One of our pillars at ABBY ALLEY is cultivating mutually empowering relationships, whether that be with our artisan partners, customers, retailers, or fellow female entrepreneurs. Our brand is all about people and celebrates how each of us uniquely contributes to making our community special. Since October is Fair Trade Month, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate and educate on fair trade and hear from both myself (Abby) and Isabel, one of the entrepreneurs we partner with in Kenya.
Q: Why did you start your business?
Isabel: My Love for fashionable handmade products that can be traded for profit but at the same time make a difference in the life of the very people who make them. To create employment through a business that has a social aspect to it. There are so many local, talented and skilled artisans who did not have jobs, yet there was demand for high quality handmade products. I saw an opportunity to fill this gap by providing the artisans with a chance to make jewelry and leather bags that are beautiful and fashionable and at the same time able to make a living.
Abby: ABBY ALLEY allowed me to combine three things that are very dear to me: East Africa, cultivating meaningful relationships, and fashion (not just products, but pieces that make you feel something). I never expected to be an entrepreneur, but I'm so glad my journey led me here!
Q: What were you doing before you started your business?
Isabell: I was working as the financial director for a UK-based fashion company.
Abby: I was an elementary school teacher.
Q: What does "fair trade" mean to you?
Isabel: There is more than just buying a product. It is a question of who and how that product was made. It is about paying fair wages above the minimum wage, it is about providing a clean and safe environment. Avoiding child labour. Free from any form of harassment. Also, most importantly, it is continuous improvement of the workplace both for workers and production processes. Fair trade in summary, is being conscious of what we buy.
Abby: To me, fair trade comes down to values. Do we value the people who make the products more than the products themselves or the profit that can be made from selling them? Is the business relationship mutually beneficial, or is there a lopsided power dynamic? For me, all the decisions I make filter through this lens because people will always be my first priority.
Q: What are your values as a business owner?
Isabel: Trade not aid. The bottom line is we have to make high quality products for us to be able to achieve our fair trade objectives. We are for trading and not charity. We are keen to make profit but sensitive to ensure we treat our workers the best way possible. It is about being careful on the materials we use ensuring they are sustainable and environmental friendly. Hence, we carefully select our suppliers and want to partner with people who support our values.
Abby: When I started my brand, I determined 6 guiding values that I would always come back to. They are: sustainability, collaboration, authenticity, quality, timelessness, and transparency. Read more about each of these values here!
Q: What does your partnership with each other mean to you?
Isabel: Partnering with ABBY ALLEY has helped us to sustain our workers and our suppliers hence improving their livelihood and that of their families. It has also helped us to exercise and sharpen our creativity and skills by challenging us with new designs that we have to think through and make.
Abby: Partnering with Isabel has been such a blessing. I learn so much from her as a leader, employer, and woman. It means so much to me to support her dreams and to work with someone who also supports mine.
Q: What are your favorite AA pieces that you have produced?