In the Spotlight: Mushmina – A Store With a Mission

Tucked away on South Street in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood in Philadelphia is a charming store called Mushmina.  Walk inside and you are immediately transported to the magic and mystery of Morocco.  A creation of Heather and Katie O’Neill, the store features the most wonderful array of special, carefully crafted fashion, accessory and home items.  The store is not just lovingly curated by the sisters, they work directly with artisans in Morocco and Mali to develop high quality, high style items.

Their dream began with Heather’s Peace Corp service as a small business advisor, working in rural Morocco and helping women diversify their product offering to increase exports.  Heather was joined by her sister Katie, and the two traveled and lived in Morocco and Mali.  Their commitment to help economically disadvantaged people grew into the idea of Mushmina.  The sisters work with communities to develop commercially successful products, and give them a direct sales market through the Mushmina store and retailers throughout the US.

The sisters discovered that in these countries artisans often work in their homes and have very few opportunities to generate income. They also have limited bargaining power in the local market and limited access to international markets. Despite these challenges, the artisans are full of ideas, spirit, and vision.  Mushmina creates employment opportunities for women and men in developing countries. They view their creative process as a global exchange of ideas and an opportunity to develop new relationships across cultures. In the way each one contributes to this process, the products empower all people to be beautiful and expressive.

In Morocco they work with over 9 different artisan groups, employing over 75 artisans. Some of the superstar women’s groups have been the ladies of Arazane, The Embroidery association of Oulmes, Tifaout Cooperative, L’Association D’Artisanat Des Femmes De Khenifra, metalsmiths Cherif Rismi and Ahmed El Guerch, and many more.  Mushmina also works with the women of Oued Zem who help with all the finishing, labeling, and shipment of the products.

Mushmina is a little shop around the corner with a global mission.  If you are in Philadelphia, be sure to check out the store and talk to Katie about the many beautifully crafted products in the store.   But be forewarned – once you hear the amazing stories behind each of the items, you will find it impossible to leave empty-handed!

Mushmina, 1540 South Street, Philadelphia, PA

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Donate Design: Community in the Spotlight – Eternal Creation

Frances Carrington began her work in India with a project called Australian Volunteers Abroad.  She was offered the opportunity to work with Tibetan refugees at Norbalingka Institute (, an organization that works to preserve and promote Tibetan Culture internationally.  She fell in love with the country and its people, and returned in 1999 with a $5000 loan from her father and started a small tailoring workshop at Gu-Chu-Sum, The Tibetan Former Political Prisoners Association.

The first three tailors were ex political prisoners tortured Chinese prisons.  The workshop has quickly grown in size and in 2006, she opened the Himalayan Tailoring Centre. Today the workshop provides employment for more than 80 families, about one third of whom are refugees while the rest are from local Indian communities and disadvantaged groups. The Centre and the Eternal Creation collection both have received official Fair Trade certification from New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and India.

The Dalai Lama personally visited the tailoring worships both at Norbulingka and Gu-Chu-Sum to express his gratitude for her efforts with Tibetans in exile.  She was inspired by the Dalai Lama holding her hand and saying thank you for her work.  Her greatest reward is bringing unskilled, uneducated people from disadvantaged backgrounds and providing them with an opportunity to learn new skills and work in a positive environment. After 12 months or a couple of years the employees just start to shine; they become good at their jobs and take so much pride in their work.  The transformation is not only as a person, but their entire lives change – they arrive poor and shy and soon become a positive and proud people who can afford to send their kids to school.

“I am very proud of the warm family atmosphere we have created here.   We offer free daycare to all our employees and everyone may take part in a healthy subsidized lunch prepared by our workshop chef, Bitu.  We all gather outside in the garden where all the children (and the workshop dogs) run about playing.  There is a badminton court where some serious steam is let off before returning to work.  Bitu makes his home-made chai for morning and afternoon tea breaks.  Those who live in villages or towns that are further away share a subsidized jeep to and from work each morning and evening.  We even have a no waste policy so the smallest fabric cuttings are donated to local village women who make and sell beautiful rag rugs to support their families.  ( ).  My kids arrive at the workshop from school around 3 and then are either put to work modelling for the catalogue or website, or they join the other kids at play.  My husband is the graphic designer so it really is a small family enterprise!”

Share in Frances’ work and add a fair trade item to your wardrobe!  Eternal Creations creates clothing items for men, women and children, so your family will find plenty to choose from.   ETERNAL CREATION

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ORG by Vio – Building Artisan Communities in the Amazon to Preserve the Culture and Environment

Donate Design promotes the work in communities around the world that develop sustainable businesses to provide a livelihood to disadvantaged people, offer alternative industries to those that destroy the local eco-system, and preserve the human rights to social justice and culture.  Donate Design introduces the work of Violeta Villacorta and the artisan communities in the Amazon.  Violetta is running a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo.  To support her work, contribute to her campaign here.

My work with Amazon communities and artisans started with the Cofán Dureno community in the Ecuadorian Amazon in mid 2010. My initial trip served to connect with the artisans and community, and to learn they were looking to do as a community and as artisans.  Our mission is to learn from communities – what they envision for themselves, not the other way around. The Cofán community works to develop their culture and protect their territory from extractive industries, which have left their land and resources devastated from oil contamination, costing many lives.

