Celebrating 10 Years of Fair Trade: An Interview with Manish & Ruchi

Manish Gupta began his fair trade enterprise ten years ago along with his wife, Ruchi.  He was not a craft maker, he had no experience in product design, and he had admittedly little knowledge of trends; even unaware that fall colors are different from spring colors for women's accessories. He was an engineer from India who had been living in the United States when he realized he had the very unique potential for bridging the gap between western consumers and rural Indian artisans.

What was it like when you first got started and what motivated you to start a Fair Trade business?

Manish: My motivation began as a business opportunity to bring beautiful Indian crafts to international markets. As I traveled in India and met a lot of artisans, I realized that their art was at risk and along with that their pride and a sustainable way of living for their communities. At that point I realized that I could empower those artisans through selling handmade products. But I had no sense of design or marketing. My first product samples were literally red, black and blue. I also remember creating catalogs on a word document with images taken with a point-and-shoot camera, and it was almost impossible to send such a large file with my slow dial-up Internet connection. I really had no idea how to find market for these products. It has definitely been a fun journey. Fun memories! :)   

What is the biggest drive that has empowered you to overcome all the challenges and failures that you've encountered?

Manish: For sure, the impact we create within our partner artisan communities. It is very reinforcing to meet with artisans every time I go to India because I get to see the changes that have occurred over the years. The fact that we can empower artisans to feel proud about their art once again and to build a vision for their future is incredibly motivating. We’ve always done community support projects in artisan communities led by our team in India (SETU). Just buying products is not sufficient. We’ve always strived to work with smaller artisans communities who need a lot of support in order to create marketable products, and that has only been possible because of our team in India. Having that close connection and being able to witness the positive outcome has definitely been the motivating factor.

AnniversaryPhotoshoot079 copy.JPG

Would you say that is the main reason why Matr Boomie has been in business for so long?

Manish: Our strong commitment to our mission but also our strong commitment to elevate artisan products through design and quality. Our product design team puts tremendous effort creating designs that are relevant to this market, and our team in India put in a lot of supporteffort to have the artisans bring those designs to life. We feel that it is our responsibility to elevate product design to do justice to the artisans and their art form, and at the same time creating products that are successful for our retail partners. This entire chain starting from artisans to retailers is sustainable only if the products can stand on their own. Also our retailers' partnership empowers us to make a difference. They look at us to create impact on ground in India and we make sure to accomplish it. We have never let them down and they can depend on us to be authentic to our mission.

Ruchi, what is your takeaway from this past 10 years, and how does it feel to be part of a company with such mission?

Ruchi: My takeaway is to always remember to celebrate small victories. It is all about the journey and not the destination.  Building some of the foundational blocks of the company and changing the black, red and blue bags to relevant market colors has been a fun journey :). Though we were a small team early on, we still took on challenges and delivered results that we are proud of. Some of those initial crazy things we did like having our apartment garage as our first warehouse and boxes all over our living room are fond memories now. It is definitely fulfilling to be part of something greater than myself. To be part of the change for good.

How would you describe Matr Boomie?

Ruchi: Matr Boomie is a team full of creativity, being true to the mission, and being change-makers. Simply adding beauty to other people’s lives by creating a positive impact, and by connecting artisans with the rest of the world.

Manish, how do you see Matr Boomie in the next 10 years?

Manish: I imagine us growing and being a leader in bringing sustainable products to the marketplace.  With consumers growing more conscious about the products they buy and how that impacts our planet along with our ability to elevate product design – has allowed us to be in a unique position in the market. I believe we provide the perfect marriage of design and impact. I also see us inspiring the greater trade industry and consumers to adopt sustainable practices in their lives and work.

Fair Trade: The Confusion Around it.

What is Fair Trade?

Fair trade has started to gain momentum as more and more companies continue to bring in Fair Trade goods. As a result, there has been a large variety of Fair Trade messaging in the marketplace, which has caused confusion amongst consumers. What is Fair Trade, and how is it different from Ethical Trade or the Sweatshop-free model?

