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SPY Makers is a new conversation series where we sit down with inventors, designers and entrepreneurs to talk about their work. In this story, SPY Assistant Editor Taylor Galla talks to Antonio Nuno, co-founder of Someone Somewhere.
We’ve all got purchasing power, and there’s a lot of meaning behind where you spend your money. During both good and bad times, we should all look towards causes that are worthwhile to support, whose values and actions we align with. I’m here today to highlight a brand I recently found whose mission and impact are something few people aren’t going to be able to get behind — a brand called Someone Somewhere.
Someone Somewhere is a social impact brand that links up with local artisans across South America and elevates their cultural, traditional, creative work into products you use in your everyday life. Whether it’s a type of fabric woven with generations of knowledge behind it or a pattern with deep cultural meaning, they work with the artisans to create high-quality, practical items that are worthwhile to purchase on their own, and get amplified by the social impact behind them. They recently launched their products in the US market and I think you should know about them.
I got a chance to sit down and discuss Someone Somewhere’s business, background and future with one of their co-founders, Antonio Nuno, and hear all about how the brand got started and what they’re up to.
The brand began when Antonio and his two best friends frequently went on service volunteer trips in South America during high school and became connected to the communities there. They realized that while the cultures they were visiting were rich with history, and people unbelievably welcoming, the poverty levels were staggering. In fact, one out of every 25 people in the world is an artisan living in poverty. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the main one is a lack of access to the right materials and sales channels to get their products to the right people. Also, 98% of artisans are women, as men in these communities tend to work in agriculture.
“We realized it was the lack of work opportunities in the communities as well as a lack of connection to the rest of the world,” Nuno said. “The artisans didn’t have access to materials that did justice to the quality of their work, and also didn’t have sales channels.”
So, they decided to do what every inspired, motivated entrepreneur does — and create what they saw as a missing link. There are 50 million artisans in Latin America alone, and so many more around the world who’ve honed their craft over years and years of experience. They’ve got a lot to offer, they just needed the right partnership to make it happen.
Nuno explained that at the beginning of Someone Somewhere, “No brand working [was] with artisans in a scale-able way, there were a few designers that involved them but for that amount [of people] something was needed to connect them with the world and today’s market trends.”
Nuno and his colleagues also saw a unique opportunity to scale a business in an increasingly digital world, where connecting artisans in Mexico to consumers in Asia was not an impossible task.
“We connected the dots – saw brands growing through digital connections faster than ever before and decided to create the brand to connect the artisans and the amazing things they do with this huge market.”
And thus, Someone Somewhere was born. They’re now working with 180 artisans in Mexico and create apparel for men and women, bags and accessories including masks. When asked about how they decided on which products to pursue, Nuno explained that it was about creating something high-quality that is able to compete with other brands that the average mobile person uses in their everyday life.
“The key here is to make the best products possible even without losing the story and the impact. If we really want to have an impact our products need to be amazing by themselves, and we always try to get a triangle of great design, great impact and great functionality because that really makes your life easier,” Nuno said.
Each product is made with an artisan-made element and then transferred to a dedicated workshop that constructs the bag, t-shirt or other product with the same caliber as the most popular brands in that area. For example, Nuno offered the example of the backpacks they make. The fabric that the bag is made of is the result of generations of loom expertise in Mexico that produces a strong, durable fabric that you’d want making up a bag you’re going to use for years. After the artisans make the fabric, another set of experts is in charge of making it a high-quality bag that can compete with other top brands.
Navy Everywhere Bag
“This is very important because it allows the artisans to focus on their craft where they have the most value and what they love to do, what they’ve been doing for years. And then the assembly part is made in the same factories as the best backpacks. So we can have really good quality and scale, we can make a lot of bags with this model,” Nuno said.
Someone Somewhere lets the artisans do what they do best, and takes on the complicated, hoop jump tasks of linking their work with materials, production and sales channels needed to elevate what they do for the world. It’s an equal partnership, as their target consumer gains a useful product with a meaningful purpose, and the artisans are able to live easier lives and preserve their culture.
“One of the problems of the artisan industry not working as well as before is there is a lot of culture and story behind the techniques. So all of the products, for example the t-shirts, the pockets you see, all of those patterns have a story behind them and are the same ones the artisans use in their products or in their own clothing,” Nuno explained.
“The impact we have is that, in a lot of these communities, the younger generation aren’t that inclined to learn how to make that craft because they saw how their parents were struggling because they weren’t connected with the world. But now they’re seeing that their families are doing good and that people from all around the world are wearing their creations, it becomes something attractive again and a real way of making a living.”
They’ve made a substantial impact in the communities they work with. Someone Somewhere pays their artisans 51% more than the national wage, and 37% higher wages than the global fair wage minimum guideline.
“This has a lot of impacts in different ways, for example it slows down immigration because most of these families love to live in their communities, but a lot of times they’re forced to move to a bigger city or the US because they didn’t find a way of making a living. If the artisan craft works and it’s good enough to make them a good living by far that’s their first choice. So it’s avoiding a lot of immigration and allowing people to live where they want to be, and enjoy a lifestyle that has a lot of great things if you’re able to take the poverty out of the equation.”
That’s one of the keys of this whole operation — the artisans being given the tools to offer their craft to the world through products that make our lives easier, and, in turn, make their lives easier through our purchase.
The name of the brand “Someone Somewhere” comes from this idea, and it’s displayed through each product having the name of the artisan who created it written on the tag.
“We try also to show you the people who made your products so that you can connect. It’s not only words but it’s showing these stories.”
“One example I love is we try to have the same quality pictures of the artisans who made the products and the model pictures that make you buy them, because we believe both of them are important or even the artisans are more important.”
“So you’ll never see a picture of an artisan suffering or trying to convince you of helping. We have the word “help” prohibited from our communication because we feel it’s more of a collaboration, so I think it’s a lot of small things that added together help you understand what we do.”
I love this distinction within their brand. They have a social impact, but it’s not solely about one side “helping” the other, it’s an equal partnership in which both parties benefit.
“We love the concept that with your purchase you’re going to make the life of an artisan easier, but that product is going to make your life easier as well so it becomes like a fair exchange and not charity.”
In terms of some of the pieces you should focus on first, Nuno expressed that his favorite piece right now is their Magic Loom mask. It’s made with an in-house designed and trademarked fabric that’s unlike anything else on the market.
“The Magic Loom is amazing because it’s the first fabric in the world, we haven’t seen anything like it, that during daylight looks totally normal, like a black fabric, but when any light hits it it reflects it and protects you during your commute and makes it super easy to find if you’re camping, for example,” Nuno explained.
Magic Loom Mask
In terms of the future for Someone Somewhere, the brand is looking to create more unique products like the Magic Loom, and expand to other countries. They want to become popular in the US and hopefully expand to reach artisans in Africa and India within the next few years. I’m very excited to see where this brand goes, and hopefully they’ll be able to reach the millions of other artisans globally whose products would benefit us all. Here are a few more great items you can purchase to support them and their mission.
In addition to their Everywhere Bag they also make smaller, lighter backpacks for everyday use. This one is 40% lighter than the average bag and can also be rolled up for storage and use up less space than a burrito. The threads are lighter and tighter than other brands due to a technique perfected by artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Multicolor Pocket Tee
I love this stylish men’s t-shirt with a pop of color on the pocket. The t-shirt is made with comfortable material that’s built to last, and the uniquely embroidered pattern is the result of a technique developed in the Naupan community of Puebla, Mexico. This detailed art form is all about counting the spaces between the base fabric to create a unique pattern, and 250 inches of thread is used in each one!