We work with a group of women artisans, Asociación Sukû, who sought to have a center where they could work, showcase and store their crafts.  The main source of income for this community is farming and craftwork.  They work on crafts in their homes after a day’s work on their farms, however, they needed a place to come together to work.  For years the oil industry has disrupted their livelihood, polluting the rivers and limiting the fish and food in the local markets, forcing many people to work outside the community.  They want to bring work back into their community and earn their living in their traditional industries.  Because the region does not attract many visitors and tourists, the artisans are looking to sell their arts and crafts to a broader market to earn a living from their creative work.

I returned from my first trip with a long list of needs from the artisans, and organized a fundraiser to finance the construction of a traditionally designed building where artisans could work and showcase their crafts.  The funds raised also provided a number of tools, including laptops, drills, and materials and supplies to enhance their work and performance, and connect the artisans and community with the world to share their artistry, culture and events.  On my next trip, I stayed with the artisans in their community for a month.  We financed an internet connection, and trained the artists in computer and internet skills. They learned applications, web tools and programs to help develop their artistry and business. This has made it easier for the artisans and community to directly communicate with and take orders from their market.  I worked closely with the artisans to ensure the high quality of their products, and purchased samples to open sales in the US.

This work with the Cofán opened the door to my work with a community in my native country, Perú.  I met the indigenous Awajún-Wampis representative Ambrocio Uwak, at a Deep in Forests meeting in Tambopata, Perú.  Deep in Forests is a network of native community leaders and sustainable entrepreneurs working to increase the value of standing forests and create sustainable solutions for the protection of the Amazon and its cultures.  I was introduced to the Awajún of Urakusa in Amazonas, Perú, who live in a remote area in the rainforest, accessible by a 14 hour boat trip and 5 to7 hours by car.  I was invited to visit by the artisans to explore the market for their arts and crafts outside of their community.  The Awajún Artisans is a group of over 50 women who work in an established artisans’ center.  I looked at their operation, assessed their needs and worked on sample collections, taking sample with me back to the US.

My input as a designer involves collaboraton with the artisans to create modern collections based on their traditional artistry, as well as promoting and selling their unique and traditional work.  We have been working with the Awajún (and the Cofán), promoting and selling their arts and crafts, as well as providing tools and funds depending on their needs. We sponsor the artisans’ participation and register their associations in national fairs and trade shows in their native countries, as well as finance travel and fees to set up legal registration of their business that will allow the Awajún to open a bank account for their organization.

Since we have been working with the artisans, we have been able to increase their sales and outreach by 95%.  Our support has enabled them to connect with domestic markets and sell their goods independently, directly through venues, fairs and stores in Perú and Ecuador.  We have opened new accounts and markets, and sell their exquisite work directly to customers in the US through our online store.

It is our mission to empower communities, particularly the women who run the artisans’ associations, to help them develop markets for their art, so they can continue to cultivate the richness of their culture, wisdom and arts.  This work creates sustainable, value-added enterprises for the Amazon as an alternative to harmful extractive industries. Our work supports their culture, livelihood and self-determination.

There is much to be done and as more communities reach out for our support, we are committed to our collaborative work to further develop the businesses in the communities we work with, and to support new communities who reach out to us.

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Bel Esprit Relaunches Donate Design to Create and Build Sustainable Businesses in Disadvantaged Regions

Bel Esprit, the online showroom for international designers of ethical fashion, has relaunched Donate Design (, a program to support the development of sustainable businesses in the fashion and lifestyle industry in disadvantaged regions around the world.

Donate Design brings together industry professionals, experts in all sectors, students and volunteers to donate time and expertise to projects around the world that build and develop sustainable businesses to benefit disadvantaged communities.  The Donate Design program specifically works with projects that engage the community in the development of the enterprise, rather than inviting established companies into an area to hire community members.  The purpose is to create enterprise from the ground up, using the resources indigenous to the neighborhood, community and/or region to create a sustainable business that respects the environment and its inhabitants and allows the community to participate in the economy.

Projects considered for assistance must guarantee a minimum of 51% of indigenous resources used – labor and supplies, and must adhere to ethical and fair trade/fair labor principles.  Projects are encouraged in all regions of the world, whether industrialized or developing.  Donate Design is working to create ethical resources throughout the world to enable designers to produce locally, and at the same time, maintain their commitment to ecological and fair labor principles.

The Donate Design program seeks to further develop and build an ethical supply chain for fashion designers around the world that will meet the needs of all levels of business, from start-up to corporate.  Donate Design is an extension of Bel Esprit’s Fashion (Re)Construction (, a new directory and resource for international fashion designers to ethically source suppliers and production.  The directory is a free resource for both designers and suppliers, and Bel Esprit will assist designers in their sourcing as well as list the services of sourcing consultants in the directory.  This open, free resource will make it easy to access suppliers, and thereby encourage designers to create a transparent, ethical supply chain.  Established suppliers seeking to expand their businesses are encouraged to submit projects and reach out to industry professionals for advice and assistance through the Donate Design program.

With the relaunch of Donate Design, Bel Esprit becomes a full cycle service to the ethical community, helping to create and develop supply chain resources, promote suppliers and production to the industry, and an online showroom to promote the collections of international designers of ethical fashion.  Potential projects, experts and volunteers are invited to contact Donate Design online to submit projects, and to register expertise and volunteer.

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Donate Design Launches New Website

Bel Esprit has launched the new Donate Design website!  The Donate Design program will bring together fashion industry professionals and volunteers to donate their knowledge and creativity to help create and develop sustainable businesses in disadvantaged communities.

The Donate Design blog will bring news from communities, updates from projects and press about the Donate Design program.  We invite everyone who dreams of a beautiful world to join the community and support the projects and businesses.

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