First-world business models just don't work in Third World countries.
Realizing this early on has helped Creative Women of the World create a successful bridge for the Third World artisan women they work with.
In 2007 Lorelei VerLee went to Haiti to help establish an artisan-based business, Haitian Artisan for Peace International, or HAPI. While she was there she realized this was something that should go around the world. In 2011 Creative Women of the World was started. The organization helps women start their own sustainable artisan businesses. They help Third World artisans to look at what resources are available, what they can use it for, and trains them to see things with an American eye. That way their art will be marketable in the United States.
"We have grown very, very quickly since then," VerLee said.
Adapting to the slower pace and unpredictability of merchandise availability are just a few of the issues they have dealt with. They have learned to work with what they have, when they have it.
Hope Sheehan, business manager for the organization said at first she interpreted people showing up late as a lack of work ethic, but quickly realized this was not the case. These women are working to survive; other priorities take place, like feeding their children. Creative Women of the World takes a working mentoring relationship approach, Sheehan said, and it takes place over a long period of time.
"You don't want to be there too much, because you don't want to build a dependency, but you want to be there enough, to help guide and build relationships." Sheehan said.
Her goal is to work herself out of work, so these will be her sisters in retail. Her goal is not to create a paid career for herself in their country, but to create a paid career for them in their country.
Sheehan discovered early on in Haiti that you never fire someone. If you do, it will cause them to lose face. Although Haitians are not rich in material objects they are rich in social connections and highly value them. To publicly embarrass someone there is a very serious breach in social etiquette.
They currently represent 30 countries and work directly with artisans in five countries and are working on a sixth. The other countries have organizations with artisans who already make products. All the money they make in sales at their store goes back into their mission in the five countries: Haiti, Japan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and the United States and they are working on Mexico. In the US they are working with some homeless women. One of their lines of jewelry is called Second Chance Jewelry.
One of the important things they have learned through their work in these five countries is to identify a leader within each country who they can work with, before they come in. That way they have someone who has established connections. Each artisan group they work with has slightly different needs.
Creative Women of the World is non-faith-based. They work with everybody. Currently they have a staff of eight in the States, with an exporter in Kenya, and another in Haiti. The also have a group of volunteers in the States who help repackage items and work at events.
They would like to have geographic locations in every major city and become a major brand for Fair Trade.
"Everyone knows 10,000 Villages, in 10 years I want them to know Creative Women of the World," Sheehan said. But she is also philosophical about their growth.
"We have jumped into the river and the flow of the river is taking us places at the right time so even though we set goals we don't always put a real specific time or framework on it," Sheehan said.
July 11 they will be holding a fashion show called Empower Her World, A celebration of Fashion and Culture. There will be a runway fashion showcasing global fashion along with a live auction of some of the new garments they will be carrying in the shop. Their retail store is at 125 W. Wayne St. For more information call them at 1-260-267-9048 or go to empowerherworld.brownpapertickets.com.
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