The Power of the Sewing Machine

So many times when we see a photo of a woman working on a sewing machine, we often think of a sweat shop.  For me, it’s a beautiful symbol that represents huge progress for women in Nepal.  Let me explain… and let me start at the beginning.

My fair trade philosophy is simple…  do we want to provide Aid or Trade.  I vote for Trade.

The two easiest, most effective means of trade are agriculture products like coffee and bananas… or handicrafts.  I vote for handicrafts.  But there is an inherent problem with handicrafts.  It’s a small potato’s market.  How many people buy handicrafts on a regular basis… not many.

So the challenge is finding products that Aritsans can make and sell that have scope and scale.  And the simple answer is garments.  We started with handbags, hats and scarves,  but our ultimate goal is to make clothing.

In the early days… around 2004,  everything was made by hand.  Hand-crochetted hemp hats and belts, and recycled silk scarves and purses.  Over time, we started making cotton handbags and feel like this is our sweet spot.  But when we first started, there were so few women tailors.  A tailor is someone who sews with a sewing machine.

Traditionally, in Nepal, men work with sewing machines and women do hand-stitching.  The men make about 5 to 7 times more than women, simply because they can operate a sewing machine.  We first began to seek out women tailors, but realized that there were just not enough women tailors.

Our solution was to create the EarthDivas.com Tailoring School for Women.  We rented out a building, bought 6 new sewing machines, a diesel generator, cutting equipment, and hired a master tailor to teach the ladies how to sew with a sewing machine.  We then paid 6 ladies to attend the school for 6 months, and bought all the fabric and supplies that they would need.  Upon graduation, the goal was for these ladies to begin making handbags for EarthDivas.  The transition from school to production has been a challenge.  There are so many challenges such as buying  and dying the fabric, cutting patterns, buying zip’s and snaps, and stone washing produced pieces.

Early on with the Tailoring School, we partnered with Beni Ghale to run it.  She runs a fair trade business in Kathmandu called HeedNepal.org, and while the initial school session went great, we’ve had a hard time making samples and giving orders to the tailoring school.  I know that if I could spend more time in Nepal, I could overcome these challenges, and like everything in life… nothing is as easy as it seems.  But the goal is to keep pushing forward in the right direction, and trying to improve things on a daily basis.

I’m certain that with time, we’ll achieve the goal that we’ve set out for ourselves, and that is to employ thousands of women Artisans, making thousands of beautiful one-of-a-kind works of art, for women all over the world.   It’s just a matter of time…

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Our Dream Is Real… Join Us

I have a dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. sure had one. We all should have a dream, something that we want to accomplish in our lifetime. It may not be as big and audacious as MLK’s, but it could be.

Mine is to end world hunger, end global conflict, end global poverty and wipe out preventable disease in the developing world and hopefully bring happiness and hope to a lot of people that don’t have it right now. It sounds a bit grand, I know. But the path to accomplishing this dream is very clear to me, and it can be summed up in one single, simple word: Trade.

Trade is a very simple but powerful word. Someone, somewhere makes something, and they sell it to someone and receive money for that item or service and hopefully a profit, which in turn allows them to buy something from someone else who then hopefully makes a profit. As this process is repeated over and over, good things can happen to those involved in this process. When people make something, and receive a fair profit for it, they can pay to educate their children, they can pay for nutritious and healthy food, they can pay for medicine and clean water. And people who are making things, and getting paid for them, are less likely to take up arms against their neighbor or their customer. Business and trade has a funny way of making friends out of people who might not otherwise be friends.

I’m a lucky guy because I can spend every waking minute pursing my dream. I don’t need to work to make money. I’ve made money in the past and my wife works at Marriott and makes enough to pay the bills, and then some.

At Earth Divas we return 100% of all company profits to the artisans that make the goods. I am the only employee at Earth Divas and I don’t take a salary or any compensation. We outsource all back-end services to RML (RMLsite.com) who handle fulfillment, customer service and all back-office operations. They can handle any size volume, so our ability to grow is limitless.

Earth Divas is a simple concept. It’s a bridge… a platform that enables trade and commerce. It provides the mechanism that allows a woman, primarily a woman, but not exclusively, in a developing country to make a product which is then sold to a customer in the U.S.A, and the profit is returned to her.

I work with artisans in Nepal and India, and we make mainly handbags, but we also make hats, scarves, mittens and holiday gift items. They are better quality, better designs and less expensive than the cheap Chinese products, and 100% of the profits from the sale of these items go back to the artisans that make them.

We now have the most incredible and amazing products, and our goal is to sell these items to a larger market in the U.S.A. Our line is currently supported by many great local health food stores, fair trade stores, gift shops and larger chains like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage.  We want our fair trade products to be sold in mainstream big box retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Kohls, JC Penny’s, and Sears. Once we start to sell to the large mass retailers our profits will grow and we’ll expand our line to other countries, and slowly but surely my dream will come true. There is no doubt in my mind.

