Interview with Andrew Founder of Silk Road Bazaar & Zooties
Fair Tribe is a proud supporter of many fair trade brands and one of my personal favorites and best sellers are "Zooties" little felt baby booties in that come in fun animal shapes. These cute little shoes and other felt fair trade decorative items (Christmas tree ornaments, baby mobiles) come to us via Fair Trade company Silk Road Bazaar. I recently met Andrew at the ABC Kids Expo and asked him if he would be kind enough to share the story behind Silk Road Bazaar the creation of Zooties on our blog interview series and he graciously accepted. Keep reading to learn more about this wonderful brand!
As a Small Business Owner I wear many hats (too many hats!) and I work with almost all parts of the business apart from shipping. I live in Los Angeles, however originally hail from New Jersey.I served in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan from 2010-2012. I served as a Sustainable Organizational and Community Developer. It was probably the best job I will ever have and I sincerely hope to serve in the Peace Corps again when I retire (hopefully it is still around)! During the Peace Corps I became extremely in textiles and all things handmade. I was recently married and we are expecting our first child next year. We will have a lot of Zooties to outfit our newborn in!
We love your products and are so thrilled to carry them at Fair Tribe and on our sister site Wild Dill. Tell us a little bit about how the Zooties line got started and what makes these little baby shoes so special?
Zooties really started as a collaboration with a former buyer who worked at the company UncommonGoods. At that time we carried only red and blue baby booties, however, we also carried an adult Panda slipper. She suggested that we design the Panda slipper into baby Booties, once we did that she suggested that we take a larger approach and do a collection of animals from around the world. Our first designs (many which are now retired) were: Giraffe, Deer, Parrot, Koala, Panda, and Moose.
The name Zooties came about from a college student who saw our 'Animal Booties' being sold and asked if she could do her mid-semester project on them. She thought of the name Zooties and the cute logo associated with it. Cute name, Cute product - we have been adding more and more animals ever since. I never cease to be amazed at how all these different animals can be so accurately constructed into the form of baby booties, we just made a Sloth and I have to tell you it is divine!
Which designs are your bestsellers?
For sure the Elephant! We sell more of the Elephant than any other design. The Dalmatian does really well too as does the Lion.
We love that you are a Fair Trade brand working with artisans in Central Asia. Can you tell a little bit more about where the products are made and any local organizations that you partner with?
Our products are made in a remote village town called Karakol in the Northeast region of Kyrgyzstan, in the heart of Asia. I served there in the Peace Corps from 2010-2012 as an English Language Instructor in a remote village in Kyrgyzstan. During my service I could not help but notice the extreme poverty people were living in and the dearth lack of jobs locally available. There was little to no production done locally.
During my Peace Corps service I fortunately met an extremely talented and capable artist. I loved her design, her outlook on life, and her desire to create and lead an organization of artisans. When I began working with her she was creating and designing on her own, but now 5 years later she provides work to over 80 women. These women love their work, they love the autonomy they now have, and the change is so visible. I can so distinctly recall some women when they first began working with us; their clothes would be so ragged and it was evident that they have not had a good wash in quite some time. Now I look at them and it is like looking at a different person.
What is the biggest challenge working with artisans so far away?
I would have to say communication. I feel like so many things are lost in translation and that given the time differences and unreliable phone connections coupled with the fickle and spontaneous nature of business there are a lot of miscommunications that would not happen if we were locally based. Also, differences in business practices. It is a cash based society; things such as N30, credit card payments, return authorizations, etc. are practically non-existent and trying to explain these business practices which are commonplace in America are very difficult.
Wild Dill supports the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation as our donation partner. In the spirit of this theme, what is your favorite fruit tree?
I love Pomegranate trees. Last year, I went to a Pomegranate tree farm near Temecula and was blown away by those large bright red Pomegranates just hanging from the branches.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by nature, by the beauty of landscapes, by the amazing Earth we live on. I am also inspired by people and positive thinking and how just a little change in mentality or belief in people can create such change and confidence.
Thank you Andrew for sharing the story of Silk Road Bazaar and Zooties with us!
Shop Silk Road Bazaar products here
3 reasons to love Silk Road Bazaar
* Fair Trade brand supporting female artisans in remote areas of Kyrgyzstan
* Adorable handmade products including baby shoes, mobiles and Christmas tree ornaments
* Zooties felt baby booties come in playful animal shapes with everything from Elephants to Sloths!
*Author's note: This article was first published in 2017 on our sister site - www.wilddill.com