Thursday, September 28, 2023

‘Paying Fair Wages is Not Generous – it’s Doing the Right Thing’: Get to Know Made, Co. Founder Holly Webb

Holly Webb started Made, Co. to sell fair trade, ethically-sourced products from around the world. (Courtesy of Holly Webb)

WILLIAMSBURG — Holly Webb wants consumers to know that there is a human being on the other side of their purchasing.

This summer, Webb will open her first brick-and-mortar store at Midtown Row for her company Made, Co., which she founded in 2017.

Made, Co. is an online and pop-up retailer dedicated to selling fair trade, ethically-sourced products from all around the world.

Items include apparel, jewelry, bags, baskets, candles and essentials made by people from around the globe, particularly women.

“Behind every single product that we sell, we share the story,” Webb said. “We try to connect people to pictures of the maker and pictures of the process.”

Made, Co.’s values came from Webb living and traveling around the world while growing up, and watching her mom shop and support local artisans.

“She was just awesome at seeking out local businesses, local people,” Webb said. “Not just finding the comforts of what reminded her of back home.”

Shortly after college, she began working for a nonprofit in Haiti where she was able to see the impact of social enterprises that were “people before profit.”

The nonprofit, Wings of Refuge, started a children’s home in Haiti that focused on family support programs and opportunities for children that had been impacted by the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

“About half of our children were there just because their parents didn’t have access to fair, stable, consistent paying work,” Webb said. “And so our heart as a nonprofit really shifted from just providing for the children, to how do we connect our families to fair, stable, consistent work and then how do we reunify the children back to their families?”

After seeing the impact that buying could have on the life of children and their families, Webb began changing her own personal shopping practices.

As a resident of Williamsburg, she also realized that she wanted her own city to have a place to purchase fair trade and ethically-made goods while being more connected to the makers.

Though she was already working full-time for her church and still volunteering for Wings of Refuge, Webb knew that this was her calling.

After purchasing some products from a few artisans that she knew in Haiti, she hosted her first pop-up at Culture Cafe in Williamsburg.

Made, Co. focuses on the story behind the product. (Courtesy of Holly Webb)

Before opening up a shop, Webb wanted to grow a community in Williamsburg to see if it was something that the city would have a need for. Small businesses in the area began to open their doors to allow Webb to set up her table and connect with customers.

“All of my experience was in church work and nonprofit, and all of the sudden, I was stepping into the world of business,” she said. “But it was fun. It felt like a marrying of all of my passions.”

Along with pop-ups at local businesses and attending Williamsburg’s 2nd Sundays Arts & Music Festival, Made, Co. began selling online to give the community a simple way to purchase more consistently. 

In 2020, she planned to open up her first brick-and-mortar location, but COVID-19 put it to a halt.

“I’m so thankful we hadn’t opened up a shop, because that would have been really difficult, and it allowed for us to continue to support our artisan partners without the overhead of a shop,” she said.

Since its start, Made, Co. shifted from partnering with artisans in Haiti to nearly 30 countries.

Made, Co. looks for ways to purchase goods using local and sustainable materials. Every item sold has been made by skilled artisans.

However, Webb does not view her business as a charitable one.

“We are a business, not a nonprofit,” Webb said. “I think a lot of times people equate generosity to nonprofit. And I’ve experienced some really stingy nonprofits and some really generous businesses. But us paying fair wages is not philanthropic or generous – it’s doing the right thing. We’re literally saying ‘Your goods are worth more than what other people have paid.'”

Webb looks forward to holding different events when the store opens, including book clubs and work shops with local artisans to connect people to the making process and how difficult it can be.

“The funniest question I get is when someone walks up to our booth and they ask ‘Do you make all this?’ and I’m like ‘Am I an expert at leather, candle making and wood carving?'” Webb said. “To me it’s the quintessential question that you would only ask because we’re so disconnected. I could never make all this and make it look this good.”

Webb currently plans to open Made, Co.’s first storefront in August.

Webb said that she wants her store to remind people of “the bigger world we are part of.”

“I genuinely see this as a privilege and an honor to do this,” she said. “There are so  many phenomenal and beautiful things being made all around the world. There are a lot of really painful realities all around the world, and I want to be able to share stories of hope.”

To learn more about Made, Co., visit the website.

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