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Nest’s Annie Millican Joins CFDA to Talk Sourcing and Working with Socially Sustainable Artisans

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) continues to do a commendable job educating designers about how to think outside the sourcing box and to approach production in a way that supports deeper brand values. Whether or not sustainability and social responsibility were guiding tenants at the outset of starting a design brand, it’s never too late to start linking our choices to positive impact.

This month, Nest’s Director of Sourcing & Artisan Business Development, Annie Millican, joined a panel of speakers including Dana Arib, Creative Director of A Piece Treaty; Annie Oakley Waterman, Founder of AOW Handmade; Nest Co-op member and Maison-de-Mode Co-Founder, Hassan Pierre; and Tara St. James, Owner of Study NY, for a talk on Sourcing and Working with Socially Sustainable Artisans. The lively discussion, moderated by Timo Rissanen of Parson’s hashed out the why’s and how’s of sourcing from artisans, helping designers to understand the opportunities and tools available to them to incorporate global craftsmanship into their collections.

The message was clear: while not without its challenges, artisan sourcing is always worth it: both for the authentic, rare beauty that emerges, as well as for the social impact generated for communities around the world.

NYNOW: THE ARTISAN PERSPECTIVE, A NEST INTERVIEW WITH GONZALO PERTILE OF MESO GOODS

Market access is the key to sustainable growth for all artisan businesses, but it’s not always easy to achieve. It follows that trade shows can present an excellent platform for emerging artisan brands to leverage as a means to reach prospective clients while showcasing their newest designs and innovations. The age-old art of conversation and face-to-face interaction allows buyers from around the world to touch and feel handcrafted techniques and to learn the personal stories and cultural traditions that set artisan products apart in the very crowded sea that is a trade show.

At the NYNow show, which came to New York this week, an entire section is dedicated exclusively to showcasing handmade products. This points to a strong and growing appetite for products that bear the artisan touch. This past week, Nest team members made their way to the Javits Center to roam the show floors, meeting with new artisan talent while touching base with those businesses who are already active participants in our Nest Guild community. Nest’s Sara Otto also delivered a formal presentation on Nest Compliance for Home and Small Workshops, discussing Nest’s tools for ensuring artisan wellbeing.

While trade shows have potential to open doors for artisan businesses seeking to expand distribution, they are a big commitment! Behind every shiny booth lies heaps of hard work and months of preparation. What is a trade show like from the artisan perspective? We spoke with Gonzalo Pertile of Nest Guild business, Meso Goods, to get the scoop on his NYNow experience.

Nest: Gonzalo, thanks so much for speaking with us and congrats on a great show at NYNow. From what we could tell, your booth was a major hit! We’re excited to talk to you about your secret sauce: what makes a great trade show? So here we go!

For our readers who are not familiar with Meso Goods, can you tell us a bit more about the products you make and techniques you use?

Gonzalo: Of course! But first let me thank you for the opportunity to share our experience, at Meso Goods we’re always excited about the relationship with Nest Guild!

At Meso we work hand in hand with more than 500 artisans from Guatemala, using centuries-old techniques like backstrap loom and pedal loom weaving, glass-beading, wood carving, recycled glass blowing, and wool weaving. We are also always looking to introduce new techniques. Our main focus is developing products with a strong contemporary approach, so we like mixing different techniques and raw materials to come up with innovative and modern products, while always maintaining use of traditional hand techniques.

We are a lifestyle brand, so we have a wide assortment of products that includes home decor (pillows, rugs, throws, wall arts, tabletop) and also personal accessories (pouches, travel cases, scarves, key chains).

Nest: You are based in Guatemala. How big of a production is it for you to prepare for a trade show like NYNow and to get all your gear and product up to New York?

Gonzalo: Coming to NYNow involves a lot of planning! Our team begins working for the show four months in advance. We always introduce our new collections at the show, so this requires a great effort from our design team, who has to develop new products, train artisans and produce samples of each new design. We also have to get our pricing, photography catalogs, and marketing materials ready for each new collection. Going to NYNow also takes a big effort logistically – we need to send samples to NY, coordinate booth display materials and book travel and accommodation. But all the hard work is worth it – we love coming to the city, seeing the excitement of all of our customers, and developing new partnerships.

Nest: At a show like NYNow, the number of vendors and array of products can feel overwhelming. How do you stand out in the crowd and how keep your design fresh and relevant? How do you attract attention to your booth?

