From west elm president, Jim Brett:
As the President of west elm, it is my job is to determine what we sell and how we sell, and I am committed to an era of conscious consumerism. In our rediscovery of craftsmanship, I believe we’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the process and the people behind our goods: We’re no longer satisfied with anonymous mechanization. As a result, I am proud to say that west elm has developed significant relationships with the artisans who produce our handcrafts, and I have never been prouder of those partnerships or our pledge to give you the full story behind west elm’s crafted products than I was on the day when President Clinton visited our Brooklyn office.
President Clinton came to review the early progress against our 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action: a pledge to purchase 35 million dollars in handcrafted products over two years, a goal we have nearly achieved in only one year with the help of President Clinton’s knowledgeable team. By dedicating our resources to the importance of handcraft, we are able to connect you to global cultural heritage and the preservation of traditional crafting techniques, as well as work with collaborators who share similar values—another great source of pride for the west elm team.
“I am grateful for the impact that west elm’s CGI commitment is having all around the world,” said President Clinton. “Not only is west elm supporting the creation of good, sustainable jobs, but they’re also ensuring that the tradition of important crafts such as textiles, pottery and papier-mâché find new markets.” — President Clinton
A lot happened during our initial work toward our 35 million dollar goal: From the get-go, our mission was more than merely finding a fantastic assortment of product—which we did. We wanted to create sustainable economic opportunities and to make that happen, we actually narrowed our supplier base and made minimum 3-year commitments to our artisans in order to help them scale and grow their businesses. We also evaluated what measures west elm could take—in addition to our long-term commitment to their work— to benefit the artisans themselves.
With literacy as one of the biggest issues in many of the markets we work in, we collaborated with President Clinton’s team to find the right partners: those who could help us launch the best and most appropriate learning plan, one that would ultimately achieve measurable results. For example, in Haiti, we now teach a 3-part program of basic literacy and financial literacy coupled with additional vocational training so artisans can begin to see clear escalating career paths (for example, to master weaver or manager), and we believe this progressive approach will attract younger people into the craft trade, which will help tremendously with cultural preservation. We are currently assessing the expansion of this successful program with suppliers in other countries, including the Philippines.
Because transparency is a major floorboard of our craft platform, I am naturally concerned with subcontracting, a practice that can make it difficult to trace the source of work, especially prevalent in India. To that end, we partnered with Fair Trade, and out of that collaboration grew a remarkable accomplishment: In partnership with our largest rug supplier, Raj Overseas, west elm is now the first home retailer in the world to establish a Fair Trade Certified factory for rugs. Achieving Fair Trade Certification ensures that our rugs are made in safe working conditions and that workers are justly compensated, delivering a premium back to the worker to invest in causes of their choice. And I am thrilled to announce that our Fair Trade Certified rugs will be available to you this holiday season at both west elm retail locations and on westelm.com.
As part of my plan to continue driving the conscious consumerism movement in the home retail business throughout all the west elm communities, this August we will undertake another innovative enterprise by featuring a local product assortment at many of our US stores and offer a “We Love Local” Small Business Grant. You, our customers, through online voting, will help determine the winner of this 25 thousand-dollar cash prize and ongoing business support from west elm for individual artisans and crafters, many who are just starting out.
During his visit, I was also able to introduce President Clinton to some of the artisans whose work helped us meet our goal and update him on additional projects and progress underway in west elm’s consciousness initiative, which has become part of our core mission. He said he wished more people know about these pioneering programs: “I am grateful for the impact that West Elm’s CGI commitment is having all around the world,” said President Clinton. “Not only is west elm supporting the creation of good, sustainable jobs, but they’re also ensuring that the tradition of important crafts such as textiles, pottery and paper mache find new markets.” And so I guess you can say that I am writing this letter because President Clinton told me to. And it doesn’t get better than that.