The Gift of Giving Back: Handmade Global Design at NY Now

August 31st, 2017

Categories: Artisans, Arts & Crafts, Charity, Fashion, Fashion Accessories, Gifts, Jewelry


Aid Through Trade “Coral Reef”

Charity isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of NY Now, the former NY Gift Show. This August I visited a different section than in previous seasons: Handmade Global Design. Giving back was a recurring theme for many of these exhibitors. In some cases they donate money to charities; in others, through their efforts, lives of poverty and hopelessness are transformed by work, education and access to global markets.

Some were members of the Fair Trade Federation. It describes itself as “part of the global fair trade movement, building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty…by continually and significantly expanding the practice of trade that values the labor and dignity of all people.”

Meyelo’s Fynn Rucksack

I call out two of its some 50 members listed in the directory: Aid Through Trade, one of the Federation’s founding members, and Meyelo.

The original creator of the Roll-On® Bracelet made with glass beads, Aid Through Trade employs 200+ women from Nepal. Founded in 1993 by former Peace Corps volunteer Damian Jones, he recognized that women’s lives changed dramatically when they have an income.

As I passed by Meyelo’s booth, I heard one of the sales staff say to a customer, “Our for profit gives back to our nonprofit.” Eighty women from Kenya make bags, earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, scarves and sandals sold through Meyelo. On its website: “Every purchase provides our artisans with a source of fair trade income, support for their community, and a global platform for their work.….We work in community development with Maasai villages and provide access to education, water, farming co-ops and medical needs. We empower women, girls and their communities with sustainable programs.”

Bella Tunno’s Giraffe Pacifier Lovie

A striking poster caught my eye in the Bella Tunno booth filled with collections of children’s accessories. It touted: “You buy one product, we give one child a meal.” Founded by Michelle Tunno Buelow, the website reports that “A portion of every Bella Tunno product sold is donated to the Matt Tunno Make a Difference Memorial Fund.” To honor her brother Matt, Michelle Buelow’s fund supports drug and alcohol abuse education, prevention and rehabilitation and programs for at-risk children and teenagers.

Aid to Artisans

Aid to Artisans creates opportunities for low-income craftspeople and designers in East Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Central and South Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North and Sub-Saharan Africa “to build profitable businesses inspired by handmade traditions.” According to its website, it offers “access to new markets, business training, eco-effective processes and design innovation through a network of partners to promote sustainable growth and community well-being.” The artisans make a range of products from decorative pillows and children’s accessories to desk accessories, ceramic vases, shawls, jewelry, home furnishings and decorative pieces, glassware and ornaments.

“Comfort for a Cause,” is The Elephant Pants Company’s slogan. Founded in 2014, it donates 10 percent of its net profits to save elephants. “Thanks to you, $145,615 has been donated to charitable organizations dedicated to saving elephants,” it declares on its website, as a result of selling over 400,000 pairs of what it says are “The most comfortable pants that anybody had ever worn.”

For a company to combine help for impoverished foreign artisans or to donate a percentage of profits to charity is nothing new but it appears to be a successful approach given the numbers of companies doing it. Do you favor such products when you buy gifts and decorative pieces for your home?

The Elephant Pants Company’s harem pants

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5 Responses to “The Gift of Giving Back: Handmade Global Design at NY Now”

  1. EAM Said:

    I saw a woman named Kristine Deer speak at a networking event approximately a year ago. She was about 30 and had designed leggings with a purpose. I was impressed by her drive at an early age. I actually proposed she speak at the NY Women in Communications Student Conference. In any case, about 5% of her proceeds go to charity.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder if the design of a garment pleases but because of the charity connection it cost more than another also attractive pair of pants, top or dress, if folks would opt for the more expensive option.

  3. HB Said:

    Good for you. — a great everybody wins story! What with runaway advances in technology, accelerating climate change, and the consequent demographic upheavals, the world is in far greater peril than most of us realize. We now confront tremendous, overwhelming, and inconceivably expensive – in both lives and treasure – change in how and where we live and what we do. And here comes somebody –or many some bodies–who is actually doing something constructive to provide the genuine, versus pseudo, joy of learning a skill, not to a speak of employment, to marginal people, “on the outside,” and fresh energy-inexpensive merchandise to markets starved for originality.

    In my days travelling in Africa, I remember many stories about how we dumped our surplus rice on the Africans as “aid,” which Africans would not eat because it lacked the nourishing qualities of African rice. This is the right way.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: If I like it and can afford it, I’ll get it. If some or all of the proceeds go towards charity, so much the better.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I appreciate the marketing help given the artisans. Imagine living in an African village having your work on exhibit in NYC! Wonderful.

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