The Shop for Change

A marketplace for good.

It's a shop for the real world, where transparency is paramount and social empowerment is the goal. It's where the majority of profits go to disadvantaged sellers, those struggling to access basic human rights.

Socially conscious shoemakers


TOMS, soleRebels and Nisolo all aim to be social change agents, but whose business model is the most effective?

Most of you are familiar with the TOMS Shoes One for One™ business model: a promise that for every pair of TOMS shoes you buy, a free pair will be given to a child in need.

We love TOMS and so do the millions of do-good fashionistas of the USA. Like TOMS, our objectives are to build a better world. So we need to ask, is TOMS’ One for One giving model a hand-out or a hand-up? Is TOMS creating a valuable social impact or is this just a charity marketing ploy? Importantly, what are the alternatives?

There is no doubt that founder Blake Mycoskie built the TOMS empire in good faith, but he has faced heavy criticism for having more success with his marketing campaign than his aid programme. Some critics even say that donating goods such as shoes or clothes can thwart economic growth by undercutting local manufacturers.

We agree that this model has its limitations, mainly because it aims to alleviate the effects of poverty (a lack of shoes) rather than the cause of poverty (a lot more complex than that). However, we admire Mycoskie for being willing to change his approach as he learns from experience. In a recent interview with Entrepreneur Magazine, he announced that TOMS was going through some major paradigm shifts.

TOMS plans to manufacture one third of their ‘Giving Shoes’ in the regions where they give them within the next couple of years. This will certainly create jobs in places where they are needed most. The challenge for TOMS will now be to ensure that these initiatives are financially and socially sustainable, so that they can pay fair wages and create a genuine and long-lasting impact in these underprivileged communities.

While the TOMS movement has spawned many copycat brands, there are other organisations around the world that offer feel-good footwear of an entirely different variety.



soleRebels: handmade in Ethiopia

One company that we absolutely love is soleRebels. This handmade footwear company was founded almost a decade ago by visionary Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu in the small Ethiopian village of Zenabwork. A believer in the ‘trade is better than aid’ principle, Bethlehem harnessed the creative talents within her local community, paid her workers a fair wage and created a line of shoes that are made from mostly recycled and organic materials. This eco-ethical approach (and the aesthetic appeal of her products) has created a loyal market for soleRebels shoes in over 30 countries around the world.

Checkout the soleRebels Ethos for a refreshing and transparent view of how a powerful social enterprise model can inherently empower communities.



Nisolo: crafted in Peru

Nisolo is another organisation that was born out of a desire to empower talented artisans. Based in Peru, the company’s goal is to address one of the main causes of poverty in the country: the lack of consistent employment. They provide local shoemakers with an opportunity to earn a decent living from their trade, by providing them with the capital and training they need to create exceptional quality handmade leather shoes. They also connect them with a market in which to sell them. Starting with shoemakers in Peru, Nisolo’s vision is “to serve as a springboard for impoverished entrepreneurs around the globe”.



A possible solution

In contrast to TOMS’ focus on mass-production, both soleRebels and Nisolo have highlighted the importance of supporting local jobs and preserving traditional trades in developing nations. These boutique providers have chosen to work at the grassroots level and tackle the actual causes rather than the effects of poverty.

Imagine a distributed product design and development model, where instead of mass manufacturing, individual artisans could take contracts with organisations like TOMS to develop unique and handmade products. This poses challenges such as quality assurance, but perhaps these are challenges that an empire like TOMS might just be ready to tackle?

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Tibetan Treasures with Dolls4Tibet
Local Indian women and Tibetan refugees living in the Northern Himalayas have joined together to form Dolls4Tibet, a small-scale, self sufficient and socially aware enterprise.
These women have overcome their lack of formal education and training to preserve an endangered Tibetan culture by hand crafting unique Tibetan and Steiner-inspired dolls. Dolls4Tibet provides a supportive and flexible work environment for women whose lack of English or Hindi may have narrowed opportunities for employment elsewhere.
Run along Fairtrade principals, Dolls4Tibet aims to encourage cross-cultural understanding and social integration – an important aspect of refugee life.
The dolls are exquisitely handcrafted and filled with pure Himalayan sheep wool.
Traditional Tibetan Bopa Dolls reflect the unique costumes of the three major regions of Tibet. The ‘Steiner-Inspired’ Tibetan Friendship Dolls are individual creations with simplified embroidered facial features in line with the philosophy of the Waldorf tradition.
Children are encouraged to use their imagination as Indian and global Friendship dolls, through play, introduce them to different cultures from around the globe.
This year, buy a gift from Dolls4Tibet on The Shop for Change that will help to increase the confidence and a sense of achievement for women who are often lacking in self-esteem or basic communication skills in a foreign environment.

