By Meredith Mosbacher
Every product has a story, whether we look for it or not. It has an origin, a maker, and a composition. Sometimes the origin of an item is vague: “Imported,” it might say. We are left to wonder (or maybe not) from where and whom it derives. Although becoming more common, it is relatively rare to find a product that has a backstory and additionally, may be environmentally sound and socially empowering.
TO THE MARKET (TTM), a socially inspired business, loves a story though—it’s what inspires us. We use the free market to address longstanding social justice issues by promoting goods made by and stories told by survivors of abuse, conflict, and disease. By working with more than 20 organizations (that we call Local Partners) from around the world that employ survivors to produce beautiful, compelling products, we’re trying to remind customers of the time when people knew their maker—and their maker’s family.
TO THE MARKET’s relationship with our Local Partners employing survivors is threefold. We assist them by (a) promoting their survivor-made goods through multiple distribution channels, including pop-up shops, custom sourcing, retail partnerships, and our online marketplace; (b) offering a platform for survivors and their champions to share their stories with a new, larger audience through the TO THE MARKET Stories and Huffington Post blogs; and by (c) providing tailored services, such as trend forecasting and basic mental health resources, to improve production and management.
The term “Local Partner” denotes TO THE MARKET’s relationship with these organizations, as well as describes the materials from which they source. For example, the women of All Across Africa, based in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya, weave together baskets by winding stripped-down sisal leaves around bundles of sweet grass. TO THE MARKET partners with Kolkata, India-based Freeset to create custome bags and shirts; Freeset uses 100% organic cotton for their shirts and sews their bags using the Jute plant found on banks of the Ganges. To the North in Dehradun, India, JOYN employs one group of survivors to spin raw local cotton, another group of survivors to block print the cotton fabric, and a third group to sew the bags or home goods. In Haiti, the artisans of Vi Bella upcycle discarded paper, plastic, and glass bottles and bottle caps to create jewelry
The materials used speak to a broader phenomenon. The use of indigenous and sustainable resources and the use of upcycling echo the renewal that is occurring in these artisans’ lives. They are women who have survived adversity and have found strength through the dignity of work. They have taken hold of their own lives and found economic independence. And with this independence they not only help themselves, but also their families and communities. An ecosystem of compassion is created and sustained, and we get to share that good news when people purchase their products. TO THE MARKET helps to expand this ecosystem. By assisting local partners around the world, TO THE MARKET takes an active role in equipping the survivor’s that they employ with economic independence while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.
To learn more about TO THE MARKET, or to explore sourcing eco-friendly, survivor-made custom products for your next event or corporate needs, email Storiesblog@tothemarket.com.