For those who may not know you, could you please introduce yourself?
I’m Ali Price, the former Community Marketing Manager at Kiva, and I left Kiva last month to focus full-time on Lydali, a company I co-founded earlier this year. I live in San Francisco with my husband, Jonny, who also works at Kiva running Kiva Zip.
Lydali is about bringing together beautiful artisan-made products from all over the world. Right now, we exist as an online store, showcasing products from global designers and artisans, and telling their stories about their lives, work, and traditions that inspire them. We’re working on building a personal shopping experience that allows you to learn about the people who made the products you’re buying.
I actually started thinking seriously about Lydali on a Kiva trip to Bali. I spent some time with my friend Cissy DeLuca, who worked as Kiva’s Field Support Specialist in Asia and was based out of Bali. Cissy had started employing artisans there to make beautiful jewelry and accessories, and they were able to work flexible hours making jewelry and clutches. It was a really cool story and the products were great, but they were having trouble getting the word out and selling to more than just family and friends. I had worked with artisans in Kenya before coming to Kiva, also, and I had experienced some of the same issues I saw Cissy facing.
The challenges Cissy talked about were so familiar, and I was certain that she and I weren’t the only ones who had experienced this while working with artisans. I thought about it quite a bit on the way home from Indonesia, and when I got back, I spoke to my friend Lydia Harter, who works as a buyer for a large home furnishings retailer. Together, we started thinking about different retailers selling global goods. There were lots of fair trade stores that had some nice products, but many of the things they sold were more about the story of empowerment rather than about the product quality and design. And on the other end of the spectrum, there were stores selling beautiful globally inspired products that were actually made in factories in China.
We decided to launch Lydali as a store focused on aesthetics and design, but also on artisan empowerment and storytelling. We got started working on it in our spare time in January 2012, and we launched our website, www.lydali.com, in April. It’s been exciting to see its growth over our first few months, and we’re really looking forward to seeing where it goes as we continue to gain traction.
There were a lot of challenges, but one of the biggest was finding time to get all the zillions of things done that we had to get done while both working full-time. Lydia and I would carve out hours in the mornings and evenings to work, and basically every weekend was spent doing some big project for Lydali. We were really excited about what we were working on, so even though it meant shutting down on the rest of life for a few months, we were able to do it.
Now, our two biggest challenges are spreading the word to bring in new customers, and finding artisans and suppliers to partner with around the world. We welcome any suggestions on how to do either of those things better. If you have ideas, you can email me at email@example.com.
Is lydali non-profit or for-profit?
Lydali is for-profit, by design. We wanted to be able to operate like a business, but remain ethically-minded.
How is lydali different from other arts and craft shops, like Etsy?
Lydali is carefully curated – we hand-pick every product that we decide to sell. Etsy is more of an open marketplace in which anyone can create a storefront, and each of the individual sellers is promoting his/her own work. We’re also working to tell stories behind each piece we sell and its maker to clearly show customers who they’re supporting with their purchase, which is something that I haven’t seen many other craft shops do or do well.
Are there any Kiva borrowers on lydali?
Not yet, but I hope there will be soon. We’ve tried working with some fellows to approach artisans they meet, but we have had trouble getting in touch with borrowers directly and working with them to scale. Having Kiva borrowers on Lydali would be a dream, though, so we’re continuing to work on it.
Do you have any stories to share, from your travels to find the artisans?
I actually haven’t traveled at all yet! My co-founder, Lydia, just got back from Turkey, and she is about to post about her trip on our blog. I’m going to Jordan in a week, so keep an eye out for stories and photos from that trip on Lydali’s blog soon.
I noticed that there aren’t any products from US. Is this by design? Are you planning to include US products in future?
We’re keeping our focus on artisans outside of the US at the moment, although we’ve been talking to a few refugee communities located in the US that we might work with soon. I think there are a lot of opportunities for artisans in the US to get their work seen and picked up at retailers, so we’ve decided to focus on artisans who might have a harder time with developing connections to a market.
How do you manage inventory? Do you actually have the goods here, or the goods are made after the orders are placed by customers?
So far, we have been buying goods from artisans and having them shipped here to San Francisco. Right now, we order from artisans in small batches, and shipping from some areas of the world we work with (South Africa, India, Guatemala, and others) takes a long time and is really expensive. It’s easier for us to order one big shipment than to ask artisans to ship each order as it comes in, and it also helps to guarantee that orders will go out on time.
Could you share future plans of lydali? Where do you expect to see lydali, say in 3-5 years from now?
In 3-5 years, I’d love to see Lydali working with hundreds of artisan cooperatives around the world, selling clothing, accessories, and home furnishings that appeal to men and women around the world. I’d love to see artisan communities around the world thriving because of the business they get from Lydali, and it would be awesome to see Lydali customers stopping by workshops to meet artisans in person while they’re traveling.
Do you plan to have physical exhibitions of the products? (If yes, could you add New York to the list of cities? ) It would be amazing if you could get some of the artisans too, at the exhibitions.
We’ll be doing a pop-up shop in San Francisco for the full month of January at Makeshift Society, and we’ve got a few more plans in the works. We’re not at a scale where we could bring artisans over yet, but hopefully we will be one day!
We’d love to do a pop-up in New York sometime next year, too, so we’ll be sure to keep you posted if we do.
We’ve been asking Kiva (the subject was first brought up on the LLL message board) to make a global directory of Kiva borrowers who are service providers (gym owners, cab drivers, salon owners, laundromats etc) as well as artisans. It hasn’t happened so far (I suppose for legal reasons and privacy concerns). Do you think Kiva would do it in future? (It would be amazing).
This is tough for Kiva to do because of borrower privacy, but it’s something that they’re trying to do more of with Kiva Zip. I think Kiva definitely recognizes the power of connection and support that lenders want to provide small business owners, and I hope that there will be a way for them to map the different businesses you can support through giving them your business in addition to lending.
I just looked around my apartment – I’m ashamed to say that most of what I have was bought from big companies like Amazon, Apple etc. Do you think we should have a “international small biz day” (like labor day) to bring more awareness to small biz?
There actually just was one! The day after Black Friday was Small Business Saturday, although I don’t know how well it was publicized. I like to try to support small businesses in my area, but it’s much easier to buy from larger companies that have tons of marketing dollars and resources to get their products in front of you. You’ve got to be really intentional about supporting small business to avoid buying from big companies. I’ve started supporting lots of small businesses in the SF area after being introduced through Kiva Zip, and I like doing the same for businesses I’ve been introduced to through Kickstarter.
Apart from shopping, is there anything the readers of this blog and other Kiva lenders can do to help?
If you know of any artisans whose products you’d like to see on Lydali, please email me – firstname.lastname@example.org. And we always appreciate you sharing Lydali with friends, so if you want to link to this post or share a link to Lydali, we really value you helping to getting the word out. Also, following us or posting about us on social media channels is always helpful. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Thank you Ali, for taking time to answer our questions.