At the International Home + Housewares Show this year, I started my weekend in totally euphoric inspiration after meeting the team from The Blessing Basket Project.
I learned of them online and was captivated. Their hand-woven baskets — lovingly named Blessing Baskets¬Æ – of every shape and size — from bicycle baskets to plates, fruit bowls to large storage baskets – are absolutely gorgeous. Lately, I’ve been planting in baskets, especially trees in larger ones, and I’ve always felt that handmade items bring a quality of love to my clients’ homes that is incomparable. This was a big design discovery, and then… I read more of their story.
Their story had me beeline straight to their booth in Chicago to meet the team and learn more.
Blessing Basket Project is a non-profit company dedicated to training, empowering and helping artisans to move from poverty to prosperity. Their methods are transparent, innovative and proving extremely effective.
I was told by the two members of their small team (they total less than 10 people, all who wear multiple hats, including the CEO) that in the last year they had more than one million dollars in sales and that it all goes back to the communities they serve. They explained that the entire team is “in it for the artisans.” They were also quick to tell me that if they were doing their job right that they wouldn’t have to do their job forever because every community they served would be prospering. I’ll explain more in a moment about their two models- prosperity wages + graduation from poverty – but let’s start at the start.
The Blessing Basket Project us presently working with artisans in Ghana, Bangladesh, Uganda, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, and Indonesia. They select people who have both entrepreneurial spirit and in interest in learning the trade. They train each artisan to meet their very high standards of quality. They also take it a step further and photograph each artisan, putting their name and portrait on each basket they create. If you flip the basket tag that features your artisan, you’ll find a unique ID number and website to visit where you can learn that artisan’s story and… you can even send them messages! This technology won them the United Nations of Civilizations and BMW Group Intercultural Innovation Award in 2016.
Learning a new trade, communicating with buyers internationally and being featured on the beautiful products they make could be a source of empowerment in itself in a fair trade model, but the magic of this company is that they are committed to paying these artisans very well – 2.5 X the fair trade wage. Fair trade wages don’t allow for investment in the future, and that’s why this Prosperity Wage model they have created is so vital. Immediately after turning in their baskets the artisans are paid.
They can spend the money however they’d like, though as a condition of their employment they agree to start three small businesses, whatever they may be, with some of their income. Every six months they check in with The Blessing Basket Project team directly in regard to their progress. They learn what other artisans have done – from buying land to livestock, sewing machines, pursuing education — to encourage them along their path.
HERE you can see some of the amazing stories of artisans who have become full-time business owners, land-owners, and entrepreneurs.
This is the ultimate result of being an artisan in the Blessing Basket Project: you will graduate from the program and become a full-time business owner who is self-sustaining. After about three years, as an artisan starts to become more engaged in their own small business growth and spends less time on weaving, they are assessed to see if they are ready for their graduation. When they are ready to move on, they have a formal graduation ceremony in their village and receive both a badge and a graduation certificate on that day, credentials that serve them as they move on to expand their businesses.
The Blessing Basket Project continually selects and trains new artisan as others graduate out of poverty, and while that’s certainly not convenient to getting their baskets made, it’s the core of their mission and it’s being beautifully accomplished!
I walked away from the booth with tears of joy welling up in my eyes.
You can shop for Blessing Baskets¬Æ and other lovely handmade goods HERE at their Prosperity Shop. They also have exclusively designed baskets in partnership with Room & Board, my personal favorite one is HERE.