After traveling to nearly 50 countries, many in the developing world, Angela Yost, Kara Wiegand and Lindsay Murphy knew they wanted to give back to the communities that were so impactful to them.
When they witnessed the severe poverty in these communities–from the little girl in Siem Reap, Cambodia who stepped into the sewer while begging for grape soda, to the families in Mumbai, India who were living on the highway medians between a constant flow of traffic–the women were determined to find a way to support these people in a sustainable and economically meaningful way.
Kara, Angela and Lindsay are the co-founders of Threads Worldwide, a fair trade company that brings jewelry handcrafted by artisan women in developing countries to market in the US through a social sales model and online shop. It’s not your average jewelry company. It’s one that is making a real and sustainable impact in the world.
Many of the cooperatives that Threads Worldwide works with employ women who are survivors of sex trafficking, have physical disabilities or are affected by other economic, social or political factors. When these women are taught a tangible skill (jewelery making), paid a fair wage and provided a safe workplace, they begin to emerge out of poverty and start to thrive. Depending on the season, they empower hundreds of women in over 12 developing countries around the world, from Ecuador to Kenya to Indonesia.
In the United States, women join the Threads Worldwide community as Threads Sales Consultants. Sales Consultants show the world how to shop with heart – ethically and consciously. Teachers, business owners, lawyers, doctors and stay-at-home mothers share the stories of the artisan partners while also earning an income for themselves by selling the handcrafted jewelry at trunk shows and within their communities.
Recently, EW had the chance to talk to these inspiring women about bridging the local to the global and the rewarding challenges of creating a social enterprise.
EW: How did the unique business model that Threads Worldwide created come to life?
Kara, COO & Co-Founder:The visions [of poverty] never faded, and that bolstered our resolve to find an answer to the question “What can we do to help?” We were drawn to community commerce, and Threads Worldwide was started as a way to provide a market and income to skilled artisans who would otherwise be limited in their potential.
Lindsay, Director of Artisan Partnerships & Co-Founder: We are very motivated to work with women since women invest up to 90% of their income back into their families in the form of healthcare, education and food. When coming up with business ideas, we were determined to find a way to connect women. Threads Worldwide does just that – both globally and locally – with our social sales model. It’s always so inspiring to hear how our Threads Sales Consultants are making an income for their families while supporting women across the globe.
Angela, CEO & Co-Founder: Exactly. We wanted to provide a scalable way to impact artisans around the world, so we developed a social selling model where women in the US can make money while also making a difference. By becoming a Threads Sales Consultant or by hosting a Threads trunk show, you are contributing to the growth of a community across the world.
EW: What are the challenges of running a social enterprise, especially since this type of business (one with a social mission at the heart) is a relatively new model?
Angela: The challenges are no different from many other young or emerging companies – from getting capital to business development. I think something Kara, Lindsay and I have that gives us an advantage is our really great network. We know really smart and successful people who are willing to introduce us to their networks and help our business grow. There is a lot of power in collaboration.
Lindsay: One of the challenges has been the education piece. Not everyone is versed or familiar with the fair trade movement, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to witness our Threads Sales Consultants take this journey with us, and educate themselves about fair trade, the supply chains of where their clothing and food comes from, and learning how powerful their purchases can be. We work with a cooperative that employs women who are survivors of sex trafficking, and it’s amazing to see how a few of our Threads Sales Consultants are using this story as fuel to run their Threads business, while also becoming advocates in combatting sex-trafficking.
Kara: At the end of the day though, despite any challenge the day presents, we love working with women around the world in true partnership. Threads Sales Consultants wouldn’t be successful without the beautiful handcrafted products made by our Artisan Partners. Conversely, the artisan women can’t thrive without access to the marketplace provided by our Consultants. We know that creating opportunity for and connection between women is the most effective way to create global change and that keeps us going!
EW: Can you tell us more about the jewelry and your products?
Kara: We source handcrafted products from around the world that we love for their quality and style, regardless of their story – but each piece has an amazing story.
Angela: Many of our jewelry items are made from sustainable and upcycled materials, too, from tagua seed to scrap metals. Lots of vibrant and fun pieces… and gorgeous, timeless bracelets, necklaces, and earrings that are great for everyday wear.
Lindsay: The artisans are incredibly talented; we’re continually blown away by their work!
Interested in joining the Threads Movement? Click here to learn more!
Threads Worldwide will be at Emerging Women Live, October 8-11 in San Francisco. Stop by their table and connect with them!
For more inspiring stories of emerging women in the business world, as well as tools and resources for your emergence, check out more of our blog and our podcasts.