All That Glitters is not Gold

An Importer’s Perspective

As a kid growing up in India, our parents would take us to tourist destinations during the summer break. I remember seeing a lot of gift shops selling artisanal goods to tourists at these places. Those goods were unique since we never saw them in our local daily markets. They also seemed to be reasonably priced. My impression, seeing those artisanal goods being sold plentifully, was that the artisans were getting good business.

When I started working with artisan groups closely, I learned that my earlier notion of artisans having a lot of work could not be further from the truth. Most artisans we work with share their concerns about not having enough work. Also, the prices they can fetch for their crafts through domestic traders are too low to be sustainable. This has lead me to the realization that artisan-made goods don’t automatically equate to healthy returns for the producers who made them.

Artisan-made goods don’t automatically equate to healthy returns for the producers who made them.

The biggest reason why artisans are vulnerable is because they frequently have to face the decision of having no business or selling at a unsustainable price. Before, their crafts were a part of their everyday life but now they are only novelties being sold in tourist shops. To give you an idea, sometimes our Fair Trade purchase price for volume quantity (direct from artisans) is higher than the retail price found at these tourist shops. It’s something that has taken me some time to be OK with.

I now see artisan-made goods in many big box stores at prices so low that I am sure it is not sustainable for artisans. Here’s the big questions: As consumers, should we support that? For the artisans, is selling their goods at low prices better than no business at all?

My sense is clear no for the following reasons:

  • Unsustainable wages start to push artisans into a cycle of poverty.
  • Artificially low prices in a few stores has the potential to lower the market pricing for that entire craft which is extremely damaging.
  • The effects above start to impact an artisan's motivation and pride in their art, which inherently puts the art on its death bed.

For me, artisanal goods made sustainably are more than a piece of art. A happy artisan puts soul into each piece they create. Pieces made by artisans that are struggling and demotivated are devoid of that soul. To me they are only artisanal looking and not really “artisan made.”

Manish Gupta, Co-Founder, MATR BOOMIE

As the writer of this blog series, I want to express my gratitude to our audience for taking the time to go deeper with me into Fair Trade and for sharing your appreciation. I would like to hear more from you about what specific areas you would like me to discuss in future. I also welcome dialog around these pieces through Facebook, Twitter, blog comments or even email ( Our different perspectives make us stronger. All one All Kin. 


The Invisible Damage of Poverty: A Letter from Manish

Before I became involved in Fair Trade, any time I would see a child working somewhere, I used to feel angry towards the parents of the kids for sending them to work at such a young age. Also, it was upsetting to hear about trafficking cases where parents would trust their kids with strangers on promises of good jobs in far away cities. I somehow blamed the parents for being greedy. 

Working closely with artisans in rural areas, I observed artisans’ children at varying ages supporting them in production. Having in-depth conversations with artisans, I realized that just like any other parent, artisans also want their children to get a good education and just be a child. They don't have their children working in order to make extra cash to spend but simply because the artisan cannot afford to send their children to school. In absence of education, artisans feel that learning art/vocation will allow the child to make a living.

Just like us, parents in India simply want their kids to get an education and just be kids.

In desperate times, parents often have to take huge risks and make sacrifices in hopes that their children will have a better life. 

In desperate times, parents often have to take huge risks and make sacrifices in hopes that their children will have a better life. 

Sometimes in a family of many children, the eldest kids start working early on so together the family can afford to send the younger kids to school. Similarly, I realize that in cases of trafficking, though the parents are suspicious of strangers claiming to find a "good job" for their kids in far away cities, the alternative of not sending the child is a life of poverty and hopelessness. In that desperation, parents are willing to risk the unthinkable outcome by sending their children with strangers.

It makes me emotional, thinking about such brutal face of poverty and how it can strangle human spirit, especially when combined with lack of education, awareness and opportunities. We need high level policy changes to make a profound shift, but one of the key elements in reducing this risk is to strengthen rural economies by supporting rural businesses and artisans. Fair Trade is one of the few strategies that I think can make a significant impact on artisans and the overall economy of their communities through:

  • Connecting rural artisans to trade allowing them to make a sustainable living for their family through support in design, quality and logistics (Read More)
  • Long term trade relationships allowing artisans to plan for their future
  • Providing art form training for youth to enter trade, creating new jobs.
  • Focus on empowering women and marginalized artisans who are more at risk (read previous blog for details)

Once the cycle of poverty is broken, there is hope for, and confidence in, a strong future. The most efficient way to stop trafficking is not by intercepting traffickers at borders but by empowering the ones at risk and stopping it from ever happening in the first place.

-Manish Gupta, Matr Boomie Founder

Let's do what we can to break the vicious cycle of poverty for the sake of our most vulnerable world citizens. 

Let's do what we can to break the vicious cycle of poverty for the sake of our most vulnerable world citizens. 

