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Who are your artisans?
90% of our artisans are survivors of trafficking, and the rest are vulnerable, marginalized, or disabled people who have been trained in a skill as a means of trafficking prevention.
Why do you use the term "artisan"? And why don't you put pictures of your artisans on the website?
We call our workers "artisans" because we feel that it is a more empowering term than "worker", since it encompasses not just their work skills, but their gifts as a human being. It also offers a greater possibility for emotional connection for our customers with the people who made their products. This is something we feel strongly about, and we try to help people to understand the connection between the things they wear or buy and the people who worked to make them.
We don't put any names or pictures on our artisans' page in an effort to respect their dignity as people. We try our hardest not to capitalize on the "sympathy buy" element that can be so prevalent in social enterprises, but rather to put out a straightforward story of what they face. Also, many of our artisans are survivors of sexual trafficking, and so we make an added effort to protect their person and their dignity.
How do you find your artisans?
Well, actually, we don’t find them; our production partners do. You see, partly because we are a very small company (just Michelle and I, along with a few part-time volunteers), we don’t have the resources to actually hire and oversee production of our products ourselves. Instead, we work with non-profit organizations whose whole purpose is to find ways to assist people who are vulnerable and exploited (and this is actually a more sustainable way than doing it ourselves, since it's always been our goal to support the organizations on the ground as well). These partners are the ones who train and employ our artisans; we support their employment opportunities by designing and commissioning products for them to make. This model allows for the artisan to be empowered with employment as well as providing for a small income for the non-profit organizations so that they can continue to do their other work. (Fundraising to cover overhead expenses is really hard for most non-profits, taking up valuable time and energy. If we can help them to cover these expenses, we’re hitting two birds with one stone.) Plus, because our production partners are there full-time, they really know the artisans, and are able to teach them “soft” skills like money management, health and hygiene, and family care.
Do you have any requirements for your production partners?
We work with organizations that are working to empower marginalized, vulnerable, or exploited people. Once we find an organization that is doing this, we sit with them and look at a list of required standards that we have, including safety in the workplace, living wages, and worker's rights. Together, we come up with a contract for that particular partner (since each of our partners is in a different place, the details might look slightly different with each one, but the standards are always the same).
How do you know that your artisans are given a living wage and treated fairly?
We visit our production partners at least once a year and most often twice or three times a year. During those visits, we are often working on new designs or tweaking existing designs, but it also gives us the chance to see how things are going at the workshop, and to see in person the working conditions. We also have a yearly review by an independent party to be sure that our standards of living wage, safety, and worker treatment are being met.
How do you define a "living wage"?
A living wage is one which allows a person to acquire the basic necessities of life: safe housing, nutritious food, clean water, basic health care, and education for children. To figure out what this figure is in each area where our production partners are located, we do research; by looking at government or NGO statistics on the living-wage incomes, as well as by talking to local workers who have a good handle on what is necessary to live, we come to a figure which we ask our production partners to meet. Often our partners will create an incentive system in which artisans will earn a base salary and then can make more depending on how much they produce.
What percentage of the cost of each product goes to your artisans?
We don't like to put any percentages on our website for several reasons: one is that each item has a varying percentage that goes toward our costs, toward the artisans, and toward the non-profit that offers training and employment to the artisans, and we hesitate ever to make generalizations that don't hold true across the board. However, be assured that we start with making sure that the artisans are paid a living wage, then we make sure that our non-profit production partners are covering their expenses. And lastly, after a sale is made on this end, then we can start to cover our own expenses.
What about the Love146 ReImagine products? How much of the sale goes to them?
The main point of selling the Love146 merchandise is not for either Imagine Goods or Love146 to make enough of a profit in order to actually be able to put a large amount of money toward the projects that Love146 runs (we would have to sell items for roughly 3 times as much as we do if we hoped to use these sales as a fundraiser). Instead, we at Imagine Goods (and our partners at Love146) view the main point of these sales as the employment opportunity that they offer the men and women who make these products—these are survivors of trafficking, and without employment, their life opportunities would likely be limited to exploitation or worse. This employment opportunity is a vital part of both the prevention effort for vulnerable people as well as aftercare for survivors, and this is where the value of these sales lies—in the living wage opportunity it allows.