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Quick Update

I can’t believe that I’ve not posted anything since June! ahhhh. It has been so busy since I returned from Nepal. That is no excuse, but lots to talk about. Since returning, my main focus has been working on the new handbag designs. Once we go into production, it’s critical that the finished work looks as nice as the pre-production samples. Our shipment left Nepal in early August and arrived at our warehouse in early October…  and they are beautiful. I love them. These are the best designs we’ve ever done.

We also came out with our new wholesale catalog. Lots of help on this from many different people. We had two photo sessions, one in MD and one in New Orleans. Then Jen our designer did an incredible job on the layout and the catalogs look perfect.

We’re now focused on updating the website. New homepage coming soon with a really cool slide show viewer. Should be out in a few days.

But the project that I’m most excited about is a new initiative called Divas4Divas. My feeling is that we (fair trade companies) are all working together to help others and help each other. Some companies that are members of the fair trade federation, FairTradeFederation.org, are retailers who buy from us, some are producers who make these beautiful items. And we as a group all work together to try to explain the benefits and showcase the beauty of these unique products so consumers in the U.S. will buy them and benefit the artisans.

Divas4Divas is our effort to help raise awareness of the many artisan groups that are run by women, or who employ mainly women, and work to benefit women in the developing world. We know there are millions of women shoppers in the U.S. that don’t want to buy cheap products made in China under sweatshop labor conditions. They want their purchase to make a difference, to have a direct and meaningful impact on the person that made the item. Many shoppers this year will buy local and buy products that support American workers, and we think this is critical.  Etsy is a great website that makes many beautiful handcrafted items and supports American craftswomen.  If you’ve not visited it lately, please do so.

But our focus in on fair trade and helping women in the developing world who most likely don’t have running water or electricity in their home. Who have children that don’t go to school and don’t have any form of health care.  Without orders from us and other retailers, without products to make, they are not paid, and they have few options to feed their family.  So for us, who work in the fair trade business, we are passionate about helping others and helping to spread the word of the benefits of fair trade.

We know that every time someone in America buys a hand crated, fair trade made item from an Artisan, it will have a direct and meaningful benefit to the person who made it. And there are many, many companies that do what we do. Many are members of the fair trade federation, and many are members of other great fair trade organizations.  Some are large retailers like Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage that support Earth Divas.  Others like Overstock.com have created a fair trade, online marketplace.  Still others like 10,000 Villages and Global Exchange have retail stores.  We’re all working to help bring this idea of socially responsible shopping into the mainstream.  But today it’s hard to find one resource that makes it really easy to find online and off-line retailers that support fair trade.

Our goal with Divas4Divas is to showcase these many great artisans groups and the retail stores that support them and sell their wares. We want to make it easy for women shoppers in the U.S. to buy something that benefits other women who don’t have the same opportunities that we have here in the U.S.  To do this, we’re creating one page on our website that will give shoppers the information that they need to find the products that they like support the artisan group that made them.

The page will soon launch on our website and can be found at EarthDivas.com/Divas4Divas.

We’re asking you to help us spread the word. We have no marketing budget, but we’re going to promote this page on our blog, in Facebook and on Twitter, and our hope is that our readers will share this page with their friends. In this way, we can all collectively work together to help others by simply sharing a link and shopping at fair trade retailers that support fair trade Artisans. Thank you for your help and for helping us spread the word.

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I’m Going to Kathmandu…

That’s really really what I want to do… and if you’re over 40, you probably know what I’m talking about. I love that song and every time I head to Nepal, I can’t get it out of my head. I landed a couple days ago and as always its just nuts. So many handbags to design and so little time. Working on 2012 Spring/Summer styles now.

Each year I come to Nepal with a theme and try to design handbags around that thought. For fall/winter 2011, it was all about stone-wash, hobo or messenger style with same color embroidery and some dimensional texture. These designs went into production when I left in April and I’m checking them out now. We’ve had a flew glitches that we’re fixing, but overall, things look pretty good. The shipment should leave July 12 and arrive at the warehouse about 80 days later.

This year, I thought I would try to break the mold and do something that’s never been done before. I’ve been struggling with this idea since I left Nepal in April, and this morning it hit me. I woke up about 3am, after a restful 3 hours of sleep, and broke out the sketch pad. 6 hours later I’ve got the first 6 designs done. They’re all variations on the same theme, and this morning I’m heading to the fabric shop. By this evening, I’ll know if this idea is going to work. Can’t give everything away… but let me say this… if these bags turn out the way I see them in my head… they’re going to be pretty cool.