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in a future blog, comment or send an email to It is our goal to inform people on Fair Trade, our mission, and the global artisan community. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Retailer Scope: Creating Shoppertainment with Camille Akin

Camille Akin of Eagle Vision

It is our pleasure to bring you another installation of our Retailer Scope series. Last time, we spoke with Sarah Culler of Fair Trade Winds about growing your business. This month, Camille Akin of Eagle Vision retail consulting was kind enough to offer some in-depth, comprehensive advice for finding your core customers and giving them unforgettable experiences in your store. Camille has done it all: She's been a book editor, ran her own craft retail store, travelled to India twice to help empower women by setting up a micro enterprise, and is now at the helm of her own retail consultancy firm, Eagle Vision. Her business aims to help small retailers create successful marketing campaigns, craft a strong brand identity and media presence, plan unforgettable events, and improve upon many facets of the retail experience. Not were we lucky enough interview Ms. Akin, you can look forward to part two of this interview coming later this year. Settle in -- this is a detailed interview you won't want to miss. 

You’re a big believer in the value of promotional events. How does one manage and measure the effectiveness of hosting events in their store?

I look at promotional events as a key component of an overall marketing strategy. Events help create buzz and build a solid base of loyal customers. And because I’m a firm believer in the 80/20 Rule (80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers), it’s critical to find and then focus on that 20 percent. That is your store’s community. In turn, you can engage your community in taking an active role in planning, participating and helping with the promotional events. People love to feel needed and that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Take the time to foster these relationships. As your community develops, ask for volunteers to help manage events.

80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. It’s critical to find and focus on that 20%.

You will find that measuring effectiveness of these events is not quantitative; rather, it’s qualitative. How well are you connecting with your community? In my stores, we taught that there is healing in crafting. We hosted a large-scale event each year for breast cancer awareness. This event took on a life of its own and was truly something that our community talked about all year. They gathered their friends and family together to be a part of helping raise funds and awareness to help other community members survive cancer. My rule of thumb is “keep them talking”. Word of mouth is powerful. If your clients/customers have a great experience at an event, they will be talking about it to their friends, family and colleagues. Make it meaningful so they can’t forget about you … and they can’t wait to return to your store to “experience” the magic you create. As Fair Trade retailers, you have such a unique opportunity to educate and inspire the people who walk through your doors.

Also relating to events, how often should you host them and can that vary depending on the size of the business?

The success of my stores was hosting one major event and two minor events each month. This allowed me to expand from 1200 square feet to 3600 square feet within two years of start-up. Yes, it was a lot of work. But it paid off. You want to give customers a reason to come back. Other than providing a great product mix and unique finds, what keeps your customers coming back? My “secret sauce” was planning fantastic events. Educational. Inspirational. Motivational. Get creative. Bring in guest speakers/teachers. Provide demonstrations of products. Host classes or movie screenings. Make it fun; make it memorable. This is known as “shoppertainment”. Customers seek an experience every time they come in to your store. Your challenge is to continually offer up new ways to make the experience a positive and engaging one.

This was true when I worked for a local nonprofit. We hosted a fashion show that showcased designers who transformed traditional Indian saris into new garments. We made this a competition between these designers and the winner was invited to travel to India to help further our nonprofit mission. Each of these designers engaged their friends and family to help them compete. This was a great way to get the word out about our organization and build upon our community.

How important is it to collaborate with other businesses and organizations? What are the benefits of collaboration?

Collaboration with your vendor/partners is a key to your success. I call them vendor/partners because they are indeed partners in the supply chain. There is a synergy in collaborating with your vendors. It means they will help market you and your mission and help educate the general public about Fair Trade. When their products do well in your store then they see reorders. Bounce ideas off them. Collaborate with them to host events. Ask them to send a demonstrator or artisan. Ask for materials about their brand that will help you educate your customers.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your vendor/partners. Guaranteed sale trunk shows allow you to bring in product and talk it up. Your vendors will get valuable feedback from customers on what they love and perhaps, what they don’t, about a certain line. These trunk shows were very profitable for us and allowed us to keep a steady stream of new product on our shelves, and it allowed us to share insights with the company on what customers wanted for future releases.

Collaborate with your competitors. We called this co-opetition. Work together with others in your industry to create fun ways to draw your customers in. We would participate in a large shop hop with approximately 50 stores each summer. We would again participate in a smaller shop hop with our eight competitor stores in San Diego County. Customers want to see you working with your competitors. When you collaborate with these other stores, everyone wins.

When it comes to digital marketing, it can be tough to know where to invest your efforts. What are the most effective/efficient ways to market your business online?

That is very individual. Considering we are living in a world where Social Media reigns, you have a plethora of choices. The good news: You can create buzz for free! With fair trade, it’s about telling a story of the artisans and their countries; stories about their craft and handiwork that you can weave into your store’s blog, website, and social media campaigns. Compelling stories such as these have great success on Facebook and Instagram.

Use Facebook Live to introduce a new event or product. I would select a specific day of the week to always post about something new. Make it Meaningful Mondays or Fair Trade Friday Facts. Get creative with how you tell your story and invite your community to be a part of telling the story too. Remember, your customers want their voices heard. So engage them in what they want to see in your store. Ask them what events they would participate in.

