Brooklyn-based home furnishings peddler West Elm, a subsidiary of Williams-Sonoma, has been focusing a keen eye toward everything and anything Etsy 'n' artisanal for the past several years now. The company’s frequent collaborations with domestic indie designers, small artisans, charities
, and global nonprofits such as Fair Trade and Craftmark have resulted in stunning — and frequently sustainable — offerings season in and season out.
Now, West Elm is really
upping the crafty ante with the launch of Handcrafted
, an initiative in which the company has pledged to direct $35 million in the purchase of handcrafted goods, sourced both in the U.S. and aboard, through 2015. This is a 40 percent increase from the $25 million dedicated to handcrafted products in 2013 (currently, artisanal-produced goods represent around 20 percent of the total assortment).
Additionally, West Elm has commited to collaborate with 20 different artisan groups in 15 different countries, initiating partnerships in Mali, Peru, Nicaragua, and Columbia while strengthening existing partnerships in countries such as Vietnam, Nepal, Haiti, India, and the U.S. According to the retailer, these artisan products — West Elm adheres to the UNESCO defination of the term: Those produced by artisans, either completely by hand, or with the help of hand tools or even mechanical means, as long as the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most substantial component of the finished product — will be sourced from "businesses adhering to high social responsibility, health and safety standards, meeting local laws, best industry practices and the brand's vendor code of conduct."
The West Elm Handcrafted initiative, an aggressive and impressive purchasing plan that hasn’t been attempted by a large American retailer as far as I know, was launched as a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action
and published earlier today at the CGI’s annual meeting in New York City.
When all is said is done, West Elm estimates these collaborations will make a positive economic impact on 4,500 workers across the globe and 18,000 family members. The company points out that roughly half of the artisans who will benefit from the partnerships are women who are supporting their families while learning new skills.
In a lengthy letter
published on the West Elm's blog, Front & Main, president Jim Brett writes:
In strategic arenas from political to humanitarian, there is an ongoing conversation about handcraft as a way of creating more jobs in the face of the world economic crisis. However, craft is not only about preserving techniques, it’s about pioneering them — and that’s where the opportunity lies in the USA.
One of our first steps involves strengthening our commitment to artisans here at home. Through 2015, we’re introducing regionally sourced handcrafted assortments into each of west elm’s 50+ American stores, partnering with Etsy, individual makers, small businesses and organizations to feature local artists in each location. We’re also working with North Carolina manufacturers, including our own west elm upholstery workshop in Hickory, to keep handcrafted American furniture making alive.
Our willingness to invest in the well being of craft communities at home and around the world is what sets west elm apart. Where most other retailers see a trend, we see a retail revolution, an emerging consumer base of people who want to turn the clock back on quality and forward on availability, a demanding equation we are determined to balance.
If you take a look around the West Elm website, numerous products are now branded with a “Handcrafted” stamp of approval and there’s an entire new section dedicated to the initiative where shoppers can shop by artisan and learn more about the collaborating artists and organizations including Haryana Rug Weavers (India), Kathmandu Felt Makers (Nepal), and Port-Au-Prince Paper Makers (Haiti). The “stories” of various partners will be highlighted throughout the initiative.
In celebration of this remarkable launch, here’s a look at eight different products boasting the West Elm Handcrafted seal that stood out to me (as with anything having to do with West Elm, it was hard to pick just a few). It’s a mix of old and new items and items produced both home and abroad. Anything from the West Elm Handcrafted collection that you have your eyes on?