I recently attended a Clinton Global Initiative event hosted by the Urban Zen Foundation, called “Celebrating Artisans and Exploring the Economic Impact of Artisanal Products.” The event explored the artisanal enterprises within CGI’s portfolio, such as Mercado Global, and their impact in the communities they work in. Discussion revolved around the role of artisan craftsmanship in the world economy, highlighting the need for promotion of economic opportunities through market-based approaches for these populations—a tenant that is at the core of Mercado Global’s model. 

Starting in summer 2011 as Creative Director at Mercado Global, I developed our design and product development programs. I oversee branding, design, and product development and have introduced Mercado Global to a new market, helping to bring new retail partners, such as Calypso St. Barth, into our portfolio. 

My work at Mercado Global allows me to combine my many passions in the fashion industry. Having worked in design and product development for Ralph Lauren and Coach, and as a consultant for NGOs in India and Bolivia, I am inspired by the space between the luxury retail industry and the social enterprise world, along with a respect for maintaining traditions among indigenous artisans. 

At the event, Donna Karan of the Urban Zen Foundation, Russell James of Nomad Two Worlds, Paulette Cole of ABC Home, and Paul Scott of Firmenich led an engaging discussion. ABC Home has truly been a leader in the responsibly sourced goods movement and a partner with Mercado Global, launching a home décor line with us in May 2009.

Donna Karan, who focuses her work in Haiti, spoke about the need to promote economic self-advancement in developing countries. “It’s not about me, it’s about we,” she stressed. Donna Karan recognized the advantage of adding a contemporary eye to artisan design to attract a larger market, but also highlighted the need for the international market to understand traditional artisan processes. Paulette Cole also elaborated on the positive impacts of the “slow design” process of traditional artistic design and craftsmanship.

Mercado Global has pioneered a similar approach to bridging the artisanal and commercial markets to provide income-generating opportunities for women. For many of these women, economic opportunities are too few to buy sufficient nutritional food for their families and send their children, both girls and boys, to school. Working with highly skilled artisans in the highlands of Guatemala, Mercado Global has helped rural women and their handwoven goods access the international market, becoming entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities.

I look forward to sharing more about Mercado Global's model and our beautiful handwoven collections with the CGI community at the fast approaching annual meeting in September.