What’s the recipe for creating engaging content that people will interact with and relate to?

Content is king. Make it relatable and relevant. Good content will create and sustain an emotional connection with your customers. The 20 percent of your customers who make up the 80 percent of your sales will want new and fresh stories of the artisans and organizations. Those who support fair trade are people who care deeply about others and are passionate about improving lives in often forgotten areas of the world. Tell the story of the artisan groups. Provide photos or short videos of them creating the products.

I strongly believe in the “less is more” philosophy. Fewer words, more pictures. A combination of visuals and good SEO (keywords that help your clients find you online and help your ranking) will help you tell your story. Find a good content writer to help you manage your social media channels. And don’t skimp on a good email marketing campaign. Email marketing is more powerful now that ever. It’s your lifeline to your customers, as they are checking emails from the moment they wake up till the moment they are getting ready for bed.

Always have a system to capture your customers’ emails. Make sure you are sending relevant information on a consistent basis to their inbox. Focus on what’s new in your store. The new events. The new products. Your customers crave “new” experiences … and your content should provide a teaser invite to come see it for themselves.

Both digital marketing and events have their benefits, but which of these two marketing efforts has the greatest impact for a new store or a stagnant business?

What is the first thing that a new store does? A Grand Opening. The reason. It creates buzz. It builds excitement. As a business owner in your community, you are a leader and an innovator. You bring something unique to your community. So it makes sense to keep drawing in your community through hosting memorable events. Most businesses only host the grand opening or an anniversary event. Don’t fall prey to that. Send out a calendar of events and you’ll start to see “repeat” customers attending, and you will find they bring a friend (or two). Remember, people like to attend events with friends. These like-minded people become your store’s brand ambassadors.

In our store, we made our customers feel a part of our store mission by creating an atmosphere of fun and excitement. When you have engaged customers, you will avoid stagnation. These engaged customers will help you determine your product offering and help you chart your overall marketing strategy. It’s important to focus on finding new customers to always add to your existing base. When working for the nonprofit, we would set up selling events that allowed us to tap into markets of potential like-minded people through wellness events. We found that people who make health and fitness a priority give preference to helping social causes. This was a great way to spend our time and resources. Then we would have great photos to share with both our new and existing community of followers.

Finally, if time and resources are limited, what should a retailer focus their efforts on: events or digital marketing?

Time and resources will be limited. You are a retailer, and in many cases, a one-person retailer. So you wear many hats each day. To stay on top of my game, I made my marketing calendar each year based around events. I spent a good amount of time planning these events and working with my vendor-partners to help locate those in my industry who could help me host memorable events. This weathered us through the greatest recession of the last two decades. I found that the media loved talking up these events, so we greatly benefited from the “free” press.

With digital marketing, I used an independent contractor to help me get the word out via social media. The investment was minimal and it freed me up to focus on staying true what my store was known for: A Place to Create. Events are personal. They allow your customers to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And there is great power in this connection.

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Retailer Scope: Growing Your Business with Sarah Culler

In this latest installment of our Retailer Scope series, we gained some key insights from Sarah Culler, the branch manager of Fair Trade Winds. Fair Trade Winds is a family-run retail business with seven locations across the country and an online storefront. Their holistic view of the retail experience and supply chain and their dedication to the principles of Fair Trade make them a leader in the industry. Culler's people-first perspective on the retail experience is refreshing and inspiring. Read on to hear what she has to say about creative lasting impressions, growing your business, and staying invested.  


What is the recipe for creating a positive lasting impression on your customers? 

The connection a handmade product creates, between the artisan’s hands and the customer’s is truly a unique thing in today’s mass-produced society.

There’s a delicate balance between talking to or guiding customers and letting them explore on their own. Every visit should be a chance for customers to learn something new or find a product they will love or relate to in an authentic way. First, they are drawn to a product with their eyes, then they appreciate it even more when they pick it up, read the tag and discover how intricate it is. The connection a handmade product creates, between the artisan’s hands and the customer’s is truly a unique thing in today’s mass-produced society.

On the Fair Trade Winds site, you mention that the Fair Trade landscape has changed dramatically in a short time. What’s the future of Fair Trade? 

Leather envelope clutch handmade in Ethiopia

Yes, in the 10 years we have been doing this, we have seen the fair trade movement grow quite a bit. There are more fair trade products available now than ever before, which is excellent, but for fair trade to really grow I think we will need to see the stories of fair trade presented to the larger public. People need to see how fair trade is connected to so many current issues in the world, from women’s empowerment and equality to children’s rights, environmental protection and a general respect for all cultural identities. Fair trade is more than just a cup of coffee, a delicious chocolate bar or a shirt you wear — it is a conscious lifestyle based on respecting the interconnected nature of our lives.

I think fair trade could really become more mainstream in the next few years, as more and more “conventional” brands embrace customers’ demands for transparency. This growing demand has been fueled a lot by the recent fashion revolution. Fashion is such a huge industry and something we all think about on some level. I think clothing will be a big catalyst in fair trade becoming more popular in the U.S. 

