Socially responsible gift giving: Project Artisan

A guest blog from our friends at

We have good news for all of you shopaholics. We are seeing the emergence of independent designers who are making artful, one-of-a-kind pieces in a way that is more socially responsible and eco-friendly.  The idea of luxury has changed; it has become a little more aware, with reverence for community, the earth, and local production.   At Project Artisan, we believe that every design, pattern, and piece has a story.  Think about all of the hands that touch a garment or accessory before it gets put out for sale in a retail venue.  It is as if the very DNA of each person is woven into the pieces you wear.  Each item, each thing you buy has a story.

I started my work in fashion repping a line of gorgeous embroidered clothing from a Brazilian designer, Gisele Barbosa.  She employed hundreds of women in her manufacturing operations. Many of these women had no other opportunities for employment, given their skill sets, the availability of good jobs, and their own domestic responsibilities.  Gisele provided for them a livelihood.  I wanted so badly for her line to grow and thrive despite the challenges she had breaking into the US market.  I realized at the time that there must be others like her trying to make a difference in the world while also creating amazing clothing. Project Artisan was started because I wanted to create opportunities for these designers and also for customers who want a more soulful shopping experience.

For many of the designers on our site, manufacturing is not an afterthought. In fact, it is what makes the products.  Care goes into each detail. A coat by Alabama Chanin has been hand-sewn by a skilled, meticulous woman who gets to work from her own home.  She sets her hours so that she can meet the needs of her family.  Each item is grown-to-sewn locally, in the USA.  Even her thread is made of organic cotton. Designer Natalie Chanin knows the farmers who grow the cotton and the women who sew her products. That’s why a coat can cost $4,000.  You are not paying for magazine ads- you are paying for a piece of art. If you look at the story of that coat and the hands that worked to stitch it, you could hardly imagine paying any less. However, we are used to paying far less for ladies winter coats or any other item of clothing.

I will admit that I love a bargain, and I love fashion.  Reading fashion magazines is like a religious experience for me.  So, like many shopaholics, I used to anxiously await emails from flash sale sites such as Haute Look and Gilt Group to find out what kinds of deals I could find.  But when I see such a discounted price, the mystique surrounding the brand loses its luster.  I am left to wonder: What’s the story?

We know that some of the discount brands we buy are not socially responsible.  It’s easy to look past that when shopping.  After all, we don’t see it firsthand.  But we are wearing that energy of struggle and industry. We are wearing the chemicals sprayed on mass-produced products leaving a factory in China.  The energy, the chemicals, and the story affect us whether we realize it or not.

Like making any sort of lifestyle change, it is difficult to stick to socially responsible shopping all the time.  Let’s face it- these products are more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts. Plus, you have to search the Internet to find emerging designers and socially responsible shopping sites. That’s why more and more of us feel it is so important to buy one-of-a-kind artisan products when you can.  Like a diet, if you stick to it about 50% of the time, you’re doing good and making a difference.  If you can shop responsibly 80% of the time, you will start change the world!

When I visit with our designers, I am reminded again of the courage and integrity it takes to remain true to their ideals in an industry that can be superficial at times.  One of our designers, Pamela Touhy, makes jewelry using hand-painted works of art framed by vintage pieces and precious metals.  She shared with us that she used to manufacture jewelry in multiple quantities, but then realized there was something precious about one-of-a-kind pieces of art.  As a result, her work continually reinvents itself, and she remains an inspired artist. Also, her customer knows she is getting something that no one else has.  We saw food move from fast to slow, and now we are witnessing fashion move in that same direction.

When I wear my Heidi Merrick Griffith Pants (or any other product I have purchased from a Project Artisan designer), people notice and comment. I feel a certain pride in talking about the pieces because I feel the care that went into making them. While they are fabulous pants, I think people are commenting on more than just the look of the style.  I believe that others can almost intuitively sense Heidi’s energy and her passion.  I think those positive vibes make their way into the final product.

My mom and grandmother were workers in a garment factory, and therefore I know the sweat and love that go into the making of the clothes we wear.  Likewise, I see how our ideas of luxury have changed.  That’s why I’m committed to making ethical luxury more accessible. I dedicate myself to choosing some of the best emerging and established designers to include on Project Artisan so that you don’t have to search to find them.  I hope that together we can change the way we shop so that we can help more workers across the globe have access to fair wages, generous work environments, and access to their dreams.

Guest blogger: Robin Keyser of Project Artisan

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Posted by Jeff O.   @   22 December 2010
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Dec 23, 2010

Robin, your beautiful words have touched my Soul! I feel this passionate desire to shop in support of these lovely, “socially responsible” designers … and access to all our dreams! May all the designers who join your site find the graces of prosperity. My loving blessings, Maryann

Dec 27, 2010
#2 Nina :

I totally agree about the magical quality of all my Project Artisan pieces. Even my five year old Gisele Barbosa coat still glows with the energy of those who created it.
I would much rather invest in unique artistry and support a skilled cratfsman than subsidize a brand’s magazine ads!

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