What is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade is essentially a model of trading goods - with a focus of engaging marginalized artisans and producers as its constituents. In the past, marginalized producers have not been able to successfully engage in trade, due to the lack of market access and resources on product design and quality. As a result, keeping them from making a sustainable living with the risk of poverty, and exploitation in the hands of middlemen. 

The Challenges

These producers who are left on the sidelines of trade need constant support, encouragement, and trust building to get back in the trade highway. These requirements define the job of Fair Trade importers, and to a big extent, the impact we create. Many times, marginalized artisans lack product design awareness to make products ready for global markets. They also lack basic production resources; for instance, quality zippers, closures, and other accessories that are key to make a good quality product. Also the minimal access to logistics to move their finished goods in a safe and timely manner.

In addition, the perception of quality is very different from the expectation of global consumers. But the biggest challenge, is the lack of confidence with the artisans themselves - that they can succeed, and that their art is valuable. Prior false promises and failures usually are responsible for this lack of trust.

Our Commitment

As a Fair Trade importer, we spend a lot of effort supporting our artisan partners with product design, logistics, materials, quality training, market awareness, and confidence building through long-term commitments. One of the biggest changes we can create is to bring back their confidence, which is the key catalyst for artisans to get back on their own and make progress in trade.

Fair Trade is in a way defined by its constituents and while it includes Fair wages, ethical trading practices and no “sweat”, it goes much more beyond that. It creates traders out of producers...

Meet Jess & Nicky: An Interview with Matr Boomie's Design Team

Jessica, what made you take the direction of designing accessories and gifts?

Jessica: I started practicing product design in 1999 working for a consumer clock company.  Some of our brands were Westclox and Big Ben and we sold to large retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart. 

I've always loved fashion and interiors and I first became interested in designing accessories when I developed a line of clocks for Martha Stewart Everyday.  I had the opportunity to go to the MSE offices in New York and work with their designers. I realized the direction I wanted to go… more decor and accessories, less consumer electronics.

After that I designed gifts and home accessories for several large companies including Saks Inc. and Southern Living at Home.  I started regularly traveling to Asia for sourcing and fell in love with all the materials and textures available for products.  

From left to right: Nicolette Perez (Junior Product Designer) & Jessica Otwell (Lead Product Designer) 

From left to right: Nicolette Perez (Junior Product Designer) & Jessica Otwell (Lead Product Designer) 

How about you Nicolette, what sparked the idea to become a product designer, but most importantly, what made you apply to Matr Boomie?

NicoIette: I graduated from U.T. Austin in 2012, and the program I came from was very multidisciplinary.  It revolved around becoming problem solvers. They taught us graphic design, product design, book making, video, typography – you name it.  It really made me become a problem solver first and then a designer.

Even my internships were very diverse. From working with the Contemporary Austin art gallery to a fabrication firm, and even with an advertising agency.

Once I graduated, I wasn’t sure which direction to take because I knew I was capable of many things.  It all came down to wanting to design something for good, something with a mission that created change.  So when I saw the job posting for the Junior Product Designer position – it simply made perfect sense for me to apply.

Jess, what makes working for Matr Boomie different or unique?

Jessica: Just the product line itself is unlike any other brand I’ve worked with.  It is the broadest product line I’ve ever developed. We sell over 20 categories and countless subcategories and we are always exploring what's next. 

At the same it is unique because the sourcing scope is very narrow. We only source in India and we only source fair trade.  Most of our producers are very small and some of them are located in rural villages. Communicating a design in another language can be challenging.  Our team has been able to adapt by doing extensive planning.  Our design cycle is 15 months out and has become very streamlined since I've joined.  

Also having great partners lead our team in India is very inspiring.  Rashmi, my main sourcing contact in Jaipur, is a person who cares so much and works so hard for us and the artisans. Her team does a fabulous job. They never say "no" and always go above and beyond.  They really care.

SETU - India Team 

SETU - India Team 

Nicolette, what is your main role as Junior Product Designer?

Nicolette: I have a few main roles.  First and foremost, is to make sure I track products by making sure everything is on time and quality is up to par.  I also support Jessica and her vision for the season, and I help by owning many of the design projects.  