You’ve done a successful job curating merchandise for your stores -- what’s your secret when it comes to picking winning products? 

Colorful display at the Fair Trade Winds Fairfax location

We always like to start by considering products that we would buy and use ourselves. We love that so many fair trade products are both beautiful and functional, whether it’s a kitchen towel, a birthday card, a pair of socks or a handy tote bag. We also know you have to learn your customers and put yourself in their shoes. For instance, right now we happen to be selling a lot of rings. They aren’t really my style, but now I have my eye out for them and keep them stocked! And more often than not, some of our most popular products are those that really have a unique story about the artisans that make them or the material or methods used.

There is a science to retail purchasing which we do embrace, however we also take into consideration the human element, both the changing “moods” or trends of consumer demand and the fact that we deeply respect the time each artisan spent crafting an item. Every product will find a happy home if it’s well made. 

You started your business by selling products locally at fairs, events, and churches. Now you’ve grown to six locations nationwide. In terms of growth strategy, what worked and didn’t work as you’ve expanded? 

We are a family-run business so, other than our sister store Momentum in CO, we have opened locations where our family members live. Running any small business requires a lot of time and attention so it helps tremendously to have people we can trust and count on running each location. We are all very invested in growing our business in a responsible way that supports the larger fair trade movement. One important aspect of that growth is location - the more people we can reach, the more we can support artisan communities around the world. To this end, we have recently re-located two of our stores to busier shopping areas. While a re-location certainly creates a time of transition for your current customers, we found these moves to be highly advantageous and will ultimately help us support more artisans!

One of our challenges has been learning the different customer demands in different geographic and economic areas. Our stores are spread throughout the country, so each is a little different. While we carry many of the same products in all our stores, we also tailor some inventory based on location. This is a continuous process, tweaking inventory as products fade in and out of popularity, and also sharing successful products between stores. Sometimes one store will try a new product out and if it does well, we’ll introduce it at other stores too if we think it’s a good fit.    

What’s one small change retailers can make on the show floor to increase sales?

Move products around and change displays often. A stagnant product in one place may sell right away if you just display it in a new spot. You would be surprised. This is especially effective if you have a lot of regular local customers, as opposed to tourists or one time shoppers. We find that when we move product displays around, customers tend to “discover” products they may have missed before. 

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Breaking Through and Looking Forward

Women in India are at a disadvantage—this is the reality. Indian society is male dominated, and women are typically relegated to the home. When you combine the disadvantages of being a women in India, a lack of an education, and belonging to a religious minority, a woman’s ability to have her voice heard is made very difficult.

In developing countries like India, people that do not generate economic value lose their own value in society. For women artisans in rural India, the lack of resources such as education, access to market, and product design research suppresses their voice in their communities.

One way in which we try to enact change is by partnering with a large number of women artisans. Our total artisan network is made up of 50% women, in fact. It is important, however, to look outside of our existing artisan network and invest in the future. We offer vocational workshops for women who are not artisans, but have the potential to break into the craft economy.

Design and Tailoring Workshop

In May of 2016, our Indian arm of operations, SETU, held a 15-day tailoring and design workshop in the state of Rajasthan. 30 predominately Muslim women participated in the workshop and learned about cutting fabrics, stitching, embroidery, and design.

SETU provided Sewing machines, needles, thread, fabric, chalk, and of course food. An expert tailor led the workshop and the feedback was unanimously positive. The goal of the workshop was to increase livelihood opportunities for these women so they can take ownership and contribute to their households financially.

It has been inspiring to see the potential of these women. They had almost no prior craft/tailoring experience, but through this intensive workshop they’ve gained skills that can benefit them and their families for a lifetime.

Recognizing Potential

Given the tools, these women can access their potential

It is critical for us to look for opportunities where no one else sees potential. Simply presenting an idea to a community of women is not enough. However, with the necessary tools an idea can flourish. Furthermore, an initial push in the right direction gives people the confidence they need to access their true potential and create value.

When you purchase Matr Boomie products, you're making a direct impact on the lives of women in India. Matr Boomie and SETU could not organize these development projects without the support of our retailers. One of the Fair Trade principles is "Build Capacity." We strive to develop producers' independence -- one way is through dialog. So, let's continue the conversation. 

With your help, Matr Boomie and SETU will continue these workshops to shape a better future.

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in a future blog, comment or send an email to It is our goal to inform people on Fair Trade, our mission, and the global artisan community. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Driving Social Change: A Message From Manish

The Work/Life Balance

In the artisanal world, the economic and social aspects of life are quite interwoven. It's very different from developed countries, like the US, where our work and life is mostly separate. We go to our workplace and focus on our jobs and disconnect from our personal social lives for the most part. At the end of the day, we go home and live life by our own rules.

For artisans, there is no such black and white division. Everything is mixed. Most times, social norms and family obligations drive artisans’ work motivation and availability. It is common for artisans to take weeks off for a birth, death, or marriage in the community. Most big festivals imply weeks of no work, regardless of what it costs them in terms of business. It is not that they don’t care; simply their priorities are different. Their bonds within the community and living by its social norms takes priority over their personal financial well being.

