FEED Guatemala Bag Launch at Lord & Taylor

Last week, I met Rebecca after work and we headed to Lord & Taylor for an epic moment in Nest history. We attended the launch party of the limited edition FEED Guatemala bags. FEED is an organization that donates a percentage of their sales to help fight child hunger in developing nations. Rebecca met the founders, Ellen and Lauren, at an event we threw at the Ralph Lauren Rugby store last summer, and their friendship evolved into a partnership where the FEED ladies agreed to create a limited edition line of bags that were to be handmade by the artisans Nest works with in Guatemala.

After a year of hard work and collaboration, these bags were finally produced and shipped to Lord & Taylor, where they are now being sold exclusively. Seeing our bags on display at this department store reminded me that it was that very trip to Guatemala in 2008 that transformed my own personal involvement with Nest into what it is today – needless to say, that trip changed my life.

I wear my FEED Guatemala bag every day now, and find any excuse to tell people the story behind it. I’m like a proud mother, gushing over the pattern and handiwork of the bag, and mostly over the label inside that reads, “Handmade by Nest Artisans in Guatemala,” with our logo and website stitched right into it. Yes, maybe I’m a little obsessed, but wouldn’t you be?


SURevolution Dinner Party

Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a dinner party at the SURevolution showroom. Founder Marcella Echavarria has travelled all over the world and collected unique jewelry, bags, furniture, kitchenware and other sustainable goods from artisans in South America, Africa, India and more. Everything is handmade, and the beautiful showroom overlooking Little Italy was the perfect setting for our small gathering.

I first saw Tamara, the amazing interior designer who sits on our board, who I hadn’t seen in months. While we caught up, she told me all about a psychic she had been talking to, who had given her an interesting perspective on life, business and love. She mentioned how the psychic could feel the energy about the people around you and could tell just from reading your energy how they relate to you in a positive or negative way. As hesitant as I was to believe any of this, by the end of our conversation she had me taking down the psychic’s number and seriously considering calling her.

Then, we met a woman from Chile who drew portraits based on the psychic energy of a person.

Eventually, I was introduced to Anna, who is throwing a Yoga event next week. Anna is a wellness consultant who got her Yoga studio to agree to donate all proceeds of their upcoming health and wellness event to Nest.

I also met Katharine, who has her own line of beauty products that use Aragon oil from Morocco. She usually travels to Agadir to get the oil for her products, but after I tell her about Tim’s community in Tigmijou and the Aragon oil they produce, I suggest she start buying from them. She’s immediately interested, and I go home and introduce them via email, thrilled to make any excuse to reach out to Tim and feel a connection… to Morocco.

Rebecca makes a speech to all the guests and tells the story of Lolita, the loan recipient from India who fell prey to the loan shark after she broke her leg and couldn’t work to support her family following the death of her husband. Luckily, Nest was able to help her out of this situation and help Lolita create a new life for herself and her family.

As I was trying on some of Marcella’s beautiful gold plated leaf bracelets, I laughed as a woman from Columbia made fun of our board member Ian, joking that he looked just like Juanez, the Columbian pop star. Once again I found myself surrounded by fascinating people, amazing sustainable goods and the satisfaction of knowing we were all gathered together for a good cause.


Morocco, Day 6 – Marrakesh Craft Fair

April 16th – We are in Marrakesh at the beautiful Eden Andalou Resort and Spa. There are European families everywhere and it feels a little like a Moroccan Kutsher’s – a Catskill Mountains family resort I used to go to on family vacations as a child. This is confirmed when we see the jazz club and buffet style dining room. Not to mention the French children running around the resort. Watch out for those rugs, kids. We spend a little time by the pool before heading to the craft fair.

At the fair, we see a huge variety of Moroccan artisan products from dolls to jewelry, bags and of course, rugs. The fair takes place in the Artisana building, a government owned building that houses shops for various artists. The shop owners are sharing their space today with these artisans that have traveled from all over Morocco in less than desirable conditions to try and sell their crafts to the tourists and locals that wander through this central area of Marrakesh. All three of the artisans we loan to in this country are showing their crafts here. First, there’s Hayat and Fatime with their rugs, bags, and pillowcases that arrived in Marrakesh via our bus. Second, we see Tim’s artisans showing their water reed bags. We’re going to visit his small village of Tigmijou in a few days. Third, there’s the Khenifra cooperative led by Naima, showing their cloth bead jewelry. I’m fascinated by these necklaces that are created from traditional Moroccan beads and woven together to create a beautifully patterned and incredibly unique necklace. We learn that it was actually the old Peace Corps volunteer who lived in their village that came up with this idea. I purchase about ten of these necklaces from Naima, unsure if I’ll be able to give some of them away as gifts when I return home.

