Designers creating one-of-a-kind handmade products
Rebecca Kousky took a very atypical road as she earned a Master’s degree in social work more than five years ago. She didn’t go for the usual career path. Instead, she took a nanny job in St. Louis during the day, and funded Nest, a non-profit organization that has expanded to over nine countries ever since.
It’s unusual to find companies in which the immediate financial success isn’t the priority of the leaders. Fashion companies, as in many industries, have expanded overseas towards Asia and Latin America in the search of more profitable manufacturing contractors, many times, leaving aside fair trades for employees and less than admirable quality of products. Thankfully, the industry is also adapting to new social preferences by embracing brands with progressive, sustainable missions.
Nest’s social work is focused on clothing, jewelry and accessories artisans with the purpose of establishing seamless collaborations between their communities and fashion and accessories designers in America. From the words of Kousky, now Executive Director of Nest, the organization “is a network of artists helping artists worldwide.”
The collaborations don’t stop helping artisanal businesses reach international competent markets. We are talking of partnerships based on microfinance loans, in which relative small amounts of money ($500 Dollars) are lent to artisans for them to establish sustainable businesses, and learn how to market their own crafts. At the same time, they collaborate with strong design teams, bringing their techniques into contemporary designs. While these brands don’t sell for the lowest prices in the market, they go for quality and uniqueness of artistic traditions – from all over the world.
But it’s only the partnership with one-year-old line Maiyet that Nest reached a level it hadn’t attained more than half a decade ago. It became partners with a high-end line, bringing artisanal products into the luxury market showcased in Paris Fashion Week – and putting Nest in the center of media outlets like Women’s Wear Daily, a key to their success.
Rebecca Kousky’s vision for Nest started with the idea of empowering women, heads of households, and promoting peace by alleviating poverty. As much as Nest has expanded with the addition of different retail partners – the most significant ones being REEF, Timberland and Maiyet – the success of the clothes and jewelry promoted are but a medium to reach communities in need. Kousky still remembers her first partner, a jewelry crafter in Turkey, who had less to nothing after an earthquake hit her town in the 90s. Nest has now become ‘all inclusive’ to all genres as “certain craft types (leather, metal, foot pedal looms) are traditionally done by men.”
Nest’s keeps the personable factor as a key medium to approach new partners and volunteers in the areas of marketing, design, teaching, business, and engineering. It is no rarity to find Nest’s social media imagery featuring the relationship of designers and business partners with artisans, who meet ever so often to collaborate hand in hand, but also to evaluate the evolution of the fellowships.
Hand weavers in India and Guatemala, jewelers in Kenya and Colombia, and hand knitters from Swaziland are some of the artisans reached by Nest. It has expanded their markets and given the essential training and community support for the companies to be sustainable on their own. The micro-loans are repaid in the form of products, which is where the brands make their revenue, at the same time that they continue to promote such businesses. “We encourage multi-season commitments from companies and, indeed, most do that (including all the companies listed above) but they are also always eager to form new partnerships and expand product offerings,” explains Kousky. Designers and fashion lines act as retail buyers; with the difference that Nest is also involved in the creative process and design expertise of the artisanal companies.
Reef and Maiyet have produced videos featuring their artisans on location, working in what ultimately are very appealing and marketable products. Leather sandals with hand-woven detailing, as well as delicate jewelry and block printing over summer dresses are nothing but fashionable. At the same time, stories of women are told on the website www.buildanest.org, making the collaborations a marketing strategy for the brands.
In the end, embracing heritage techniques and crafts that have been undervalued and underpriced in the past enabled Rebecca Kousky, for once, to help women “pull out of the cycle of poverty.” It’s all about sustainable businesses, inclusive partnerships, and exclusive and unique products.
See the videos and get inspired!
Images courtesy of Nest.