As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Emily Senn from Untold Treasures about working with local artisans in South America.
What gave you the idea to start Untold Treasures?
It was whilst working as a volunteer at a children’s foundation in Colombia for several months that the idea of Untold Treasures was born.
I had always been interested in artisan produce having travelled extensively but it was only after seeing the real value and heritage of these handicrafts in the communities that cemented the idea of wanting to share this wonderful craftsmanship with a wider audience.
After you had the idea, how did you make it into a reality? For instance, how did you cultivate a community of artisans to work with?
It was certainly no mean feat trying to build relationships with artisans from a variety of backgrounds. I speak Spanish so that was definitely a big help and I don’t think I could have done this without. Some of the communities are particularly difficult to connect with, for example, the Wayuu people of La Guajira desert in Colombia have their own language and culture so it takes time and patience to understand each others ways of working.
What is a regular day like for one of the artisans you partner with?
This depends on which type of craft we are talking about but let’s take Bolivia as an example. In Bolivia, I work with a family-run workshop based near to La Paz. A typical day for this husband and wife duo usually consists of Pablo opening up the workshop early to start working on the leather bags whilst Sandra gets the kids ready for school before sourcing the materials for the days designs.
What is the design process like for the artisans? Does Untold Treasures offer traditional designs of the region? Or do the artisans experiment with their creations?
Yes, a combination of the two. I prefer to retain a lot of the traditional elements in the designs as this is what makes them particular to the region that they’re from and a lot of the patterns and shapes have a meaning or story behind them. What we do love to experiment with, however, is colour and form.
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. How do you interpret the definition of ‘ethical fashion’?
It is a broad topic and quite a buzz word at the moment and it’s fantastic that people are starting to take an interest in where and how our clothes are produced. For me, the definition of ethical fashion is fairly treating the makers, appreciating handmade items / craftsmanship and not having a negative effect on the environment. It is about recognising and appreciating the work that goes into making each garment and knowing who is behind the creations wherever it’s made. It’s about buying less but better items that will last and have a story to tell.
How does Untold Treasures embody your personal definition of ethical fashion?
Untold Treasures embodies my definition of ethical fashion as the products are 100% handmade by talented craftsmen and women. All of the artisans we partner with are paid a fair price for their work and we are proud to have built such trusting relationships.
When you buy from other fashion brands, what three things do you like to consider before purchasing?
There are some great apps around these days to help us understand how ethical fashion brands really are. Personally, the three most important things are; that the makers / workers are fairly paid and work in good conditions, that the items do not have a negative effect on the environment i.e. bleached jeans and that there is longevity in the item. A good tip to use before buying is to ask yourself if you would wear it at least 30 times.
Most fashion brands have such big supply chains, they are barely able to locate where their garments are made. What are the benefits of working directly with the makers, and why is this important?
Working directly with the makers allows for full control and clarity of the products being made as well as the conditions of the trade. The more open and trusting the working relationship, the better the outcome! Once the supply chain gets too big, the magic becomes somewhat lost.
What is your proudest moment since launching Untold Treasures?
My proudest moment since launching the company has to be being selected as a featured brand in Pebble magazine which is an ethical lifestyle digital publication.
How would you like to see Untold Treasures grow in the future?
As the business grows, I plan to give more back to the communities I work with through partnering with local foundations with a focus on education by donating a portion of our profits. This is a really important step and that I hope to achieve very soon!