Retailer Anthropologie will feature a Wilmington resident's line of handmade beaded leather sandals online and in its stores and catalogs starting later this year, according to an announcement this week.
Caroline Fisher, creative director and founder of Seeded Hand Sown, said the deal with Anthropologie is a game-changer for her brand. Seeded Hand Sown is a wholesaler but is also available along with other African artisan-made items at Swahili Coast, a store in the Cotton Exchange in downtown Wilmington that Fisher and her husband, Tony Peele, opened earlier this year
"We see this as a really big break, where we're going to have the opportunity to get in front of even more people, and we're excited to expand our operations in Tanzania and employ more ladies doing beadwork," Fisher said. "They're [Anthropologie] definitely a tastemaker, and they're one of the stores that is willing to take a chance on emerging brands. So they're a really great first step for a lot of brands as far as getting into a lot of national retailers."
Founded in 2014, Seeded Hand Sown's mission is to empower women in Tanzania, and Peele, a Swahili speaker, lives in Tanzania for part of the year to work directly with artisans, according to a news release.
Fisher designs the sandals that are then made by the worker co-op in Tanzania, which employs about 30 women who bead the shoes and four men who are the finishing crew. Peele and Fisher have also started a non-profit foundation, the East Africa Cooperative Development Group.
"We've been fundraising and using our resources to help develop co-op groups in East Africa because we've really seen what a huge impact that has had with our shoes," Fisher said. "People are able to take ownership and leadership roles within their business. Their income increases by a lot. They still make wages for all the products they make, but then at the end of the month, profits get paid out to everyone that's in the co-op."
The co-op is governed by a board made up of people that the workers elect to represent them, Fisher said.
Fisher and Peele were first approached by Anthropologie at a trade show in Los Angeles in July. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Anthropologie was founded in 1992 and has more than 200 stores worldwide.
"We do trade shows and make connections with buyers, and our distributor had the Anthropologie buyer come by the booth and see our sandals and [the buyer] fell in love with them," Fisher said.
Fisher and Peele opened Swahili Coast in April as a place to sell their products and have space for a design studio.
"We've really loved the opportunity to be in the Wilmington community and have been able to tell our story to folks who come in the store, and it's allowed us to expand our wholesale offerings a lot. We've started working with other artisan groups in Tanzania and Kenya to help them develop a market for export and wholesale in the U.S. as well," Fisher said. "We've started wholesaling a lot of jewelry that we design made by a few different artisan groups in Tanzania and Kenya, and we've also started wholesaling handmade Kenyan beach towels."
About 50 stores in the U.S. carry Seeded Hand Sown sandals. In Wilmington, they can be found at Meadowlark in The Forum, 1124 Military Cutoff Road, and at Soul Shoetique, 7110 Wrightsville Ave., in addition to Swahili Coast.