Buy the Change is an online marketplace that creates economic opportunity for women artisans in developing countries by purchasing and retailing their handcrafted products.
In 2011, after reading the book Half The Sky, Buy the Change founder Kari Hughes made the decision to refocus her career on helping empower women and girls in the developing world. Kari knew that the most effective way to create lasting, generational change in these communities was through the economic empowerment of women, especially mothers. Additionally, the key to dignity and empowerment was earned income.
The only question that remained was how? Many women around the world already know how to create beautiful, useful things. Oftentimes, they employ traditional craft skills handed down from their mothers or taught by NGOs. Kari realized that the ongoing problem was not the skill level of the women, but the access to markets and the sales of their handcrafted goods. Local marketplaces weren’t adequate for a steady income, as inhabitants had no need for the traditional crafts and were often impoverished. Even sales from tourists were unpredictable and not always priced fairly.
It was from this realization – and the Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – that Buy the Change was born. Buy The Change purchases handcrafted accessories and home goods at fair prices from women artisans in developing countries. They then retail those products in the U.S. and use the profits to purchase more items. The mission is to create cycles of earned, ongoing income in areas where opportunities for women are rare and exploitation is common. In addition, Buy the Change’s model invites their customers to actively participate in creating change through their purchase.
Their partner artisans are diverse and unique. Some are independent and home-based, some work in small cooperatives, some participate in NGO workshops and some have small market stalls. Their current inventory contains products made by women in eight different countries: India, Nepal, Kenya, Uganda, Cambodia, Thailand, Haiti and Guatemala. It’s important to Buy the Change that relationships with their artisans are the heart of their work. Their team travels to spend time with each artisan partner in their village, home or workshop. Every item they sell has a face, a family and a story behind it.
Take the Kantha Blanket, one of their most popular products. Kantha is traditional stitching from India that is used to upcycle used and vintage saris into blankets, bags and other home goods. All of their kantha blankets are crafted by a cooperative of women located in a village called Bawali, about an hour outside of Calcutta. The women meet weekly but most of the work is completed at home. Buy the Change purchases all the blankets crafted there, providing the women with consistent, ongoing income and allowing them to put their children in school. Buy the Change aims to reach this level of impact with all of their partner artisans.
Buy The Change believes in the power of business to create social change on a global scale. In addition to creating sales and income, they are using their platform to educate consumers on the importance of knowing the source of the products they choose to purchase. Once informed, consumers can consciously contribute to empowerment rather than unconsciously contributing to exploitation through their buying choices.