Tibetan Treasures with Dolls4Tibet

Local Indian women and Tibetan refugees living in the Northern Himalayas have joined together to form Dolls4Tibet, a small-scale, self sufficient and socially aware enterprise.

These women have overcome their lack of formal education and training to preserve an endangered Tibetan culture by hand crafting unique Tibetan and Steiner-inspired dolls. Dolls4Tibet provides a supportive and flexible work environment for women whose lack of English or Hindi may have narrowed opportunities for employment elsewhere.

Run along Fairtrade principals, Dolls4Tibet aims to encourage cross-cultural understanding and social integration – an important aspect of refugee life.

The dolls are exquisitely handcrafted and filled with pure Himalayan sheep wool.

Traditional Tibetan Bopa Dolls reflect the unique costumes of the three major regions of Tibet. The ‘Steiner-Inspired’ Tibetan Friendship Dolls are individual creations with simplified embroidered facial features in line with the philosophy of the Waldorf tradition.

Children are encouraged to use their imagination as Indian and global Friendship dolls, through play, introduce them to different cultures from around the globe.

This year, buy a gift from Dolls4Tibet on The Shop for Change that will help to increase the confidence and a sense of achievement for women who are often lacking in self-esteem or basic communication skills in a foreign environment.

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Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development Mamafrica Designs Co-founder George Hiley travelling near Darjeeling, India.

5 tips for ethical and eco-friendly travellers

“Travel is fatal to narrow-mindedness” - Mark Twain

A journey always changes you. But what if it could also transform the world? The truth is – it can. 

At The Shop for Change, we believe that mindful travel can be a powerful tool for social change.

Worldwide, tourism is a giant industry that generates crucial income for many countries. With international tourist arrivals exceeding the one billion mark in 2012, this booming industry has the power to spread wealth from developed nations to developing ones. Unfortunately, the money travellers spend doesn’t always benefit the communities they visit.

If you are planning a trip and want to make a difference at grassroots level, here are five tips for ethical and socially impactful travel.  

1. Minimise your carbon footprint

While flying is often unavoidable, make sure to walk, cycle and choose fuel efficient modes of transport when you reach your destination. Pack only the clothes you need and items that you can hand wash in a basin with minimal water and a biodegradable detergent. Avoid using hotel laundries because these often wash guests’ clothes separately, wasting litres and litres of water. Also keep all your rubbish until you find a place to recycle it.

2. Buy local

Whether it’s where you stay, what you eat and drink, what you do or what you buy, always aim to support locally-owned businesses and indigenous artisans who trade ethically. So buy direct from the craftsperson rather than the hotel curio shop. It’s all about keeping your money in the local economy and ensuring it helps those who need it most.   

3. Buy smart

Who doesn’t love stocking up on mementos and gifts for friends when travelling? Just make sure you don’t buy souvenirs made from endangered plants, species or ancient artefacts. Also read labels and opt for ethically made and eco-friendly goods.  

4. Respect customs

Educate yourself on local customs before you travel. Make sure to pack clothing that covers all the right bits to avoid offending religious sensibilities – and remember to ask permission before you take photos of the people you meet on the way.

5. Give wisely  

If you want to give gifts to the amazing people you meet on your travels, it is better to give useful items like educational supplies. If your gifts are intended for children, rather find an elder in the community (or local charity) to disseminate them to avoid perpetuating begging in children.

For armchair travellers wanting to meet artisans from around the world and see their beautiful handmade goods, head over to The Shop for Change.

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5 questions for ethical shoppers

As Christmas approaches, we all go a little crazy and consume more than we usually would. Here are five questions that every mindful consumer should ask – all in the spirit of giving!

1) Who made it? (Or grew it?)

At The Shop for Change, we believe in 100% transparency. We want to know the factory or farm where the product originated, as well as who works there and how they are treated. At the very least, you want to know that the business you are supporting does not use child labour and that its workers are paid a fair wage.

2) Am I buying for maximum social impact?

Many companies have business models designed to do social good – but not all are as effective as they claim. We generally prefer to go for companies that take the ‘trade not aid’ approach and empower disadvantaged communities by providing sustainable employment, skills development and access to education – rather than merely giving them handouts.

3) Is it safe for the environment?

A lot of labels proclaim a product to be cruelty-free, organic, free-range or natural – but how can you be sure that you’re not just falling for a marketing tactic? One way is to check for certifications, or – because these can be costly to obtain – buy direct from a farm or seller you trust.

4) Is this the best quality I can afford?

Buying high quality products is another way to protect the environment by reducing waste. It’s tempting to take advantage of a bargain, but poorly made products break easily and end up as landfill. Quality may cost more at first but it’s worth it in the long run.

5) Do I need more info?