Artisan firing kiln with poor exhaust system

Artisan firing kiln with poor exhaust system

Cultural & Social Challenges 

In a similar manner, when approaching the artisan community for changes in their art form in terms of design or process, it is less a function of process or technical details but more of a mindset change. This may be best illustrated with the following example:

We have been working with bell making artisans since we began a decade ago, and their bells are some of our best selling products. As part of our commitment to safe working conditions for our artisan partners, we visit them often to have a clear line of sight.

During these trips we learned that these bells are baked in a kiln with a powder of brass and copper. Most artisans have a very basic kiln in their backyards, and these kilns are very inefficient in terms of fuel consumption and poor exhaust - exposing artisans and their families to fumes. We also found out that this brass powder (recycled from metal industry) sometimes contained lead as an impurity. We were concerned about the fumes being potentially harmful to artisans and their families. 

When we explained to artisans that their production process was potentially unsafe, they did not share our concern. They considered the process safe for themselves and their families with the argument that they have been following the exact same process for generations without any health issues. Their interest in reviewing the process and looking for an alternate to lead free brass powder or improving the kilns was low. Facts from modern science were mere theoretical numbers for them.

Bell Tuning by Master Artisan

Bell Tuning by Master Artisan

As much as they appreciated our concern and willingness to pay more for bells (to support the process changes ), they were not interested in tweaking their process or raw materials. 

A part of this resistance was linked to trust issues. Artisans are typically suspicious of people outside of their community coming and giving ideas for change. Their reaction is understandable because many times in the past they have had experiences where changes didn't lead to trading opportunities. Lack of information and resources for making the change is also another concern. In this case, our India team offered to carry out all research on finding new materials , and we spent over 2 years finding different sources but in every instance, artisans discovered a reason why the new materials would not work. 

The Breakthroughs

We realized that unless artisans themselves were motivated to make this change, we could not succeed. It was no longer an issue of resource or cost, but a matter of social and tradition change.

In this case, after couple of years of hard work and research costs, we ended up changing our strategy for implementation. Our team in India worked with technical experts and came up with a new kiln design that would take out all the fumes through an efficient exhaust system.  We also offered to absorb all the cost of making these new kilns. Artisans were excited by the benefits but there was still a lot of resistance. We now approach this as an efficiency issue instead of a safety issue. We were able to convince a few artisans to try and we built 5 kilns in the first round. As a part of the new kiln design, we were able to increase kiln’s capacity for baking multiple bells at one time, and also making them more fuel-efficient. These changes drastically improved their productivity and reduced costs. 

Bachhu, a master artisan, works with a new new kiln with door

Bachhu, a master artisan, works with a new new kiln with door

When artisans started using these kilns and seeing the benefits, their thought process changed. Not only did they realize how well the new kilns reduced fumes and saw health benefits, but they also loved the increase in productivity. Suddenly the whole community opened up and all the artisans wanted these changed in their homes. For us, this was a huge success. It took our India team, SETU, years of commitment and hard work to turn this around. 

Sparking change in our artisan partner communities involves: 

  1. Identify the social elements that are part of any process and/or behavior. Not just factual or material aspects.
  2. Engage the community in order to motivate and own the change. It can’t be forced or charity. We have seen projects without community buy-ins turn to junk very quickly.
  3. Be a partner in change. Our India team’s long-term relationship got us a lot of trust and leverage. Change can’t be made by being an outsider. Physical presence on ground plays an import role here.
  4. Such changes are not quick and take a long term commitment.
  5. Bring on your creative thinking for ideas that appeal to social structure and at the same time make the required impact

SETU team lead Devendra Dhariwal (far right) and Bell Craft artisans next to a kiln with an improved exhaust system

SETU team lead Devendra Dhariwal (far right) and Bell Craft artisans next to a kiln with an improved exhaust system

We have made peace with the fact that our work to bring change is not quick or easy. Fair Trade is an ambitious goal and being true to it is hard, but we have taken on that commitment knowing good things take time. It may take years but the satisfaction it brings us is unparalleled. 

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in a future blog, comment or send an email to It is our goal to inform people on Fair Trade, our mission, and the global artisan community. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Retailer Scope: Advice from Kevin Natapow

Image courtesy of Kevin Natapow

The Matr Boomie team had the great privilege of speaking with Kevin Natapow of Creative Retail Solutions for this second installment of our Retailer Scope Series. His company, Creative Retail Solutions, serves to lend retail/inventory expertise to Fair Trade shops around the nation. Before starting Creative Retail Solutions, Kevin co-founded Momentum, a Fair Trade store in Boulder, CO. He helped grown Momentum in to a successful Fair Trade business and now lends his expertise to other retailers. Mango Tree Imports of Saratoga Springs, NY began working with Kevin in early 2016 and has seen a marked improvement since his involvement. They report, "With the inventory management procedures that we've put in place the store is doing much better." Read on to see Kevin's main areas of focus when it comes to revitalizing retail and creating meaningful experiences for your customers. 