How do you source the fabrics for the Carousel line products?
We hand-pick the fabrics for the Carousel line from the local markets in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Just picture a huge concrete building where everything from bike parts to food to clothes is sold (there is no air conditioning). There is one corner of the upper floor where the narrow aisles are packed floor to ceiling with folded lengths of fabrics (and a few bolts). This is where we hunt for fabrics that will be just right for our products. It’s a time-consuming process, but worth it for us. The vendors here know us well and always seem happy to see us (maybe because we tend to buy dozens of yards at a time, instead of their usual sales of a few yards at a time).
So do you know where those fabrics come from?
No, not really. We've asked if there is any way to find out where the fabrics are made, and we’re told that they don’t really know. We guess that much of it comes from China (but that’s just a guess). We’re pretty sure that these fabrics don’t come from sustainable-supply manufacturers, and we don’t love that fact. However, we made the decision to go ahead and buy these fabrics for a few reasons:
1) We may not know where the fabric is made, but we do know that we are supporting the vendors who sell us the fabrics. These are ordinary people who are earning a living by selling us the fabrics. If we went directly to a factory to buy fabrics, we’d be cutting out these middle men.
2) We haven’t been able to find a source of fabric that would fully meet our ideal conditions (a wide variety of fun prints, organically grown cotton, environmentally conscious production, and fairly treated workers). So when we first set out to make products, we had to make a call—do we wait until we have the ideal conditions met, or do we go ahead and start giving our artisans a living wage, even though it means that our Carousel line won’t be 100% sustainable, down to the last thread? We made the pragmatic decision to start where we can, and then to grow one step at a time into deeper and deeper sustainability for the people down the line.
3) When we found Goel Community (the cooperative that makes our Terra line), we were thrilled, and started to buy a portion of our fabrics from them, since they meet nearly all of our ideal criteria. However, these fabrics don’t come in the fun prints that we (and our customers) love so much, so we’ll probably always use them for just a portion of our products.
How are the fabrics for the Terra line made?
These fabrics are made by Goel Community, a worker-owned cooperative in which all the fabrics are hand-woven on looms by workers whose family trade has been weaving for generations. This fabric is dyed using all natural dyes (with things like barks, indigo, saffron, etc.). It’s a very cool process, and a very sustainable cooperative.
Is the Terra line organic?
Not yet, but we know that they would love to start growing their own organic cotton at some point in the future. We’re looking forward to that time!
Who designs your products?
We have a several-step process for the designing of the products. It usually starts with an idea that we get for a silhouette or style that seems to be getting a lot of attention on Pinterest (suggestions are always welcome!). We take this idea to our production-partner's head seamstresses, and sometimes adjustments will be made based on their input or for practical reasons, like sizing considerations or available materials.
Who designed your website?
I know, it's awesome, right? The site, and our branding, was done by the Made Shop.
Who does your photography?
We have several talented photographers who work with us (often giving us special rates, for which we're so very grateful!).
The lifestyle photos that you see on our homepage carousel and in our promotional shots are done by Heather Leicy, Jennifer Foster, Desirea Still photography, and by Michelle Walls of Italian Lane Photography. (Styling for these photo shoots has been done by Kate Hostetter.)
Most of our product shots are taken by Michelle Walls of Italian Lane Photography.
The photo of Michelle and Aiyana on the About page, as well as some of our product shots, were done by Ian Christmann of Catalyst Sudios.
Are your products for sale in any brick and mortar stores?
Yes! Here are the locations where you can find some of our items:
Country Chic Creations, Lucedale, MS
The Marketplace, Cornelius, NC
That Place on Main, Tripp City, OH
Blue Dandelion, Strasburg PA
FoxDuck, Lancaster, PA
Sophie Stargazer, Lancaster, PA
Rooted, New London, PA
New Creation, Harrisonburg, VA