When I leave Nepal, hopefully we’ll go into production and about 6 months later they’ll hit a store near you. Can’t wait to share some pic’s when they’re ready. Til then.. thanks for reading… Take Care, Ed–

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Hemp Man Purse… coming soon

I go to Nepal two to three times a year, and it is a crazy busy time.  I’m only there for about 10 days, and the whole time I’m working on new designs, mainly handbag designs.  In the past we did lots of unique items including computer bags, hats, belts and even pet leashes.  But now our main focus is handbags.

Each year I think about doing something different… something unique… something a bit funky.  This year, my mission was to make a really cool Man Bag… something that I would wear all the time.   It took about five revisions, but I think we nailed it.  It’s a first crack at it and if it sells well, we’ll add more versions in more colors, but I have to say… I love this Man Purse.

Hemp Man Purse from EarthDivas.com

I’ve been wearing this sample for a while now and I love it.  But wearing a handbag takes some getting use to.   I love the concept… everything in one place… my phone, my camera, my keys, my sunglasses, my wallet… everything.   And while this bag goes great with blue jeans, it’s not working well with a business suit.  But it’s a start…

What I love about this bag is the shape.  Yes, it has really high quality hemp, great zippers and nice lining.  But there is something about the shape that feels perfect.  It’s just flat out cool.  That was our goal, to make something cool,  and I think we nailed it.   When you wear it, it just feels right.  It’s not too big, but it’s big enough.  It feels natural and handmade, it has a certain Western look to it, feels masculine, it’s just really comfortable.  But I may be biased…

We would love your feedback on this man purse.  We’re going to make more in the future, and if you see a man purse you like, please send us a photo.  We’re always browsing the web and magazines for design inspiration.   I often walk up to folks and ask where they bought their handbag or backpack and usually ask if I can take a quick photo.   Our goal is to keep making better and more unique and beautiful items, and your feedback is really appreciated.

Thank You~~

Ed–

 

 

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And That’s a Wrap…

And that’s a wrap… or so they say. Designs for Fall/Winter 2011 and Spring/Summer 2012 are 90% done. A few minor changes, then we make pre-production samples, and production begins with a June 15 target ship date. We have no advance orders, but we take our best guess of what will sell and how many we’ll need. It’s not art or science… it just a wild guess, combined with what we can afford to make.

Right now I feel a bit like a marathon runner crossing the finish-line… tired… exhausted in fact, but couldn’t be happier or more gratified with what we just accomplished. Last year we moved away from handbags made mainly of hemp, and started to make more bags using cotton. Our medium term goal is to covert all items to organic cotton, but this will take some time. Last year we introduced a wide range of styles, and based on what has sold well in the past, and now we’ve expanded on that look.

One of our best sellers last year was ACB-014, a black stone wash bag with black/dark embroidery. So our theme this year was stone wash, color on color designs… black on black, rust on rust, etc. Then we applied this concept to slings and hobo’s, which are our two most popular styles. We also pushed the edges of the envelope a bit, but never left the core principal of simple colors, simple designs, but with detailed handwork.

Throughout the year we work on new designs, and we’re always looking for inspiration. If you see a handbag or a dress or anything that you love, please send us a pic and we’ll try to make it. Thank You… Ed–

This blog posting was originally written on April 8th, 2011 while I was in Kathmandu, but I’ve just had a chance to upload it.

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First Post

So here it goes… the start of my first blog. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you’ll come back soon. My name is Ed Edmundson and I’m the founder of EarthDivas.com. I’m in Kathmandu Nepal today, working on new designs and just thought I should start sharing this experience with others.

This was a quick trip, just one week, so it’s been crazy busy, but it’s never been more fun. I’ve been doing this since 2004 and it gets better and better each year. I think the designs we’re working on now are some of the best we’ve ever done. We’ll have some beautiful new handbags for the Modern Eco Collection and for Young & Fun. MEC are somewhat more conservative designs with a splash of Nepali funk. Y&F is just what it sounds like with bright, loud colors and over the top shapes and sizes.

We’re working on lots of new handbag, scarf and hat designs for fall/winter 2011 and spring/summer 2012. For holiday we’re adding a some really cute kids wool caps & mittens.

Each year we try to move the fair trade needle forward by helping our artisan groups in any way we can. In the past, we’ve helped them find and finance better locations that are larger and have more natural light. This year we are working on something truly amazing. I’ll write more about it later, but if we pull this off, it will be one of our greatest accomplishments. In short, we’re working to move production from Kathmandu out to the villages where the artisans live and where the hemp grows wild. By doing this, we’ll greatly increase the amount of money we pay to the artisans, and greatly improve their way of life. We are just starting and it may take a while to do this, but it’s one more step forward in this wonderful and exciting journey of ours.

I’ll take some more pic’s today and upload them soon. Below are some of our new wool animal caps and mittens that we’re working on for holiday.  Thanks for reading and we hope you’ll come back soon. Take Care, Ed–

Pre-production samples

Our Very Happy Quality Assurance Testers

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