Far & Wide Collective : Artisans from far places are selling their crafts to wide places

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Far & Wide Collective is partnering with some of the most talented artisans in post-conflict and emerging economies. While taking shoppers on a journey, Far & Wide Collective give them access to a rare selection of unique and high-quality products.

They are dedicated to connecting artisans in emerging economies to the international market. To include the many artisans excluded from traditional online retail, They have created an organizational support system. Their partner craftswomen and men need only to focus on creating the best and most unique products while they take care of getting them to you.

At Far & Wide Collective has a passion for discovering the beautifully unique and carefully made things one can only stumble upon in the tucked-away workshops and rural village markets on exotic travels. They have found these products and providing to the people who are living seven sea far. Far & wide also helping to build a more sustainable infrastructure in many of these communities and countries for the future.

Techaloo got an opportunity to have a chit-chat with Hedvig Christine Alexander, Founder of Far & Wide Collective.
Let’s have a glance over her thoughts.

Techaloo : When did you start your journey?
I started www.farandwidecollective.com – because I had worked with artisans and small craft businesses – especially in Afghanistan and its region – for a while and had seen first hand how hard is for even very skilled crafts producers from emerging economies to connect with markets and buyers. This prompted me to start Far & Wide Collective and a small pilot project before previously.

Techaloo : What was your vision/mission while starting?
The vision is to create an online market place for artisans from post-conflict and developing economies that otherwise had no market access or not been a part of the global economy. I wanted to create a platform that offered not only marketing and sales but also could help small crafts businesses with the many other challenges they face such as: product development, design, quality control, pricing, logistic and distribution. A online market place that did not require artisans to be literate, have access to computers, speak English, have a credit card/paypal or access to reliable shipping options for one product at the time – requirements that most other online market places have.

I think that there now – more than ever – is an opportunity to level the playing field by connecting isolated and disadvantaged communities to the global economy through innovative business models and cheaper technology. This springs tragedy in Bangladesh and other disasters has only made it more urgent for us all to identify responsible, sustainable ways to include producers from emerging economies in the global economy.

Techaloo : Tell us about your journey in Afghanistan?
I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan for almost a decade. It is a special place and the Afghans are entrepreneurial and very driven. They have however been through several decades of hardship which has largely broken the country’s market links and trade relationships to the rest of the world. Given the skill sets of many Afghans – especially that of women – and the steep raise in demand, we have seen, for handmade and unique product – I believed that the crafts industry could be a very lucrative sector for Afghanistan.

Techaloo : How did this idea come to your mind?
I had the idea of an online market place for crafts and artisans in remote places for a few years, but did not think that I had the skills to do it. But when no one else seemed to do it I went ahead. I was mostly told that it was an impossibly project; that it had too complex a supply chain and that it would be too hard for me to do alone. I knew that it was all true but I felt that it had to be tried.

Techaloo : How important is to empower women artisan? I think that empowering women artisans everywhere, but especially in poor communities – is critical in breaking the circle of poverty.
Crafts are the second largest employer, after agriculture, in many emerging economies. It represents an opportunity for thousands–millions even–to earn a living and own their own business. Moreover, crafts are often made by women, who rank among the most vulnerable in many of these societies.
If women are able to earn a decent living, there is a proven trickle-down effect. Their families and communities thrive. In even the most deeply conservative countries, craft production allows women to empower themselves and lift their families out of poverty.

Techaloo : Which countries do you have products from?
Currently from Afghanistan, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan but we are expanding and eager to include artisans many other countries and new communities. We are always looking for artisans to join the collective.

Techaloo : Which countries do you have buyers from?
Currently mostly from North America and some from Europe.

Techaloo : How do you manage shipping from rural and distant areas?
It is very challenging and expensive. So far we have partnered with people on the ground who have helped us with quality control and shipping the products to out warehouse in the US.

Techaloo : Have you got any kind of funding?
Yes, a friend gave me a loan two years back and last fall I was lucky enough to have a very successful businesswoman invested in the business.

Techaloo : Explain a little more about Farandwidecollective?
The main idea behind Far & Wide Collective is connecting supply with demand for unique and handmade products through an online marketplace. We want to include a whole new segment of producers into the global economy. We have created a supply chain that allows our partner artisans to focus on production while we take care of all other aspects of getting the products to market. We buy the products from the artisan; taking the financial risk. The difference between what we pay our partners and the final retail price is the cost of logistics, warehousing, pick and pack, distribution, marketing and sales. Any money we make will be used to invest in new artisan partners and buy new products. We also help artisans get “market ready” and have just launched a project in Afghanistan called the Artisan Toolkit. It will be a richly illustrated training manual outlining the steps artisans have to go through to create good products and connect with buyers. The Artisan Toolkit will have an audio version for artisans with little or no literacy.

Techaloo : What are your plans for next 3 years?
Expand, expand, expand. We will be looking for new investors and a solid development partner in the spring of 2014.

Techaloo : What will be your advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Stay focused, don’t get discouraged, always trust your gut feeling – it is all your have got – and build a great team around you.

Techaloo : What do you think about techaloo.com?
Techaloo.com is a great resource for entrepreneurs with valuable insights into other start-ups and a focus on fostering entrepreneurship from the very outset of people’s careers. Without this kind of support, literally “a leg up” economies simply do not move forward.

About Founder :
 

hedvig Hedvig Christine Alexander spent seven years in Afghanistan working in international development. She established Building Markets in Afghanistan, an organization stimulating the local economy by encouraging international businesses to support local goods and services. Later, she became the Managing Director of Turquoise Mountain, a charity promoting education of traditional Afghan art and architecture, and oversaw a major heritage and regeneration program in the Old City of Kabul. During her time in Afghanistan and traveling in the region, Hedvig Christine saw how even the most talented craftswomen and men were unable to connect with buyers abroad. Consequently, they could not benefit from the increased demand for beautiful, authentic, and handmade items in recent years. As current online retail business models largely exclude emerging-market craft producers, Hedvig Christine decided to create an online market place that would focus entirely on bringing a new segment of makers to the international market. Far & Wide Collective is a result of this.
 
 
 

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Mohit Bansal(23) is B.Tech in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, India. He has interest in business and entrepreneurship and has published couple of research articles. He is also associated with various NGOs. He is with Techaloo when it was just in concept stage. The Techaloo site was not existing even then. Currently Mohit is working with Mu Sigma as a Business Analyst Profile.

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