Podcast 92, NEST'S REBECCA VAN BERGEN - THE HANDWORK ECONOMY

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EPISODE 92 FEATURES REBECCA VAN BERGEN

Did you know that handwork, or craft, is the second largest employer of women in emerging economies? Since a large proportion of them work from home, this is an often hidden and unregulated sector. Post Rana Plaza, there’s been more attention on garment factories, but how often do we consider outworkers - homeworkers - who are often contracted by third parties?

This week’s guest is Rebecca van Bergen, founder of New York-based NGO, Nest. Their aim is to: “build a new handworker economy to increase global workforce inclusivity, improve women’s wellbeing beyond factories, and preserve important cultural traditions around the world.”

SEAL OF APPROVAL. The new Nest Seal shows a product has been ethically handcrafted.

SEAL OF APPROVAL. The new Nest Seal shows a product has been ethically handcrafted.

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…

ARTISAN. The word is everywhere. But when it can be used to describe supermarket jam or humous, has it lost its true meaning? “That word is splashed around quite a bit,” says Rebecca. “We’ve started to use the term hand-worker. The very highly skill artisan worker definitely needs support but we’ve also seen a lot of women working in their homes who are practicing more manual forms of labour and that might be sewing a button hole, even ironing… we see value for both of those women in the work that they are doing.

THE UNESCO DEFINITION “Artisanal products are those produced by artisans, either completely by hand, or with the help of hand tools or even mechanical means, as long as the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most substantial component of the finished product. These are produced without restriction in terms of quantity and using raw materials from sustainable resources. The special nature of artisanal products derives from their distinctive features, which can be utilitarian, aesthetic, artistic, creative, culturally attached, decorative, functional, traditional, religiously and socially symbolic and significant.”

Image via Buildanest.org

Image via Buildanest.org

“SUSTAINABILITY AND ARTISANSHIP HAS TO BE MAINSTREAM.” - REBECCA VAN BERGEN

A woman weaves on a backstrap loom in Antigua, Guatemala, a skill she learned from her mother when she was a young teenager. The required tension on the loom is created by a piece of fabric which is held on the hips of the weaver, allowing them to feel physically connected to each throw of the shuttle and movement of the weave. The final panels will be sewn together in pairs and sold in the local market.

A woman weaves on a backstrap loom in Antigua, Guatemala, a skill she learned from her mother when she was a young teenager. The required tension on the loom is created by a piece of fabric which is held on the hips of the weaver, allowing them to feel physically connected to each throw of the shuttle and movement of the weave. The final panels will be sewn together in pairs and sold in the local market.

NEST SEAL. They say: Since launching its Ethical Handcraft program in December 2017, five artisan businesses have become Nest Certified. You can now find products made by these artisan businesses in West Elm, Pottery Barn, and Pottery Barn Kids by looking for the Nest Seal of Ethical Handcraft on hang tags or online checkout. The Nest Seal is a new symbol to let you know that the items you love, from fashion to home decor, have been ethically handcrafted.

“People talk a lot about the visionary part of being a social entrepreneur… but equally important is being able to look at the mountains and then transition your base to your feet and start walking.” - Rebecca van Bergen

SOCIAL SIDE. Rebecca has a Master’s degree in social work from Washington University. She started our working on movement therapy. Her mother and her aunt both started not-for-profits. “My path was set in some ways,” she says. “I was not fashion-y. I’m still not! I’m the social worker,” she says.

US & THEM Rebecca talks about how craft “can level the playing field in some way…it can be an exchange, a partnership, which can help break down the problematic dichotomy of ‘us and them’ that characterises so much for the discourse on poverty and social issues.”

FASHION MATCHMAKERS. The NYT calls Nest “an organization that acts as a matchmaker between artisans and companies in the fashion and home furnishings fields.” The UN’s Ethical Fashion Initiative is another one. Listen to the podcast with its founder Simone Cipriani here.

ECO-AGE Read about Nest’s participation in Eco-Age’s Fashionscapes: Artisans Guatemala project here.

Steven Kolb, Carmen Busquets, Livia Firth, Marianne Hernandez, and Rebecca van Bergen at the premiere of Fashionscapes: Artisans Guatemaya. Pic via ECO-AGE,  Photo credit Charlie Johnson

Steven Kolb, Carmen Busquets, Livia Firth, Marianne Hernandez, and Rebecca van Bergen at the premiere of Fashionscapes: Artisans Guatemaya. Pic via ECO-AGE, Photo credit Charlie Johnson

BRAND PARTNERS Nest works with brands big and small, from Target to KitX. Rebecca mentions Quazi, an artisan brand from Swaziland. They transform waste magazines into fashion accessories and interior design pieces. Read more here.

Quazi Design works with recycled paper

Quazi Design works with recycled paper

A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.

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Until next time,

Clare x