Small Batch Story :: Creative Women
Small Batch Story :: Creative Women
Creative Women is a Vermont-based company working in partnership with six women-owned textile design studios in Ethiopia, Swaziland, Afghanistan, and Mali. Together, they create traditionally-inspired contemporary accessories and home textiles.
More than just designing and selling textiles, Creative Women works to promote equitable trading practices and to support women's economic independence.
What led you to create Creative Women?
I had worked in the non-profit world for all my working life, mostly in public health. I had promised myself that when I turned 60, I would start my own business (I was brought up by a capitalist father). I wanted to continue working with women, travel and work with beautiful things.
While doing some consulting work in Ethiopia, my daughter (who lived in Ethiopia with her family at the time) introduced to me a number of women who were involved in the artisan community in Addis. That was the beginning of my business relationship, and friendship, with the woman whose business produces the majority of my products.
Can you share some of your success stories?
Today, Sabahar, my biggest producer, employs over 65 full-time employees and at least that many part-time spinners, silk farmers, and weavers. Although Creative Women is not their only customer, we are their biggest. Although men weave in Ethiopia, most of Sabahar’s employees are women. All the way from the financial officer, to the quality assurance person, sewers, dyers, and “tea ladies” ... many who were once unemployed and now have jobs that offer them benefits and opportunities for training and better jobs.
A sweet story ... during my last visit to Sabahar, I gave a short presentation to the whole staff. I wanted them to know what I do with their products in the US and I wanted them to get a sense of how people in the US value these beautiful items. So using a projector to put my website on the wall, I explained how websites allow people all over the world to see their products and buy them. I also showed them some of our customers’ sites, so that they could see how our customers photographed and displayed the products. The Ethiopian staff may see the final product, but they never get to see them elegantly displayed.
They were amazed; while I was showing them one of their tablecloths on Anthropologie’s web site, one of the weavers jumped up, and said “I wove that; it’s mine! Look at that!”
Others asked questions; what sells the best, did people care if they were from Ethiopia, what could they do to make the products better? At the end of our discussion, it was quiet; they had run out of questions and were just looking at some lovely pictures of their work. One of the dyers stood up and said,[bold] “This makes me proud to be an Ethiopian. Now the world knows that there is more to Ethiopia than poor people and AIDS. Now they can see that we can produce all of this beauty.”
That’s why I started Creative Women; to create jobs, to show the world that Ethiopia is more than the stereotype of the starving child and to create a market for their lovely products.
If you had to choose a favorite, which Creative Women product do you love the most?
Our towels; I use mine everyday. I love the designs and feel of the incredibly soft Ethiopian cotton, and the fact that it dries quickly. We have products that are more elegant but it is a treat to have an everyday, mundane product that’s so special.
If you didn't run Creative Women, what would your days look like?
I’d be gardening, but since I live in VT, gardening won’t fill my year. I’d spend more time with my grandkids.
Describe the type of world you want to design?
A world where the economic and power disparities are not as great as they are today.