By Katharine Gammon
Launched this week, Maiden Nation (get it? Made in, maiden) wants to bridge consumers and ethically made goods from around the globe. The idea came from Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, a designer and entrepreneur who previously created Choose Haiti, a project that made bracelets out of recycled newspaper to support local industry after the earthquake.
In the past few years, Brown says she became frustrated about trying to meet the demand of the large-scale retailers, and frustrated about the lack of infrastructure in the camps trained to make bracelets. So she came up with the new venture.
"Maiden Nation is a more sustainable way to help women in places like Haiti to bring in income," she says. Right now, the site is selling bracelets from ethical fashion houses around the globe, but the founders hope to open it up to other products in the coming months.
Brown is no stranger to difficult situations: On her first trip to Haiti, during college, she was briefly held hostage in a small, impoverished village. The villagers had been promised aid some months before, she explained, and her group was the first Americans they had seen since that promise. Though it was a terrifying experience, Brown came to see firsthand how people's lives are ruined by economic hardship and insecurity.
Maiden Nation is currently working with women-made ethical fashion makers in the U.S., as well as Haiti, Peru, India, Rwanda, Kenya, Argentina, and Sweden. Beyond selling products, Maiden Nation also wants to connect citizens of the world who are interested in creating and learning more about from where their fashion comes. Women are driving the global economy more than ever before, says Brown, and the new information economy favors the kinds of skills women often develop: sensitivity, awareness of social context, and communication.
Maiden Nation's first featured product is a friendship bracelet designed by jewelry designer Chan Luu and made in Haiti by Sean Penn's newly formed women's coop Hands Together. Brown says the bracelet is the first time the coop has worked with a U.S. designer, and the first time they've had actual training. The website hopes to expand in the future and let artisans create their own story and start selling directly to citizens. "We'd like to be a sort of curated Etsy," says Brown.
"Especially because of the Internet, consumers have the ability to know more about who makes products, and that creates another consideration in their buying decisions," says Brown. "The specificity of story and place are now becoming a decision in the product," just like more traditional factors, she says.
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.