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Meet Bebemoss: NY NOW’s 2022 Sustainable Design Award Winner

In what began as a meditation method while on bedrest with her second child, Izabela Erşahin marched forward in utilizing crocheting to build the powerful social enterprise and cherished community of Bebemoss. Soon after Izabela began crocheting classic huggable toys for her children, she found a group of crocheters in the outskirts of Istanbul, Turkey to join in community with her. The meditation method that turned into creating beautiful handmade toys led to creating a community of women working to support and empower their children, their families, and themselves. Born in 2013 out of a labor of love, Bebemoss has grown to currently employ 120 women, of which most are working mothers and all are paid more than the local wage. In conversations with Izabela, the warmth, passion, and sense of community that runs within Bebemoss can easily be felt. Izabela describes the Bebemoss workshop as a “women only space,” further elaborating that the workshop is a “safe space where we watch over our children, cook, and eat meals together.”

As a member of Nest’s Artisan Accelerator 2021 cohort and by way of the Nest Fellow network, Bebemoss was introduced to Dondrill Glover, a renowned buyer relations strategist and content producer of the artisan space. Dondrill unlocked what Izabela describes as an “out of this planet experience,” in being mentored for the NY NOW Summer 2022 Market. Over the course of four months, Izabela and Dondrill met for two or more hours every Sunday to talk through the scope of NY NOW including product assortment, booth design, trade show prep, and post show work. In addition to the mentee relationship with Dondrill Glover that Bebemoss received through the Artisan Accelerator program, Bebemoss was also granted funding through Nest to help underwrite some of the cost associated with attending — a barrier that often stands in the way of scaled market access for artisan businesses. “I felt like one of the luckiest people at the trade show,” Izabela mentions in reflecting upon her time at the show.

Despite not being able to obtain visas for her business partner, Zeynep, and other Bebemoss artisans and employees, Izabela traveled from Istanbul to New York City, representing Bebemoss at NY NOW by herself. The hard work in preparing for the trade show and the purposeful, sustainable initiatives incorporated within bebemoss led the first-time exhibitor to win NY NOW’s Sustainable Design Award, an award that honors brands and makers who uphold sustainable production processes and socially responsible business models and practices. Bebemoss uses organic, sustainably manufactured yarn that is soft enough for the sensitive skin of a newborn, while stuffing the toys with hypoallergenic filling made from recycled water bottles.

Market access opportunities, such as attending NY NOW, has a deep and life-changing impact on the women Bebemoss employs. Izabela simply describes it as, “1 toy = 1 woman = 1 day of work.” It takes one woman one day to make one medium-sized toy, and although this is a simple calculation, when orders for thousands of toys come through Bebemoss’ door the effect is extensive. The community and collective impact that Bebemoss drives provides children around the world with special handmade huggable toys, while effecting positive change in the lives of Syrian, Irainan, Afghan, and Turkish mothers and daughters.

When aspects of Nest programming — capacity building trainings, industry expertise from Nest Fellows, and market access activation — come together to support a Nest Guild member, the collective impact is transformational. Izabela describes engaging in Nest programming as a “life-changing experience with all the resources and tips to be a great help.”

What does Bebemoss have planned for the future? Now that Bebemoss has gone through the Artisan Accelerator program, sights are set on undertaking the Nest Seal for Ethical Handcraft compliance certification. Izabela also shared the goal of gradual and purposeful growth to reach employing 500 artisans by 2025. As for in the present moment, the NY NOW Sustainable Design Award trophy sits proudly in the Bebemoss workshop to remind all artisans that the work of Bebemoss is a shared effort, and as Izabela states, “This award is a badge of honor and it is very much theirs [the artisans] as it is mine. I’m not the hero of the story. These women are the hero of their own stories. I just equip them with the materials that provide access to their dreams and to a better lifestyle.”

Interested in learning more? Visit Bebemoss’ website to learn more about their work and impact.
For more information about Nest and becoming a member of the Nest Artisan Guild, email us at [email protected]

The Artisan Voices blog explores the histories, experiences, pivotal moments, and innovative initiatives in an artisan or maker business while celebrating craft, community, and culture.