What are the top challenges in inventory management that retailers are currently facing?

"With Kevin's inventory expertise we have streamlined our inventory management which has led to the improvement of the overall business and sales are now up 50%" - Jude & Betsy from Fair Trade Décor in Del Mar, CA.

"With Kevin's inventory expertise we have streamlined our inventory management which has led to the improvement of the overall business and sales are now up 50%" - Jude & Betsy from Fair Trade Décor in Del Mar, CA.

Inventory Management is both a science and an art. Selecting the right product is the art, but buying the right quantities at the right time is essential in achieving your full sales potential for your shop. This is the science of inventory control. Many of us fall in love with retail for the art side of the equation and tend to either ignore or undervalue the importance of their union. The main challenge in my opinion is seeing the value of putting time and effort into both elements of inventory control.

Another major obstacle is time itself. Many small independent retailers are so bogged down by the little details of running a small business, in particular a retail shop where you have to be front and present daily, and tend to put details like inventory control on the back burner until they “find the time.” This ends up never happening, and before you know it they are so behind on reigning in their inventory that the process of managing it is too overwhelming.

This last part ties into using a robust and systematized Point of Sale (POS) system. Many retailers are still not using POS systems or are not using the ones they have to work for them.

What are some behaviors that keep sales stagnant in retail?

Fresh colors and vibrant displays bring Fair Trade Décor's retail space to life.

By not having inventory control measures in place, you are, by design, keeping sales stagnant. Sales will stagnate when you are not able to bring in new merchandise, keep the shop looking fresh and enticing customers with new themes, colors, styles, etc. When you don’t bring in new merchandise, especially tried and tested best sellers, your shop looks tired, your customers become apathetic about your shop, and sales decline. With a decline or even just a stagnation in sales, cash flow will become tight and limit your ability to purchase new merchandise.

This downward spiral tends to be the demise or stagnation of many small retail operations. Visual Merchandising is another major factor in stagnation. Many shop owners do not use beautiful display fixtures. The old days of fair trade products selling themselves or the mission of the shop selling the items are coming to an end with so much online and comparable marketing to the socially conscious consumer. Every retailer needs to consider how their products look on the display. Many of the products Fair Trade retailers sell are in themselves works of art and should be displayed accordingly. By using cheap fixtures, bad lighting, neutral paints, we cheapen the perception of the products and inadvertently decrease sales and the overall sales experience.

Is there one easy thing that retailers can do right now to increase sales through inventory management?

If you don’t have a POS system - GET ONE! Get one that has all the features you need; do your research and check references for real users and ask them some tough questions about how they use it and what its limitations and capabilities are. Once you make the investment, or if you already have one, set up the systems for you to be able to actively manage your inventory and continue to use them on a monthly basis. Stay ahead of your inventory and keep the cycle of retail moving smoothly and to your benefit. We sometimes forget that the more successful we are the more we support the artisans that inspired us in the first place.

We sometimes forget that the more successful we are the more we support the artisans that inspired us in the first place.

Aside from inventory management, what are some other challenges that keeps retail stores from growing, and could you please share some key suggestions to minimize those problems?

As I mentioned above, we often have the perception that the mission of the store, artisan stories, or the uniqueness of the products themselves will sell the products. It is equally important that we as retailers give customers the best experience in our shops that they can have. For many of us it is next to impossible to compete on price, volume, etc so our main strategy has to be the customer experience. We need every customer to leave our shops, thinking that our store is the greatest one they ever went into, regardless of whether or not it is Fair Trade. If we are picking the best new merchandise to fill our stores, properly tracking and maintaining inventory levels, and making every customer possible feel that they just had the best retail experience of their lives, then sales will soar and the cycle will spiral up instead of down.

What is the most important lesson you learned when you owned a Fair Trade store in Colorado?

I found early on that even if in the short term I took a loss by making a customer happy, I gained a long term benefit by earning a loyal customer.

Always take a short term loss for a long term gain. The old saying is that the customer is always right, and to some degree that is true. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart once said, “There is only one boss: the customer. He can fire everybody from the chairman on down simply by spending his money elsewhere”. This is very true, which is why making sure your customers are happy is critical. I found early on that even if in the short term I took a loss by making a customer happy, I gained a long term benefit by earning a loyal customer.

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. As always, we'd love to have you join our social media communities. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

A Woman's Dream: A Message From Manish

Kanta Ji is a paper craft artisan. Being uneducated, she faces many challenges, but she is proud to be able to support herself through her work. 

Years ago, I remember asking a woman artisan what her dream was. She said she didn’t understand that question. She could not imagine life outside of her everyday reality.

We hear a lot of discussion about women’s empowerment when talking about Fair Trade. Empowerment itself is a big term and it has taken me time to understand that. Here is how I understand this term in the context of women artisans in India, and I suspect it applies to many developing countries. 

India is a male dominated society, and the male members make most decisions regarding family/community matters. Women are tasked with the job of taking care of the household and children but rarely given the opportunity to express their opinion on important matters. 