I'm designing a lot and I'm tracking a lot.  Just making sure that everything is smooth and on time. Also, I keep up with what materials are used for every product. 

Sketch by Nicolette

Sketch by Nicolette

And what would you say is the most challenging part of your job?

Nicolette: I would say the most challenging part is to constantly keep our sustainability goals in mind.  We achieve this by making sure we are aware of the art forms and preferred materials available to us. As designers, we always want to design the perfect product but we need compromise design for practicality and to make sure we are being eco-friendly. 

Manish Unexpectedly Enters the Room: Good morning!

Could you further explain preferred materials and what some of them are?

Nicolette: Yes. These are materials that are sustainable - they don't create a negative impact to our environment.  For example, we only use cruelty-free leather and bone, in other words, these two materials come from naturally deceased animals. We also only used wood from sustainably harvested trees. Some of our jewelry is made of upcycled materials. These are materials that are re-purposed to make a higher quality product.  Scarves are another great example by re-using sari material. We are always trying to implement these materials as much as possible to minimize our carbon footprint. 

Kantha Sari Scarf

Kantha Sari Scarf

So the Anika Collection made it to this year's catalog cover.  What is the process when designing a new product such as the Anika?

Jessica: It starts with me imagining a final product that the customers will love and they didn't even know they wanted.  We strive to launch products that are fresh, new, and exciting, but with customers in mind.

The Anika came from wanting to work with the Bone Jewelry and Bone Carving group but combining with brass for a modern look. It is something we see in the market - but turning it into a product that is consistent with the Matr Boomie brand. 

Anika Collection

Anika Collection

What would you say makes a product timeless rather than fashionable?

Jessica: What makes a product timeless, especially jewelry, is keeping the scale small. Not too statement or flashy. Keeping the shape traditional and recognizable. Teardrop, for example, has been used as a shape in jewelry for generations.

Anika Collection

Anika Collection

What is the process for you, Nicolette?

Nicolette: For me, is just looking at what the market is asking for, what the artisans are capable of producing, and what evokes our brand.  We don't come up with products out of nowhere. We have data that backs up our designs. 

Do y'all add your own personality to it to these products?

Jessica: Not really. We don't think of what we would like, but rather of what our customers will love. Manish is also a key player when it comes to our product direction. He knows the customers well and provides us with the feedback that will keep us on the right track.  

Trend board research

Trend board research

What is a typical day for the design team?

Jessica: Hahaha, for me on Tuesdays and Thursdays is my turn to walk Elvis before work. I do think a lot about work, but it is a good time for me to have clear head in the morning and think through a problem, and come to work and let Nicky know of the ideas I came up. It's funny but it works! Once I'm here, I check my email to make sure there is nothing pressing since we do have a team in India. Then I will go ahead and open my design list and assist other departments with whatever help they may need. 



Nicolette: A typical day for me is wakeup, take a shower, eat, and get ready. Making sure I am as refreshed as possible for the day. I want to focus on being rested and feeling ready for the day. I get here and check my email as well. Sometimes, emails take about first two hours of the day. Then I start going through documents and continuing with tracking. So I am not necessarily designing the entire day.

How does it feel for y'all to know these products are out there and making a difference?

Jessica: It feels good to do the best job that I can and feel like I'm doing what I should be doing everyday. I think working at a job you love is so important - putting something out there to the world you are proud of. It feels good when products come to life. 

Nicolette: I feel pride knowing that the work I enjoy makes a positive social impact. I feel happy that I can take my research and experience and create successful products. 

What is one key takeaway that our retail partners and our readers could take with this interview? 

Nicolette: Know that we are designing for them and their needs while also to the needs of people across the world. We are trying to be as transparent as possible and we want to be connected. We want to be one with our producing partners, our retail partners, and their consumers.  We want customers to know we consider every aspect of where our products come from. 

