Woodfolk founder Julia Denes reveals how she created an ethical supply chain. This is an exclusive excerpt from our June Edition. To subscribe, head here.
I’m a designer and jeweller by trade with 10 years’ experience creating fine jewellery with some of the top jewellers in Australia.
I launched Woodfolk in August 2013, with products now stocked in over 70 stores around Australia, and during the last 3.5 years has developed a strong and loyal following.
Woodfolk’s purpose is to create a viable business that remains authentic to its ethos. We are committed to working and collaborating with small family-run businesses as well as women focused organisations, not exploitative sweatshops.
For the manufacturing of Woodfolk’s items, I could have easily gone somewhere like China, India or Bali to work with a factory, not even needing any face to face contact, however that defeated the purpose of my business.
An approach to trade through social entrepreneurship allows me to find solutions to the social and cultural problems prevalent in Nepal and help create opportunity, self-determination, support and hope in these communities.
We are very fortunate to be working closely with a Newar family in Nepal to hand make our wood pieces. According to UNESCO, the craftsmanship of the Newars is one of the most highly-developed in the world. The father is a master wood carver who was previously not employed to work using his skill.
Unlike earlier times when artisans were essential, respected and well paid, many Nepalese artisans have had to abandon their craft for better paying jobs.
Through strong relationships with other Nepali families and women focused organisations, we have introduced natural scarves, bags and cotton pouches into the range, which are handmade by a women’s co-op just outside of Kathmandu.
It’s always been important to me that our artisans are paid a fair wage. Based on the average, median and minimum monthly salaries in Nepal, our artisans are paid four to five times more than the median-average wage. This is also based on an
Australian standard 40-hour work week in comparison to a possible 50-60-hour work week in Nepal.
Our supply chain process is quite unique and personalised, relying heavily on the relationships I have built with our artisans.
I continue to travel to Nepal for weeks at a time to build on these relationships and to create new ones. Travelling there also simplifies the creating of new samples/ranges and assists me with making sure any new materials and quality of work is to my standard.
From Australia, I communicate with my artisans via e-mail and Skype, namely with the younger generation of Nepalis, who have excellent English skills.
Our artisans are very keen for work, so there is never a lag in the delivery of the pieces; I receive my orders promptly every month.
I do tend to avoid organisations that need three to six months for production. It might work for other businesses but not for mine.
Once I receive the pieces from our artisans, I personally string and package into the final product, ready to go out to our stockist and online customers.
I see transparency as being just as important as the design and the designer. From start to finish, one item might touch the hands and use the skills of 20 people so every customer has a right to know where their items are truly coming from.