 There are 3 main factors that lead to this social structure: 

Women artisans attend a literacy workshop in the state of Rajasthan. They have gone from illiteracy, to being able to read newspapers and follow current events. 

  1. Men are the prime income generator in the family
  2. Women are not aware of their rights like land ownership, voting, etc.
  3. Women are often uneducated and stay at home which makes them unaware and disconnected from the larger society

 In low-in come communities, the bread earner of the family draws a big say. One of the most important impacts of fair trade on women artisans is that these women, who in many cases have learned these art forms from their mothers and grandmothers as a way to embellish their homes, are now suddenly able to make a living on their own by selling their crafts. Many women that Matr Boomie works with have made their first income making our products. This is the first key step. Trading activities also force these women to travel and interact with larger society. This starts to give these women immense exposure and an understanding of their rights. They start to make independent decisions and start to feel confident as an individual. They start deciding how they want to use their income. These factors slowly allow them to build a vision for themselves, their family, and even their community.

Maya, once a house maid, now leads a women's collective in Jaipur.

In order for real change to occur our partner communities need constant guidance and trade opportunity that Fair Trade principles are committed to. Matr Boomie focuses on working with women artisans as much as possible. Our India team, SETU, has conducted over 10 vocational training workshops for women in low-income areas. We run three literacy centers for women teaching them how to read and write. We have created three women clusters for production activities.

 We are proud of so many of our women artisan partners. They have shown tremendous courage, making their voice heard against so many challenges. These are the faces that inspire us to keep going. This Mother’s Day we salute these women.

At 27 years young, Ankita has excelled and become a batik cutting master. Her eagerness to learn and grow has opened many doors for her. 

Together, let's take a pledge to create many more such dreams across the world!

-Manish Gupta, Founder, Matr BoomiE

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in a future blog, comment or send an email to It is our goal to inform people on Fair Trade, our mission, and the global artisan community. 

Retailer Scope: Insights from Keith Recker

Image courtesy of Keith Recker

Keith Recker is a busy man. When he isn't color forecasting for clients like Pantone and WGSN and taking the helm at Barberry Handmade, he's running HAND/EYE magazine. HAND/EYE profiles creators of craft, innovations in handmade design, and transports its readers to faraway places. If that weren't enough, he also sits on the boards of International Folk Art Alliance and The Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship. Did we say he was busy? That's a bit of an understatement. His enthusiasm for creating connections through craft and storytelling was immediately apparent, and his excitement is infectious. We had the privilege of getting some profound insights from this industry leader for you, our retail partners. Read on for some amazing tips on how to create meaningful connections with your customers and keep things fresh all year round. 

After working with big companies such as Saks, Bloomingdales, and Gump’s San Francisco, what are some of the best brand practices that smaller retailers can implement? 

That’s a big question! The notion of “brand” these days includes everything from tissue paper to advertising, and then some. Essentially, successful branding means that your customers and almost-customers know sensorially and intuitively something about the experience they’ll have when and if they enter your business. This requires some clarity on the business owner’s part: what is the story I want to tell, and how can I tell that story effectively? Why will the customer care about my story, and am I telling that part of the story well and loudly?

The next step is to look with a cold eye at what you’re doing, from first impression to purchase, and encourage yourself to strengthen that story at every turn.  We try to do this every Tuesday, which is usually a quiet day. We stand on the sidewalk and look in. We stand at the doorway and look in. We walk around the store as if it were our first time.

It sounds old fashioned, but street-facing elements like windows and awnings and signage are investments that pay off quickly. Are they fresh and visible? Do they convey a clean and concise message that can be discerned as people walk and drive by? 

Image courtesy of Barberry Handmade

What does the customer see when they walk in? Are the first displays the customer sees fantastic, seasonally relevant, recently refreshed, organized? Does your greeting convey the kernel of your story, and let the customer know you’re there for whatever they need? 

When the customer purchases, what do you send them away with that makes them feel like they’ve had an experience they won’t have anywhere else? A small example from our store: a hand-spun red jute knot is tied to every Barberry Handmade bag or package, and we let our customers know that this is a mark of gratitude for their purchase, and of respect for the makers who created their purchase. 

Oftentimes, small business owners might not have the resources to keep up with changing trends. Do you have any tips for keeping inventory fresh and relevant year round?

Even as someone who is really interested in trends and the evolution of taste and product, I’m very respectful of the core tastes of the region where our store is located. These tastes change slowly -- and they have something to do with good quality; practical, modest colors, textures, and patterns that will serve the customer for a long time; and a respect for natural materials and time-honored techniques.  

How we combine these products in the store, and in the windows makes all the difference. Creating monochromatic displays one color one week, splashes of fun color the next, and then shaking it up and showing great tottering stacks of every kind of basket the next...we keep moving and look for a sense of fun whenever we can. 

Image courtesy of Barberry Handmade

We’re also not afraid to move things around. If we’ve had an indigo story on the west wall for a month, we’ll move it to an entirely different place and replace it with a different look. It keeps the store’s chi fresh, and it gives our repeat customers some new sensory data every time they come in.

