The Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development has awarded three $25,000 LaunchLNK grants, as well as access to professional services.
Sapahn, a Thai artisan fashion goods company, is one of three companies who recently received the award. Brooke Mullen, the founder of Sapahn and a native Lincoln, NE resident, began her company as a way to bridge the gap between artisans she encountered in Thailand and market opportunities for their works. Sapahn focuses on building a sustainable market to support 9 different communities with over 500 artisans across Thailand.
Brooke has spent ten years living in Thailand visiting many artisan communities, getting to know the people, and building relationships. This helps her understand in what ways artisans want to be empowered and what their expressed needs are.
Brooke and her husband moved to Thailand to study human rights while working with the United Nations. While living there they encountered a young Thai woman who was working every day to provide for her basic needs. The Lincoln couple decided they wanted to do something to help. They asked what could provide upward mobility and the answer was education.
In order to finance their own education, in addition to this young woman’s, they purchased Thai handmade products and brought them back to Lincoln, NE to host a pop-up, selling out of all the artisan products and putting every cent of the profits back towards the education costs.
With growing demand for the artisan products and a realization that bridging the gap between the artisans and U.S. market allowed for a tangible way to impact rural Thai communities, Brooke built Sapahn into what it is today. Brooke designs the products and works with the artisan to establish fair compensation packages for their work. The company has created a transparent supply chain and ethical business model that they can proudly stand behind. Sapahn allows the artisans to set their own pricing and pays 50% of the order fee upfront so that the artisans have the ability to buy their supplies and support themselves while working to fulfill orders.
Brooke explained, “When we began to work in these artisan communities we set out to understand their needs and aspirations. They communicated four overarching goals: a better wage, purposes, agency (that is having a voice and influence in the work they were doing), and flexibility. Sapahn has set out to achieve all of this. We allow artisans to set their wage and often pay above their requests. We work with artisans and find ways to integrate their traditions, culture and craftmanship into designs. We promote agency through our human rights-based approach. And we ensure that our systems and schedules are fitting to the lives of our artisans, many of whom farm and prefer the option of working from home to care for their families.”
At the center of every business decision lies a concern for human rights and empowering a stronger society for the artisans. Brooke states, “Human rights are ultimately about putting people in a position where they can protect and advance themselves and their interests. If we want to have a positive impact in artisan communities, we have to start with human rights.
We have to start with plans, processes and practices that enable everyone in our value chain to take action on their own behalf. Sapahn believes that this kind of human rights-based approach is the only way to ensure that our brand is truly artisan friendly and artisan driven.”
Customers enjoy both the mission and products of Sapahn, creating a both a strong story for them to carry with them, as well as a quality product they can feel good about supporting. Brooke has personally spent many hours with customers throughout the years as she hosts pop-ups and builds relationships with them on this side of her market.
“Customers love the story they carry with their purchase. The values of how our bags were made (equality, quality, dignity…) are the same values our customer lead their life by. It ignites an entirely different, meaningful conversation when someone compliments them on their bag. It’s no longer about where they got it in on sale, but the lives they are changing and women they are mobilizing in Thailand’s rural villages. Lastly, as customers ourselves, we don’t want to sacrifice on quality, design or functionality to do good. We design something that stands the test of time and enhances the daily lives of customers and our buttery soft leather is top notch! There’s nothing else like it.”
Sapahn was directed to the LaunchLNK grant by local Lincoln mentors, and it comes at a critical time as they get ready to launch their new ecommerce website on May 15 as the company scales their operations. The supply chain has been built to be sustainable and scalable and the company is ready to take their business to the next level to support more direct-sale customers, as well as white-labeling products for other companies, while making a real difference across the rural communities it works with.
To check out Sapahn’s newly launched products or learn more visit: www.sapahn.com
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