Meet Kelly Weinberger, Founder of WorldFinds
Kelly literally had a Dream while traveling abroad in 1999 and now her products can now be found in 900 retail locations.
Kelly meeting with some of her artisans during a trip to India.
"My attitude at the very beginning was, 'We have to do this and it has to work' and that still continues. We keep figuring it out and it's so evident that we are impacting the lives of our artisans."
Kelly Weinberger is the Founder of WorldFinds, a brand of ethically-sourced jewelry and accessories that empowers women in India through fair trade.
Kelly, what was the initial spark for WorldFinds in the very beginning?
Me and my husband David were in the middle of a trip around the world in 1999, backpacking for 14 months through 40 countries and we were in Nepal at the time. I happened to meet a traveler from New Zealand, who introduced me to Fair Trade. This was 20 years ago and I was not aware of the concept.
She asked if I wanted to come with her to visit a women's cooperative, and from that moment on, my world totally changed. That's where I had my light bulb moment. We still had another 7 months of travel to go, so I started learning as much as possible. I had a dream about the name WorldFinds and reserved the domain name at a cyber cafe in Nepal on the spot.
There were a lot of people importing traditional products back then, but I wanted to see more unique designs. So with like, shipment #2, I realized that we had to become designers and that's continued to be our niche. We do sketches, set the specifications and then our artisans in India make the products and we distribute them to our retail partners around the world. There are tons of challenges with importing... the rules change all the time. You're at the mercy of government regulations, both here and in the countries we work in.
When we started, so much education was needed to explain what Fair Trade is, but now people are way more familiar with it. Today there are so many "For Good" models out there and the average consumer is much more aware.
So how many artisans are we talking about?
We work with about 700 artisans that make our jewelry and accessories; we work primarily in India but also partner with a group in Bali, Indonesia.
Are there artisans in particular that come to mind that you've gotten to know? What are those relationships like?
Fair trade partnerships are about long term relationships and commitment on both sides. You get to know the artisans and their families, and see their kids grow up. One of my favorite artisans is Neelam. Her kids are around the same age as mine so it's been exciting to see all of the growth happen over the years. One of the most important things about our sustainable work is it provides the artisans with a sense of security about the future - their kids are going to school, they have regular income, and we set up a fund for the most marginalized families. Through our Girls Education Fund we help them cover their tuition fees, school uniforms, transportation, books and other costs. We jump in and help and it goes a long way. Last year an increase in orders allowed our artisan groups to open a second facility, and send even more girls to school.
Oh my gosh, that's awesome, Kelly.
What are you working on currently, have you gone to any recent trade shows?
Yes, we recently returned from The Top Drawer show in London, which is a new show for us. We've done the NY NOW show since 2006, and also exhibit at shows in Atlanta and Vegas twice a year. The show in the UK was great as we've just started to distribute there as well as in Germany. Because of the atmosphere surrounding Brexit, it was a very UK-focused show. We signed up a lot of new accounts - and we absolutely love London, we typically stop there en route to India every year. We'll be going back again because it was a successful show and we get to meet with our distribution partners, Just Trade.
So how many stores are you in over there?
We're in 43 shops around the UK. Some in Wales, some in Scotland but the majority in England. You can find us in some larger stores, but we're mostly in smaller shops on the local 'high street.'
I hear about the longer term time frame in retail and how the brands are always looking to next year, are you?
Yep, we're designing for Spring 2020 right now. Our designer just returned from India, and we're finalizing our spec sheets and still getting samples back. Working with artisans and especially as we're 'slow fashion', we really need a lot of lead time to get everything right. We also like to see where the trends going, and then modify for our customer. Are people choosing more minimalist styles or what colors are popular. Data comes in and then we adjust.
Do you have a couple favorites? Are you surprised by what works and what doesn't?
It is always fascinating to see what becomes the best sellers of each collection! Everyone on our team guesses, and sometimes we nail it and other times we're completely surprised. I do have my favorites, for instance our Tangled Kantha Necklace is a great statement piece, and I'm always stacking our stretchy bracelets and cuffs.
What are a couple apps that you tend to use on a regular basis?
We use WhatsApp a ton with our artisans. They send us photos of initial samples, we can do thumbs up or thumbs down with the modifications, sometimes we do group chats on WhatsApp. You can be back and forth on design alts multiple times with a pair of earrings until the design is finalized.
With all your travel, how does that affect your wireless plan?
We have a comprehensive, international plan with Verizon. We call India, England, and Germany pretty frequently. We can Skype, zoom and call home or the office as much as we want when we're overseas.
Do you remember why you chose Verizon?
We chose them for coverage, clarity (of the reception and bill) and we thought the pricing was good.
Ok, final question: music. What kind of music can be found on your Spotify.
Well, my kids have taken over my account, ha! So we just set up a Spotify Family Plan, so I won't be hijacked anymore! I like the Black Keys, Tame Impala, Spoon, but also David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Television and L7. In terms of live music, some years I'm at a concert every month and sometimes none at all. We last saw L7 at Metro and also went to see Belle & Sebastian.