When selling handmade products, how can retailers go beyond the surface and create an experience for the customer? 

Two words: knowledge and conversation. We know at least 2 important narratives about every item in the store: sometimes the story of the artisan who made the product, sometimes an understanding of a technique, sometimes a cultural story or detail that informs the product. If we have to spend some time online getting more information, we do that and share it with our sales associates. We all practice telling these stories, and WE TELL THEM! We hear from customers that re-telling the stories behind the product become part of their gift giving, and part of their own appreciation of the product. 

We don’t print up every story, as we feel it brings down the level of interest and intrigue overall -- almost as if we’re imitating the methods of bigger retailers who need to standardize the buying experience for efficiency’s sake. We like to keep things personal, conversational, intimate, and service-oriented.

In an interview with The Kindcraft, you mentioned that craft is here to stay. How can we expect the world of handmade to evolve in the years to come? 

Image courtesy of Barberry Handmade

It’s axiomatic that constant change is the only constant, so we must expect that the handmade will evolve. The need for intimacy and experience in our everyday lives will continue to pull customers towards the touch and tenderness implicit in artisan goods. I think we will see a need for enhanced understanding of the supply chain, and an ability to articulate pricing structures and how they fairly compensate ALL the hands that touch product on the way from maker to market: if a service is provided, the provider needs to be compensated. I also see that the increasing connectedness of our world opens up the possibility of a more culturally informed customer -- which means that our storytelling might deepen and become more interesting. 

If we see the handmade as an antidote to the effects of screenlife, we will need more of it in our lives rather than less. And we’ll need it to resonate with intimacy, skill, narrative, and humanity. 

As larger companies are joining the handmade movement, what advice do you have for small retailers who are looking to distinguish themselves? 

As a veteran of some very good large companies, I’d suggest that it’s very hard for them to maintain knowledge and narrative and rich experience across big employee rosters, multiple locations, and huge numbers of transactions. Smaller retailers have the advantage of being in relationship to both maker and customer. 

Maybe if we see ourselves as matchmakers rather than retailers, we can bring our advantages to life!  We’re not just selling, we’re creating happy relationships. We’re not just stockists, we’re organizers of the greatest global family reunion ever, linking everyone from everywhere through cultural commerce. We’re not merchants, but celebrants of human creativity and students of global traditions.

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in our next Retailer Scope installment, comment or send an email to In this series, it is our goal to provide retail insights from industry leaders. 


Preserving an Art Form. Ensuring a Legacy.

In our last blog, our founder, Manish, explored what determines a fair wage. An effective way to raise wages is to produce higher quality goods and bolster an artisan’s skills so they can confidently negotiate with local traders. Our tribal jewelry partner group in East India recently took part in a 10-day skill-building workshop organized by our Indian arm of operations (SETU). Strengthening skills and learning new techniques keep these artisans competitive in an International market and net them resources to ensure their tradition is preserved. Hear their story. 

Tribal Jewelry Group


The tribal jewelry group uses ancient techniques to handcraft unique copper and brass jewelry pieces. From the preparation of the recycled metals to the final embellishment, these craftspeople employ techniques that have been passed down for generations. When you receive a piece of tribal jewelry, you’re getting something infused with tradition and history.

The group is partnered with a local NGO that has been working tirelessly for the disadvantaged and marginalized communities in the area. They empower these artisans through job training, policy research, and development projects. Additionally, the jewelry group receives a livable wage and more skills training through our Fair Trade partnership and efforts from SETU.

The Importance of Preservation

Like a family heirloom passed down for generations, these jewelry making techniques are part of an artisan’s inheritance. Moreover, this art form is a symbol of tribal identity and a way to honor their heritage. You can imagine a mother teaching her children these techniques and retelling old family stories. Their art has a memory. Making this jewelry available to an international marketplace helps them have the resources they need to continue to practice their craft and share their story with the world. 

The Workshop

In this 10 day workshop, a team of skilled experts in their respective fields came to the community to train artisans in the jewelry designing process. To ensure an effective dialog between expert and artisan, an interpreter was appointed to translate the Odia language (the predominant language of the Indian state of Odisha). 12 male and female artisans explored new techniques and design trends to add to their skill set. An overwhelming sense of excitement surrounded the program as artisans learned skills that would help them open new avenues of self-employment. Ten days away from production can be costly, so all participants received a stipend for the duration of the workshop. 

Looking Forward

In addition to this workshop, we've helped educate this group on children’s rights, gender issues, and trade opportunities. The success of the workshop was incredibly motivating—plans for additional workshops/seminars are in the works.

Fair Trade is a holistic system balancing opportunity, wage, environmental concerns, and human rights among other things. Preserving this jewelry art form is as much about a bright future as it is about a rich tribal history. We’d like to work together with our partners to make sure we’re preparing for tomorrow and reflecting on where we came from. 

Would you like to add to the conversation? Comment below. If there are topics you’d like us to explore in a future blog, comment or send an email to It is our goal to inform people on Fair Trade, our mission, and the global artisan community.