A Celebratory & Social Impact Compilation
During the months of March, April, and May we celebrate women on International Women’s Day and during Women’s History Month; our planet on Earth Day; and mothers, grandmothers, and mother-figures on Mother’s Day. As these focal points throughout the year not only celebrate the contributions of women, recognize the wonder of our planet, and honor mother-figures, these moments also bring attention to global issues such as gender and economic inequality and the climate crisis. These moments intersect within the artisan and handcraft sector.
Moio, Refugee Artisan Initiative, and Seeds & Stories are women-founded and led Nest Guild businesses that embody this intersection through the preservation of cultural heritage, intergenerational connectivity, regenerative and sustainable practices, educational and training programs, and an overall mission to uplift and transform the women within their communities.
Handwork is a fundamental source of employment for women around the world. 76% of Nest Guild members are female-owned and led businesses and 88% of Nest Guild members have a female workforce. Additionally, craft-based work allows mothers to work from the home and care for their families while establishing financial independence. Through programmatic opportunities, Nest aims to support craft-based enterprises to advance gender equity, expand economic opportunity, and celebrate women’s work.
In addition to advancing gender equity and economic opportunity for women and mothers, Nest is also helping to minimize climate change implications for the millions of US and global artisans in the handworker economy. Handworkers are economically and geographically vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Extreme weather and natural disasters can disrupt production and damage inventory while rising temperatures and diminishing raw materials make it difficult for makers and artisans to produce their products.
Women’s History Month, Earth Day, and Mother’s Day are three individual moments of reflection, yet their celebratory and social impact aspects intertwine and meet at an intersection that craft-based work influences.
Below is a compilation of three Nest Guild businesses and their founders – Gemma Levy of Moio; Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman of Refugee Artisan Initiative; and Margarida Vascocelos of Seeds & Stories – whose missions and passions intertwine to uplift women and mothers through craft.
Gemma Levy, a current senior in high school, founded Moio in 2020 after noticing the fragility of the Zimbabwean artisan economy during the pandemic. Descended from generations of Zimbabweans, Gemma has a passion for the rich culture and artistic traditions. During her summers visiting Zimbabwe, she often spent her days in flea markets learning how to bead from skilled artisans and developing deep relationships. This led to an understanding of how the preservation of artistic traditions can liberate women from cycles of poverty and discrimination. From these experiences and the impacts of the pandemic, Project Moio was born.
Moio is an artisanal brand with a socially conscious ethos that prioritizes empowering disadvantaged women. “We believe in promoting positive impact for society and the environment through sustainable practices, which we view as a holistic commitment. Our approach acknowledges the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues and considers the impact on all stakeholders. We hold ourselves accountable through transparency and a continuous drive for improvement toward sustainable practices that ensure a more equitable and sustainable future.”
Moio works with Zimbabwean artisans to preserve Shona artistry through intergenerational connectivity. Traditional beadwork is portrayed and shines through the beautiful bracelets and accessories that the artisans of Moio produce. Not only does this social enterprise support established artisan networks, but Moio also seeks to empower women who have faced gender discrimination, abuse, and poverty. Moio provides a steady income for artisans by globalizing their market — forming and restoring community through economic empowerment. In addition to uplifting artisans through employment and craft, Moio is also breaking the cycle of poverty by providing vocational and business training programs.
“I was raised with a strong belief in women helping women. It was part and parcel to the natural rhythm of things at home, in my relationships, friendships and even in my academic life. Drawing firstly from the strong bonds I have with the women in my family (including my mother, sister, grandmothers and aunts), I have come to realize that we need each other. Not only to rally around us to celebrate our strengths but also to fill in gaps when we need support. We are all given different superpowers, which when harnessed as a collective are that much stronger! This ethos lives in Moio and I am often awestruck by the power of the new relationships I am building with women through this journey. It makes me feel like all is right in the world when we work TOGETHER.” – Gemma Levy
Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI)
Located in Seattle, Washington, Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to partner with refugee and immigrant women for a prosperous transition with skill training and micro-business development. RAI operates under the four pillars of sustainability, equity, training, and community. Helping women to utilize and improve upon the craft skills that they’ve developed within their home counties, RAI connects women to job opportunities that uplifts them, their families, and their communities.
Ming-Ming Tung Tung-Edelman developed an admiration for the talent, hard work, and dedication within the sewing trade having grown up with a grandmother who sewed their family’s clothing by hand. When she immigrated from Taiwan, she pursued education and became a pharmacist, but wanted to do more in helping immigrant women like herself. Ming-Ming drew on her own experience to build RAI with the vision of crafting a community that values and invests in refugee and immigrant women as they achieve economic independence.
When asked about an inspirational woman within her life that she celebrates, Ming-Ming replied, “My grandma, I call her ‘ama.’ She was a woman with rudimentary education but able to raise three children as a single mom as a home based seamstress. She made many of my clothes growing up. She taught me that tools plus skills can transform lives.” – Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman
Seeds & Stories
Seeds & Stories is a social enterprise that currently works with a group of 12 artisans from the community of Bigodi, Uganda. The women learn and share new skills, develop their own products, and craft to improve their community. By providing resources, facilitation, and training, Seeds & Stories is empowering rural communities to be more resilient, self-reliant, healthy, and equitable. Their training sessions provide participants with new skills to result in economic empowerment and greater income generating opportunities. As a result of Seeds & Stories’ programming, the local Ugandan women experience higher rates of financial independence.
With a focus on regenerative fashion, only organic and responsibly harvested natural local fiber materials are utilized. Additionally, artisans naturally dye the materials with a combination of food waste, plants, leaves, seeds, roots, barks, and clay. Co-Founder and Creative Director, Margarida Vascocelos is a women’s empowerment advocate with a background in law and over 20 years of work experience in civic, social, and international organizations.
“It is always very inspiring and empowering to see women coming together, supporting each other, standing up for their rights and making positive changes in their communities. Through my travels around the world, I had the chance to visit several women’s groups and social enterprises led by women. Their amazing, impactful, inspirational work and the difference they make to the women they work with and with little resources certainly inspired me to launch Seeds & Stories. I would like to spotlight two amazing, inspirational women:
Kigere Rose. Rose is the Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Initiative (WORI). She is doing absolutely brilliant work empowering women to advocate against violence through human rights education, skills and information sharing. Her strength, determination and kindness, the difference she is making to women in Uganda, particularly for victims of domestic violence, is admirable and inspiring. I deeply admire her and her work.
I have never personally met Rebecca Burgess, but her eye-opening book Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy and the fantastic work she has been doing at Fibershed had a great influence on me and greatly inspired Seeds & Stories. She inspired me to shape the Seeds & Stories idea and to move forward with the project. This inspirational woman introduced me to the Fibershed movement, and now I am absolutely fascinated by regenerative fiber & textile systems and totally embrace nature-based solutions.” – Margarida Vascocelos
All photos courtesy of Moio, Refugee Artisan Initiative, and Seeds & Stories.
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.