Jessica: Every product has been touched by many different people, it is a huge cycle. For us, every product is special!  Please let our customers and consumers know we welcome feedback, email us anytime: design@matrboomie.com 


All One. All Kin. Prizes and Contestants

We are pleased to announce that we have 30 retail participants (all listed below) in Matr Boomie's All One. All Kin. Campaign. Spread out across the country, these stores have already begun gathering stories of global connection in the spirit of Fair Trade Month

To keep the momentum high, we have curated a selection of fantastic Fair Trade prizes for our retailers and customer participants:

Nicky feels connected to the world through her love of nature. Visit our  All One. All Kin.   Albu m to get to know our contestants.

Nicky feels connected to the world through her love of nature. Visit our All One. All Kin. Album to get to know our contestants.

Every retail participant who is tagged on our   Facebook page   10 times in one week will also receive a   Sari Party Tassel Garland  , featuring fun assorted colors and patterns: 

Every retail participant who is tagged on our Facebook page 10 times in one week will also receive a Sari Party Tassel Garland, featuring fun assorted colors and patterns: 

For our Retail Grand Prize winner: 

Earrings and rings shown on displays not included 

Earrings and rings shown on displays not included 


For our Customer Participants Grand Prize Winner:

The Customer who acquires the most likes will receive this gift package ($50 retail value):
Share our ALL ONE. ALL KIN. Album with your friends to gain likes and increase your chance to win! 

  • One Imprints of India Jute Shopper. This jute shopper features a peacock feather design set against bright, dreamy teal

  • One set of Padma Earrings in Teal- Featuring another traditional motif of India, the lotus flower- these vivid earrings make a statement.

  • One Reversible Block Print Headband in peach and teal

  • One Color Splash Coin Purse set in lively pink with touches of gold sequins

  • One engraved and embossed Eve Ring

To join the campaign for your chance to win,  visit one of the stores listed below:

Thank you for participating, and celebrating the joy of Fair Trade. Best of luck to everyone!

We are all connected through our hearts and souls. 




As a retailer and ambassador in the Fair Trade movement, you are the home for Fair Trade in your community. Grateful for your significant role, Matr Boomie has developed a Fair Trade Month campaign that welcomes meaningful dialogue between you and your community. Centered around the core theme of Fair Trade, this campaign will provoke thought, create engagement and gain social media attention for your store and your community.

Interested in participating? Keep reading below to learn more. 

Humans by nature are social beings. And Fair Trade celebrates this connection and community - to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

So let's ask our communities: What makes you feel most connected to this world? 

In the spirit of the gifts that fair trade offers us,  we are asking our retailer partners to help us collect stories of love and connection from their customers and staff. 

This is how it works:

1. The first 100 retailers who enter to participate will *receive this beautiful poster to display in their store + a hand-carved, Rosewood Matr Boomie magnet for your keeps!

Click on Image to Display full Poster

2. Retailers will display posters in their store to call attention to the campaign and encourage customers (and staff) to participate by sharing their own unique perspective through social media. Following the simple directions listed on the poster will complete their entry in the campaign.**

3. Every store that accumulates 10 mentions in one week, during the month of October will receive a Matr Boomie fair trade prize. The store with the most mentions total, by 12 AM on Oct 30th will receive a Matr Boomie grand prize featuring handmade gifts made with love by our artisan partners in India.

Stay tuned for exciting prize updates throughout the month of October! 

Matr Boomie magnets are hand-carved and made with sustainable rosewood. 

Wishing everyone the best of luck, 

The Matr Boomie Team

*ALL ONE. ALL KIN. Campaign posters will be shipped by ground within 48 hours of your entry form submission. 

**Due to Facebook's personal privacy settings, we may not be able to view certain personal photos. Contestants are encouraged to generate likes on their photos throughout the contest, and share them with us by posting their photos on our Facebook wall. Contestants will have to "like" our Facebook page to post. We will do our best to track all submitted photos, but we will only consider photos that are shared on our page. 


It is our great pleasure to introduce you to fair trade’s newest brand. Everything you loved about Handmade Expressions is now MATR BOOMIE.Our new name is based on the Hindi phrase mater bhoomi for “motherland” or “Mother Earth,” evoking our story from India and beyond. It is a reminder that we are all connected, that our choices and actions can dissolve boundaries, bring empowerment and make positive impacts.