Gonzalo: Our booth is located at the Handmade Global Design section of the show where there are exhibitors that work with artisans from all over the world, so yes, the diversity is incredible! We do a lot of research to analyze the trends in the home decor and fashion industry, which helps us come up with relevant color ways. We also try to travel a lot and draw inspiration from our journeys both in the rural areas of Guatemala and also abroad. We like combining these two very different worlds by designing products that can connect both worlds and speak to the requirements of consumers while also telling the story of the people who made each item. This brings joy to our customers and a better livelihood to the artisans.

Every time we come to the show, we feel amazed by the creativity and beautiful and innovative products coming to market. We try to make our booth stand out by designing a coherent palate that will flow throughout our booth space, creating a path of artisan stories. Display furniture and lighting are also important features of a booth, so you always have to think about that.

Nest: Which new products were you most proud of at this year’s show? How do you choose which products to bring with you? Were there any standout hits that people kept gravitating towards? Any sales on the spot? 

Gonzalo: We always have a special love for our hand-woven wool products (pillows, rugs and throws) from Momostenango in Guatemala – these always have a lot of success! But this time we were very happily surprised with how well our wall art products did, particularly those that came out of our recent collaboration with a Graphic Design and Illustration artist from Sade Studio, a firm originally from Guatemala but now based in Switzerland.

NYNow is always an order placing show, so yes, we received a lot of orders, both from existing and new customers.

Nest: How do you feel that the face-to-face, in-person interaction of a trade show enhances the selling experience or potentially makes it more difficult?

Gonzalo: I think that the face to face experience really helps the sales process; clients always like to touch and feel the products – it gives them confidence to see how the actual products look like instead of buying through a catalog. If you have a product with great quality and some diversity within assortment allowing for appeal to different types of buyers, face-to-face interaction is going to benefit you.

Coming to a show also makes our sales efforts easier because we are able to meet with a great myriad of customers from all over the U.S. and abroad under one roof in the span of just four days.

Nest: What jewels of wisdom would you offer to an artisan business thinking about participating in its first trade show?

 Gonzalo: To jump into the water and just go for it! Don’t feel intimidated by the magnitude of the show, or the required amount of time and resources to do it. Feel confident with your product and work hard to plan and execute well your show participation.

Fun at 55 Water: Our August of Craft and Culture with FEED

As a brand with a mission to make good products that feed the world, FEED has been a longtime supporter of Nest’s work to uphold artisan traditions and create fair opportunity for women’s global workforce participation through craft. Sharing a similar vision for the world, Nest and FEED launched a limited edition International Women’s Day FEED bag in 2016, featuring the stunning hand embroidery of Nest Guild members, Hilos Y Colores, in Peru. By participating in Nest’s transparent sourcing platform, FEED created a new opportunity for consumers not only to provide meals to people in need, but also to give fair work to deserving women across the world. And with FEED Founder and CEO, Lauren Bush Lauren, serving as an honored Nest Advisory Board member, it seems only fitting that this month found us working together once again.

For the Nest team, an excuse was barely needed to spend more time at FEED’s beautiful new digs on 55 Water Street in DUMBO. The freshly launched FEED Shop & Cafe provided a peaceful backdrop for a month of activities celebrating global craftsmanship. We kicked off August in the company of a close-knit group of crafting neophites and enthusiasts alike to practice hand embroidery under the sage tutelage of Janis Embroidery. We learned how to “tatoo” our own organic cotton FEED bags with needle and thread, giving life to adorable summer designs like cacti. Janis, who began her career in her New York apartment, using techniques taught by her grandmother back home in France, ignited in us a renewed appreciation for the precise an personal work that global handworkers engage in on a daily basis.

We closed the month shopping FEED bags and a curated collection of clean, sophisticated, handmade jewelry of Soko and Sidai Designs, respective masters in Kenyan brass casting and Tanzanian beading techniques. As members of Nest Guild, a community of more than 350 artisan businesses across 50 countries who Nest is connecting with exciting business growth opportunities, Soko and Sidai Designs are helping Nest leverage development of the global craft sector as a path towards sustainable social change. With a portion of shopping proceeds benefitting Nest, our gratitude goes back to the team at FEED for their ongoing partnership. If you haven’t visited the FEED Shop & Cafe, make it your next destination for a delicious latte and healthy dose of inspiration to do good.