“What do countries like Nepal, Kenya and Afghanistan have in common? They are home to extraordinary craftsmen and craftswomen that lack access to global markets.”
Across the developing world, there are thousands of talented artisans that are disconnected from the global market. Isolated, and often exposed to extortionate middlemen, these makers struggle to earn a decent living despite their brilliant craftsmanship.
The social impact startup – Artisan & Fox, has created a ethical fashion marketplace for artisans from the four corners of the world to change the status quo. The result? Sophisticated style for the mindful fashionista. And for its artisans, the guarantee of a fair price and increased incomes.
The social enterprise empowers independent artisans by plugging them into the online market, connecting them to mindful consumers globally. After a successful pilot with Nepali artisans in 2016, Artisan & Fox has expanded to working with artisan communities in Afghanistan, Kenya, Guatemala and Mexico.
Below is a Q&A with Jaron Soh & Laura Francois, the founding team of Artisan & Fox.
What inspired your team to start Artisan & Fox? Why do you choose to work with artisans?
Jaron: Artisan & Fox was first conceived during a trip to Nepal in the summer of 2015, when I spent a month across the Himalayas with a non-profit. Back then, the earthquake has just struck the country, and all you heard about Nepal on the news was devastation and destruction.
Despite this, I fell in love with the Himalayas. I had a chance meeting with a Nepalese silversmith named Prem, and our encounter made me curious about Nepali craftsmanship. I soon learned that Prem was struggling, because he was living in a rural area and tourist numbers dwindled even further after the earthquake. Many artisans globally are struggling with the same issues, due to a lack of access to global markets. I knew I had to do something, and so Artisan & Fox was born.
Laura: Since then, Artisan & Fox has been working with independent makers like Prem to connect them to global consumers. Prem honed his art from his father, who in turn learned from his grandfather. His story of heritage and craftsmanship echoes around the world where artisans embrace traditions passed on for generations.
That’s where we come in, providing artisans like Prem with global access through our platform, all while preserving his unique, cultural and self expression through his designs.
How does Artisan & Fox source the artisans that the marketplace partners with?
Laura: We seek serendipitous connections with independent artisans like Prem through our travels, but we also foster partnership with nonprofits like Turquoise Mountain, an artisan institute in Afghanistan aiming to preserve traditional craftsmanship and regenerate Kabul’s Old City in the process. Our marketplace platforms aims to support NGOs like Turquoise Mountain, by curating collections that tell the story of their artisans, all while complementing current fashion trends.
Jaron: Artisan production is the second largest employer in developing countries, and the majority of them are very small producers. So we also work with small groups of cooperatives, like a women’s weaver cooperative in Guatemala. We believe supporting these small enterprise is key to reinvigorating developing economies.
Prem’s handmade creations, sterling silver rings with semi-precious moonstones, are now being sold on Artisan & Fox.
How do you guarantee a fair price for the makers?
Jaron: Our model is simple, ethical and transparent. Artisans receive 50% of the profits from each sale on Artisan & Fox.
Unscrupulous fashion companies often pay their workers a minimal wage in order to maximize their profit margins. So we believe that by committing to sharing our profits, there will never be an incentive to underpay and exploit the makers.
Laura: To help our consumers understand their impact, our marketplace will also feature full cost breakdowns, so you will know exactly how much of your dollar is going to your makers!
Artisan & Fox makes it their mission to let you discover the faces and humans behind the things you love.
What’s next for the social enterprise?
Jaron: We will be raising funds for our first partnership collection of shawls, bags and jewelry, designed collaboratively with artisans in countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Kenya on Indiegogo.
Laura: Artisan & Fox is unique in that consumers can discover more about their artisans and the craftsmanship process. Each artisan has an individual profile, detailing their dreams, aspirations and interesting facts about the artisanal process.
We want to let everyone know that great style and making ethical purchasing choices doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.
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Founder of Causeartist // Social Entrepreneur