Over the last decade, a small company called Apolis has traveled the world, finding artisans and partnering with them to design new, socially-responsible products. A cooperative in Nepal, run by women, helped them make wool sweaters. Ugandan farmers grew cotton for messenger bags. Artisans in Tel Aviv and Hebron worked together–across the West Bank border, via Skype–to make leather accessories.
Each product was sold through standard channels, in stores. Now Apolis is testing out a different model, called Global Citizen Exchange. Via crowdfunding, it’s hoping to give artisans in developing countries a new platform for their work, letting the crowd decide which products will get made. By selling direct from each factory, they’ll also bring down costs.
“You can have the best story and most incredible product, but if you really want to move the needle you have to make it accessible to everyone,” says Shea Parton, co-founder of Apolis.
For each product, the company pairs artisans with a designer to create something with global appeal. “There are a lot of people who are doing the factory direct model, but we saw a huge kind of miss,” Parton says. “We’re focusing on good design, focusing on products that people would actually want, not just some emotional heartstrings story.”
The company also lays out the cost of each product in a fully transparent way for consumers–how much went into materials, labor and benefits for employees, how much the designer made, how much goes to transportation and crowdfunding. “It’s a really clean way for everyone–including the maker and designer–to understand cost,” he says.
First up is a set of hand-blown glassware made at one of Mexico’s few remaining glassblowing studios. The factory is using waste glass from another manufacturer. The process of crowdfunding also helps eliminate waste–the glass studio will only produce as many glasses as people actually want to buy.
Global Citizen Exchange is running its first campaign on Indiegogo, and partnering with the crowdfunding platform to keep the project running for future products.