Brian asks us to walk around and assess each booth, giving feedback on the products and presentation. I walk around with Rebecca, Kate and Joya, and while I give my opinions on what I’m seeing, this is mostly a lesson in product development for me. Everyone seems to have much more expertise on what looks presentable, what could be improved and how each product could be adjusted to be sold in the U.S. market. I’m amazed by Rebecca’s critical eye, and try to view these crafts through her lens. We return to Naima’s booth, and she shows us some samples she made for Rebecca to sell on the Nest website. She also shows us a few clusters of beads she’s sewn together, and positions it as a potential for creating a new necklace. I admire one of these bead clusters, and place it on my finger, demonstrating that it could also be worn as a colorful cocktail ring. Naima loves this idea, and taps the other woman from her cooperative to point out what I’ve done.

We return to Earth Café for lunch and once again meet Ben, the owner. We order another delicious assortment of salads, rice noodles, goat cheese filled pastillas and more. Ben invites us to his farm once again and we agree to go the next day.

After lunch, we go to the famous Jardin Majorelle, where the well known artist Majorelle spent his time and after he died in the 60′s, Yves St. Laurent moved in and took over caring for the property. He set up a trust so the gardens could be opened to the public and tended for years to come. We are blown away by the beauty of this place, with varieties of purples, blues, pinks and colors I’ve never seen in real life before – seen in grandiose trees to small plants coming up from the ground. There are also fountains and ponds and a vibrant blue and yellow building, which must have served as the home of those who lived on this property. I allow myself to imagine myself living here – it’s not a bad fantasy at all.

Morocco, Day 4 – Fes and Midelt

April 14th – We wake up and Rebecca leads us in a brief yoga practice in the lobby of our beautiful Riad. We enjoy a breakfast of homemade yogurt, fruit and croissants. We leave the Riad and proceed to the famous tanneries, where they cut and dye leather. We visit the shop where Nest’s leather bags are made, and Rebecca speaks to the men for a long time about making some changes to the design based on the sample they had provided her with. The leather bags are paired with patterns from our rug weaving cooperative in Midelt, and we’re trying to figure out a way to adjust the design to make it more appealing to a U.S. market.

We walk outside to the roof of the shop that overlooks the tanneries. In one area, they are washing the leather; in another they are cutting the skins. In one central area, there are large vats full of colorful dyes. You have to hold a mint leaf to your nose to mask the smell, since the dye is created using pigeon stool. After observing this wonderful scene for awhile, I go back into the shop and again bring out my stellar bargaining skills to purchase a beautiful orange pair of shoes.

The drive to Midelt is breathtaking, with views of mountains, fields and wildflowers everywhere. We stop the van to let some sheep cross, and the herder picks up a baby sheep and gives it to our driver. Joya is at the front of the bus in an instant, and takes the baby sheep in her arms. Kate holds it too, since she’s also a lover of sheep. Have you heard about her Yurt project? We give the sheep back to the herder (the mama sheep is not too pleased) and continue our journey.

Once in Midelt, we park on a narrow street and are ushered through a door, greeted by a number of traditional looking Muslim women with head coverings, long skirts and some with long grey tattoos down the middle of their faces. I’m told this tattoo is an ancient Berber symbol for marriage. They kiss us twice on each cheek and we enter the home. We sit around three large tables and are served chicken, bread, cous cous, carrots, fruit and an abundance of it. After dinner, we see the women bring out a few brightly colored handheld drums. The music, dancing and singing begins, and this Jewish white girl finds herself in the home of traditional Muslim women, dancing with her friends and family the way she does with her roommates back in NYC.

And this is why I do what I do. The rest of the evening was unforgettable. We visited the cooperative that Hayat founded and where the other women work alongside her. At some point, I mention to Hayat that I want to try to get her cooperative into rug trade magazines back in the U.S. I hope I can actually do this. We return to her friend’s house, where the women are still dancing and singing, and one woman gives us henna tattoos. They serve us tea and dessert.

At some point in between a woman teaching me how to do their shrieking technique and playing with another’s little girl, I realize why I spend so much of my free time doing things for Nest, why I spent so much of my savings to come to Morocco and meet these women. As I relay these thoughts back to the group at the hotel, I know we’ve all come to the same conclusion – we are part of something phenomenal. Rebecca sheds a few tears as she talks about the women we met today. Most of them are unmarried or divorced, mostly because, according to Hayat, the men don’t work as hard. Clearly to these women, hard work is a huge value. I think about how this relates to my own life and what I’ve seen in America. I suppose the laziness of the male species transcends cultures. Though it does seem that our American Peace Corps volunteers certainly break this mold. But I digress. Rebecca is overcome with emotion because she is so happy we made a difference in the lives of the women we just met. She’s thrilled that there are 14 women around her that share her passion and have just connected on a deep personal level with the women they’ve been helping from their hometowns back in the U.S. by throwing parties and fundraisers. This is a whole other level from admiring the pretty jewelry we buy from the website and sell at our NYC events. She tells the story about how Hayat was able to go to a rug fair in Germany earlier this year, probably the first time someone from her village has ever left Morocco, to show her cooperative’s rugs to an international market. She is able, despite cultural and religious constraints, to be an independent business woman in her village. And Nest has a big role in that, all stemming from our little parties and fundraisers and the pretty things we sell back in the U.S.