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Hand Picked & Hand Made From Around the World

Posted by Unleashed World on

     It’s likely you’ve had trouble finding a one of a kind shopping experience online. Searching to find something special with a story woven through each stitch, connecting the threads of lives across continents. An item of quality over quantity. And here it is, your refuge from big box shopping. 
     My Sanctuary Shop is a social enterprise online marketplace based in the suburbs of Chicago. A thoughtfully curated shop filled with unique, handmade, and fair trade items made by artisans locally and globally. Find it here.
Their mission is to connect consumers with the makers of their products by sharing the stories behind the product. Each item purchased from My Sanctuary Shop comes with a postcard telling the store about the maker, how it was produced, and communities where the product was made.
Each item in the shop was made by hand and all items in the shop are sustainably-sourced. Their goal is to minimize their environmental impact in all areas of the business from office supplies to marketing materials and packaging. Eco-friendly and sustainable is their standard, not the exception. 10% of their monthly profits are donated to a new charity partner each month. Katie, found of My Sanctuary Shop, chooses the charity partner each month based on current events and needs, and the causes she feels strongly about ranging from women and children, to hunger, clean water, mental health and wellness. The products include sweet treats, jewelry, home goods, accessories, children's wear, hats/scarves and greeting cards.
My Sanctuary Shop supports artisans and their communities by paying fair wages, providing sustainable jobs, and protecting the environment. The shop carries products by companies that are members of Chicago Fair Trade, the Fair Trade Federation, and the World Fair Trade Organization.     
My Sanctuary Shop was founded by Katie Durbin, a licensed social worker with two young children. After years of balancing her demanding career with responsibilities at home, she quit her job to pursue a career path that combines bother her passions for supporting creative projects and helping people. That's how My Sanctuary Shop was born. 

We caught up with founder Katie Durbin to hear first hand the in's and out's of My Sanctuary Shop:
1) What are the most popular items from each category?
The most popular handbags are definitely from Malia Designs, designed in Chicago and made in Cambodia. People love them and I can’t keep them in stock! The most popular jewelry is from local designer, Michelle Starbuck Designs, and Purpose Jewelry out of India. For home goods, people love Batik Boutique products out of Malaysia and Bright Endeavors candles, another local company.

2) What is the most interesting fact about the shop?
That to this point I have sourced 100% of the products through Instagram! I have 2 little kids and am doing this on my own so I don’t have the time or money to go to travel or attend trade shows looking for products. I do a lot of due diligence and so far I could not be happier with what I have been able to find and the list just keeps growing.

3) What countries do you work in?
Ethiopia, Haiti, Turkey, Guatemala, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, and USA.

4) How do you decide which items to carry?
I primarily look for things that I really want to buy because I’m marketing my shop to women who are similar to me -- they’re socially conscious, globally-minded, eco-friendly, love supporting small businesses and women entrepreneurs. I buy what speaks to me and I’m drawn to color, textiles, and unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. My customers seem to appreciate that. 

5) Are you able to share any personal stories of the women you work with?
Every woman who makes one of the products I have the honor of selling has a story. Because I am more of the middle-woman in the operation, I rely on my amazing vendors to have that personal connection with them. What I think is the overarching story of every woman I work with is that they are being paid a fair wage in a safe environment which allows them to care for and educate their families. The fact that this is special and unique and not the standard around the world is the real story. I still struggle with the fact that I am selling people on buying things that are made ethically - isn’t this what we should all be doing?!? Why is this the exception and not the rule in this era of transparency?

6) How has selling the women’s products on your shop affected their lives?
By having access to US markets, the global women are given a sustainable way to make a living and care for themselves and their families. I am one small piece of that process but I love knowing that I am playing a small role in creating solutions and empowerment in areas that need it most. For the local women makers, it may not be as dire as in Cambodia or Bangladesh, but I like to believe I am still helping support a woman being able to follow her passion and use her talents to support herself (and maybe her family).

7) What did your first curated shop look like and how has it grown/evolved since?

How do you see the shop in 5-10 years? Well, I’m really still in phase one! I only launched 4 months ago so it’s very much still evolving. I am learning what my customers like (and don’t) and when they like to shop. I am hoping to add some clothing, more bath and body products and to expand the home goods. It is really hard to know where this will be in 5-10 years. I want to continue to focus on the impact, from the products we carry to the charities we partner with. I’m hoping by following that, it will continue leading me to new and amazing places. I would also like to be an advocate for the ethical consumer space and encourage people to ask where their purchases come from. I think young people especially have the power to make significant changes in this area. 

8) Do you feel as though consumers pay attention to where things come from and who makes them?

Unfortunately I do not. I think the tide is turning and there is definitely a movement. But outside of major cities (and even within them) people are still buying at an alarming rate, mostly cheaply made crap. I myself did not start paying attention until a few years ago and I consider myself an educated, eco-conscious person. It needs to be talked about way more often, in way more places. I think it should be taught in schools, just like healthy food habits. We hold so much power as consumers and we could create huge change if enough people just paid attention and asked questions. 

9) In what way (ways) are you a different person today since launching My Sanctuary Shop/choosing to pursue your passions?

I have learned so much! I was a social worker for 15 years before this so launching a business was not something I had a clue about. I have learned to believe in myself and trust myself beyond anything I had done before. I previously felt so emotionally drained by my work. Even though it was fulfilling it would suck my soul many days. Now I feel inspired and energized by my work. It is still daunting and I feel pressure to make this work but it is different then carrying the emotional weight of others with you day in and day out. I also feel a huge boost to my joy and happiness getting to do something creative. I have never had any type of creative outlet but always felt drawn to it. I feel closer to who I am supposed to be doing this work and learning how to use my creativity.

10) Why craft/handmade important to you and why should it be important to all of us?

I think creativity is a big element to joy for a lot of people. It is empowering and builds self confidence. It teaches you about yourself. To create something from scratch with our own hands is one of the coolest skills we have as humans. It also connects us to each other and to our history. It can be a spiritual practice for many people. I think the benefits are endless and there are no downsides. The more unique things we can make with our hands, the more we evolve.

Contributed by Meghan Pues

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