” are widely available in the US and Canada, most are factory made where the supply chain does not benefit individual workers. Only crafts made by artisans earning a fair living wage can produce sustainable livelihoods. So, we set out to create an organization that adheres to fair trade practices and promotes fair trade as critical elements to advancing equity and justice.
We were clear from the start that our approach would be to work with community groups, as opposed to individual artisans, where the benefits of income generation initiatives can be maximized. Today, we work with more than 40 associations, cooperatives and social enterprises throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas that integrate their commitment to community development and social justicesuch as improvements in education, health, womens rights and employment opportunitieswith socially responsible income-generating programs in craft development.
Lola Who: What are your plans for expansion or what is your vision for the future of the company?
As a non-profit social enterprise, strengthening our brand and growing our market share is paramount to advancing our mission. For many of our partners, GGP is the only sales channel for their products outside of their local market. As a result, our success directly impacts our partners success. The more products we sell, the greater the revenues and incomes for our partners.
Honestly, some of our growth has been strategic while some has happened organically. We started as a retail website and after a few years made a conscious choice to invest in the wholesale marketplace. Our entry into private label production was a logical next step but some of our larger retail clients found us before we found them. There are some significant start-up costs involved in serving larger clients but the return has paid off for our partners.
Over the next year, well be offering a more curated selection of products on our retail site and plan to expand our outreach to wholesale and private label clients. At the same time, we have committed to providing, and are raising funds to support, greater training assistance to our partners that will help them build their capacity and operations, enabling them to develop more effective enterprises that meet both the demands of the U.S. marketplace, and the development needs of their local communities.
Lola Who: How do you think we could better improve global awareness for young people in the western world?
From raising two daughters, I’ve learned that it’s (usually) a good idea to meet young people where they are. There’s a lot of power in the internet and I think that’s the medium for improving global awareness. The growth of digital storytelling and long form journalism presents an exciting new opportunity to tell the stories of women and children all over the world. These are stories we don’t usually hear. Global awareness is hugely important, but so is the lens through which these stories are told.
Lola Who: Can you explain to us the concept of market-based social change?
Put simply, market based social change is when commerce is used to produce a social good. At GGP, the primary “social good” that comes from our work is helping to generate income for women, many of whom had never earned money before beginning work with one of our artisan partners. Beyond their income, however, the benefits for women artisans can be significantbetter education for the children; better health care for their families and broader participation in the welfare of their families and their communities.
Lola Who: What are your favourite products on your website?
Im very partial to our textile products, particularly the hand woven cotton scarves from Ethiopia and alpaca scarves from Bolivia. I also have my eye on a great new Indigo Ikat weekend. For as long as Ive known Catherine (25 plus years), shes had the best collection of drop earrings, built from her years of travelling and working with artisans. Shes rarely in the office without wearing either the Lapis Drop Earrings from Afghanistan or the Rolled Paper Earrings from Swaziland.
Lola Who: What are the biggest challenges of fair trade?
The overwhelming availability of fast fashion and the retail titans that perpetuate it present a formidable countervailing force to fair trade. One result of a supply chain that devalues workers, the environment and safety, is cheap clothing. But the more insidious result, of course, is exploitative labour practices, dangerous working conditions, like Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, and a multitude of other injustices. It’s very important for fair trade groups like the Fair Trade Federation, the Ethical Fashion Forum and the World Trade Federation to work together to raise awareness of fair trades tangible benefits, economic and otherwise.
Lola Who: What inspires you everyday?
Everyday, were surrounded by beautiful handmade products that women from poor marginalized communities create. To see the artistry and know the tremendous odds and challenges women artisan facewhether it means assembling as a group to work, fighting for the right to earn money, acting on a creative outlet and becoming part of economyprovides inspiration for a lifetime.
Lola Who: What advice would you give to young people who want to create a fair trade enterprise with similar global impact?
Follow your passion but make sure you have a good business plan. Its important to know the landscape of the market on the demand and the supply sides. Start slowly, build partnerships, dont be deterred by setbacks, gather great advisors and build on your strengths.
Check out more products on Global Goods Partners’ website