Blog contributer; Michaela Judge, Elleanor and Indigo (Dec 2018)
Sustainability. Artisan. Fair trade. I’ve heard those words so many times in our search for more thoughtful consumerism, but what does it actually look like in practice, and what is the impact? In my own travels around the world, I remember so many interactions with the most talented people, yet poverty existed because there was no opportunity for work. In America, I feel like we (me included) often take for granted the vast opportunities that exist for work and to use our talents to support our own families.
However, what if there was a way to partner with artisans globally in way that provided a sustainable market for products as well as the necessary resources and training to increase skillsets — what would this look like for areas experiencing poverty and lack of employment opportunities? This exact challenge is being tackled head on by the non-profit Artisan Global. This organization — founded by Lauren Shipley and Devon Feldmeth — is a creative agency that seeks to develop sustainable employment with international artisan businesses in post conflict areas.
Artisan Global’s first major project has just begun and is focusing on building and growing the first multipurpose artisan center in Gulu, Uganda! They are partnering and collaborating with Artisan Apparel Uganda, founded in 2014 by Ketty Promise. Artisan Apparel has created jobs for and trained more than 30 local artisans, and the current training center project would further expand their skills and reach in the community.
Lauren, a South Carolina native, is currently living in Uganda and working alongside Ketty as they plan, fundraise and train to get the multipurpose center off the ground. We had the honor of chatting recently with Ketty and Lauren about their project, impact and ways you can partner alongside them!
NOTE: Imagery by the talented Kaitlin Rae Photography.
(Ketty) Can you tell us briefly about AA Uganda – when it was founded, the products you make, and number of people employed through your business?
Artisan Apparel was founded in 2014. We started with over 35 employees, currently we have fifteen employees. Part of our model is for people to gain the skills to start their own businesses so many of our employees are now working independently. We have clothing, jewelry, handbags, and our newest launch is baskets.
(Ketty) What are some of the products that Artisan Apparel is hoping to create through the training center for resale? Are any of these products available for purchase for those in the U.S.?
We want to continue doing wholesale for the same products we’re currently selling and add new designs with different materials. At the training center, we will add media and photography skills for artisans to begin utilizing these skills in marketing their products. Currently, we don’t directly sell products in the United States, but we do have some partnerships through which our products are sold such as Phoster in South Carolina and Just One in Canada. We are always accepting custom orders and new partnerships!
(Ketty) Why is this training center an important project to focus on in Gulu, and what do you hope some of the positive outcomes will be?
Gulu was affected by a civil war for over twenty years, and the impact that still lingers is high unemployment. In order for the community to be empowered, it is necessary for there to be job opportunities to end cycles of poverty. One of the positive outcomes I hope for is that individuals will be highly skilled in areas such as tailoring so that it increases their opportunities for jobs. I hope the training center will be known for its high standard of quality and that this will encourage people to come to learn.
(Lauren) What are some of the immediate needs for the training center, and how can people best support Artisan Global on this project?
We raised the money to purchase the land in September and now we are fundraising to begin the construction. We are working closely with a local architect and contractor to finalize plans, so once we have the funding we will begin building! We would love for people to support us by sharing about our fundraising campaign and join us as we announce upcoming fundraising events.
Another unique way people can support this project is by visiting in Uganda to host a workshop of a specific skill or sponsor a workshop. We are introducing new materials such as metals and cow horn for the jewelry artisans to expand their creative skills. We plan to continue hosting skills workshops even while the center is being built.
(Lauren) Can you tell us briefly how Artisan Global came to be and the inspiration behind starting this amazing organization?
Artisan Global was founded in February 2018 out of a vision to support communities in a sustainable way. Through our experiences working internationally the past several years, we became passionate about the talent we saw firsthand and knew there had to be a dignifying way to support individuals in solving societal issues such as poverty. We believe in creating long-term solutions by building strong relationships and listening to the community. Our dream is to provide resources that will enhance job opportunities.
(Lauren) We noticed that you all specifically focus on post-conflict areas when looking at job creation opportunities – why was this factor important in your mission?
This factor is so essential to our mission because of the way conflict impacts communities on every scale from physically, economically, socially, and mentally. We are passionate about seeing people rise even above the most traumatic experiences and rediscovering their fullest self by being able to build a brighter future for their families. Unfortunately, conflict is incredibly prevalent in our world today and it has become increasingly necessary that we know how to best support communities as they rebuild.
(Lauren) Since starting Artisan Global, you’ve already selected and begun the process of your first project. Can you tell us a little about what this project is and the artisan group you are partnering with?
We are partnering with Artisan Apparel in Gulu, Uganda. Together, we are building a multipurpose center in Gulu to enhance job creation through skills and business trainings, collaborative projects, partnership development, community and family activities, and on site income generating projects. The goal is to build a center that will introduce a variety of skills, which will increase market opportunities and elevate individuals to have access to resources to be successful leaders and entrepreneurs in their community. The center will also focus on overall wellness by providing psychosocial services, since many of the individuals we work with have been affected by conflict, family loss, disabilities, illnesses such as HIV, etc.
Additionally, we are working to build new global partnerships and local marketing opportunities with Artisan Apparel to ensure sustainable income and opportunity for growth.
(Lauren) How many artisans are you hoping to employ through the center, at least in the short term – and what type of training/skills would be offered?
We are hoping to provide direct employment opportunities for an additional 30+ artisans in the short term, but also one of our main programs will be to empower individuals as entrepreneurs to begin their own small businesses through a micro-financing program. Training in tailoring, jewelry making, literacy, business, financial management, graphic design, photography, communications, etc. will be offered. We believe that offering a diverse set of skills gives individuals the freedom to find their own personal strengths and passions, as well as empowers them to take part in the entire process of creating work.
(Lauren) What are some of the goals you all hope to achieve through the training center – in other words, what would success look like with this project?
Success for the training center will be for it to be a place where the potential in the community is honored through the resources offered. Our goal is for individuals to have the resources that are needed in order to create their own success. We hope to see Gulu known globally for its artistic talent and for the center to be a place of healing for the community.
(Lauren) We noticed you have an option for people to get involved as Artisan Advocates – what does this mean and how would someone interested get connected with this program?
We wanted to create a program that makes it easier for people to be a part of Artisan Global. We know that building a dream takes the skills of so many people, and we wanted to have a program that allowed people to use their unique skills and voices to empower individuals globally. The unique part of this program is that the individual can determine their capacity and time available for “advocating” – for example we have an advocate in Spain who is presenting at a fundraising dinner who is incredibly skilled in fundraising and marketing. We have advocates who are photographers, designers, bloggers, etc. You tell us your interest/skill and we work with you to create a unique way for you as an individual to get involved! Our advocates are valued team members!
(Lauren) Lastly, any long-term dreams/ future projects you’re hoping to see come out of Artisan Global in the years to come?
We want to create meaningful relationships with the artisans we work with, and provide unique opportunities for individuals to know the artisans they are supporting. We have some really fun ideas for that and we look forward to continuing to build a model that is completely based on collaboration and unity!
Interested in having a custom clothing piece made by Artisan Apparel? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and learn more about the process.
We hope you enjoyed learning about this amazing organization — if you have a talent or skill that could help further the mission of Artisan Global, we encourage you to contact the team to learn about ways to get involved through their advocate program!