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Notes from Nest’s Third Annual New Handworker Economy Convening, Handwork: Rebooted

Our afternoon began with a moving keynote address from Mara Hoffman, Founder and Creative Director of Mara Hoffman, who shared her own handwork story underscoring technology’s pivotal role in illuminating supply chains. Mara discussed Nest’s role in helping her brand to understand the nuances of handwork and home-based production, leading nicely into our first panel on the modern cottage industry.

Lisa R. Jackson PhD. moderated a fascinating discussion on new mobile technologies and digital platforms that are enabling the reemergence of cottage industries, which were largely threatened by the industrial revolution. Diego Olivero of Meso Goods and Yash Ranga of Jaipur Living explained their approaches to uniting dispersed workforces of hundreds and thousands of artisans respectively, many who work out of their homes. Althea Erickson discussed the challenges and opportunities technology has posed for Etsy. Unanimously, panelists underscored the need for usage training to be coupled with implementation of new tech platforms.

Next up, an animated language-free video created by Nest and Ripple Effect Images made the topic of child advocacy and protection approachable and understandable, presenting a powerful medium for educating workers at the individual level. The video segued to an illuminating discussion on supply chain transparency, led by Ivanka Mamic who asked panelists to clarify the space’s sometimes confusing lexicon. Panelists like Leonardo Bonanni, CEO of Sourcemap and Antoine Heuty, CEO of Ulula, discussed the shortcomings of platforms like blockchain, which Leo posited is as being a tool to create less transparency, not more. Annie Griffiths shared how technology has allowed her to reach women in communities with videos that are changing lives.

Following coffee and seasonal bites, we reconvened for our discussion on Hand vs. Machine, led by Nest Board Trustee, Hall Rockefeller. Celine Vogt of Michelangelo Foundation joined Nidhi Garg Allen of artisan business, Marasim, and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, to weigh in on what level of mechanization is permissible before a craft is no longer craft. All panelists preferred some level of tech integration to enhance craft production and to preserve cultural traditions. Natalie Chanin shared an anecdote about how cell phone videos helped seamstresses learn how to use and care for their sewing machines, and Nidhi Garg Allen discussed how new tech-enabled fabric washes made traditional Indian Tussar Silk luxury-brand ready. 

Next up, a meditative video on artisan revival in Montbranc, part of Hermes’ Footsteps Across the World series, told the story of craft production’s power to bring jobs and hope back to an entire community. The screening concluded with a candid fireside chat between Peter Malachi, SVP of Communications at Hermes and Rebecca van Bergen, Founder and Executive Director of Nest. Peter told Rebecca that the history of Hermes, one steeped in artisanship for more than 150 years, has informed the family’s continued to approach to building a business focused on training the next generation of artisan makers and committed to raising awareness for craft traditions through innovative uses of digital and social media.

Thank you again to the Convening’s generous lead partner and host, Swarovski, and our additional event supporters: Imago Dei Fund, Target, and West Elm. Thank you to our outstanding speakers and supporters who joined to make this annual initiative a success.