If a product’s packaging and marketing material lacks supply chain information, why not contact the company directly and find out for yourself? Most companies are willing to answer questions that their consumers ask them. And if they are cagey, do you really want to support them?

For a great range of handcrafted gifts with social and environmental impact, head over to The Shop for Change.

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Transparency with dignity

Here at The Shop for Change, we value supply chain transparency as much as you do. But companies do need to be aware that sharing photographs and personal details of their suppliers can compromise their dignity.  

One organisation that has a unique solution to this challenge is Imagine Goods. This ‘sustainable supply company’ partners with vulnerable people around the world to produce beautiful handmade products. While they do share information about each artisan, they ask them to tell their life stories in their own words. And instead of featuring these artisans’ photos or names on their products, they have created a graphic symbol to represent each craftsperson.

We love this approach because it finds the perfect balance between creating a market for these artisans’ goods and preserving their sense of self worth. Too many social enterprises are still perpetuating the archetype of previously disadvantaged individuals as helpless victims.

Yes – many of these individuals grew up in refugee camps, were victims of sex trafficking or had to beg for food when they were younger to feed their entire families – but they have all made the decision to change their lives by using their creative talents to earn a fair wage. They deserve to be treated as the artisans they are now and not the victims they once were.  

For a chance to support artisans who have decided to use their skills to craft brighter futures for themselves and their families, visit The Shop for Change.

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Where there’s tea, there’s hope

The Shop for Change welcomes a new seller, Original T-Bag Designs, to our online marketplace. This unique social enterprise uses objects that so many of us toss aside every day – used teabags – and turns them into gorgeous and functional items.   

‘A woman is like a tea-bag.  You only know how strong she is when she is put in hot water.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt

This organisation was founded by artist Jill Heyes with the aim of empowering women living in the informal settlement of Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town. There are few employment opportunities in this impoverished community, where many people live with HIV/AIDS and struggle to access basic human rights such as safe water, proper sanitation and education. Original T-Bag Designs provides a group of women (and a few men) with the opportunity to earn a stable income, thus improving their sense of self worth and daily quality of life.

The used bags are dried, emptied, ironed and painted carefully by hand. These miniature works of art are then applied to purposeful products such as greeting cards and other stationery, decor items, tableware, bags, accessories and gifts. The possibilities that this art form opens up are endless and the team is constantly adding new products to the range.

If you would like to see how such a humble, everyday item such as a teabag can be transformed into something so striking and full of hope, then head on over to The Shop!

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There’s nothing more dangerous than someone who wants to make the world a better place.
- Banksy
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Coffee with a conscience

Here’s a refreshing concept – an altruistic coffee roastery and cafe that pours all its profits back into the local coffee growing community in the form of philanthropy.

Jhai Coffee House, which is currently under construction but opening its doors in a few weeks, is located on the Bolaven Plateau in Laos, where people face a clean water and sanitary education crisis. Due to Laos using all of its resources to rebuild after the Vietnam War, over half the population have no access to safe drinking water and the schools have inadequate sanitation facilities. This puts everyone, especially kids, at serious risk for developing diarrheal disease, the second biggest cause of deaths among Lao children under the age of five.

Determined to do something to alleviate this situation, Tyson Adams and his girlfriend Janelle Kaz have established Jhai Coffee House as a self-sustaining social business which supports local farmers by buying their beans and then investing 100% of net profits back into the community. This money will go towards clean water pumps and sanitary education projects and their mission is to bring these basic human rights to over 1,400 families by the end of 2014.

Breaking away from the traditional charity model, their social business aims to empower local communities to lift themselves out of the poverty cycle by asking them to co-invest 15% in the water and education projects. Villagers will also be educated on proper sanitation and the art of growing quality coffee beans. All of this will contribute to the sustainability of Jhai’s good work.  

For more social businesses that you can support, head on over to The Shop For Change!

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New initiative to fight trafficking

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If you admire the work that one of our sellers, Daughters of Cambodia, do to free women and girls from the sex trade, we think you may be interested in their new Representative Programme.  

Daughters of Cambodia is an NGO that operates near the brothels of Phnom Penh and gives the victims of sex-trafficking a chance to start a new life.  

They are not a shelter and they don’t do handouts. They are a fair-trade employer that offers jobs to sex workers in one of the small businesses that they run. In addition to good working conditions and higher than average salaries, they provide training, childcare facilities, medical treatment and psychological support.  

And now they’re giving you an opportunity to fight trafficking in Cambodia without leaving your country. Join their Representative Programme and make a difference by selling their products, locating donors or recruiting volunteers.

You can sign up to be a Representative or find gorgeous products handmade by the Daughters of Cambodia at The Shop For Change.

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A charity dollar has only one life, but a social business dollar can be recycled many times
- Muhammad Yunus
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