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Artisan & Fox: Crafting a collaborative business with artisans and refugees

18th November 2019

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“Our mission is to uncover the provenance of the things we wear and love: Where does it come from? Who made it? Where do the materials come from?”

These are the questions that Jaron Soh, founder of Artisan & Fox ethical marketplace, strives to answer for customers who come to his website. Artisan & Fox sells clothing, jewellery and homewares, designed and made collaboratively with artisans from the Middle East, South East Asia and Central Africa.

“We work with artisans across the world to connect them to international customers and preserve culture,” says Jaron, 26 (pictured above, right). “We have a collaborative, bespoke approach and we do a lot of co-designing together. We try to add some of our contemporary design flavours while respecting the artisans’ autonomy.” The products are sold on the Artisan & Fox website and Jaron uses Starling to manage the finances of the business.

A global marketplace

Jaron works in London with one other team member. A further three team members work a second office in Singapore, where they have their warehouse.

The team uses their Starling bank account to pay artisan invoices and process wholesale orders from British retailers. It will also be using the account for its upcoming online festive shop, created in association with the UN, and its 2020 pop-up store in London. The pop-up store is called #ForHumanity.

Artisan & Fox was founded in 2015, while Jaron was still at the London School of Economics (LSE) doing an undergraduate degree in management. Initially, he set up the business as a marketplace to source and sell products directly through the website. “But we quickly realised it didn’t work. A lot of the crafts, though beautiful, weren’t made of great materials and so they didn’t last. That’s why we came up with collaborative designs to create better products that are a fusion of cultures.” The result? Beautiful objects that last.

Knowing your sources

An example of a collaborative design is the Amal tee-shirt, made by Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Artisan & Fox source organic cotton tee-shirts with a UK partner and the artisans, trained by local nonprofit named TKS, embroider the word ’Amal’ in gold thread. “Amal means hope. So the artisans are literally embroidering hope as they work,” he says.

Ayoush smiles showing off her work.
Ayoush, an artisan who works on the Amal tee-shirts in Lebanon, photo credit: Jaron Soh

Another example is the jewellery collection inspired by the Minaret of Jam, a watch tower in Afghanistan protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. “The tower was built many, many years ago in a time when all the Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony. Today, the watch tower is the only thing left in the area,” he explains. “The designs are inspired by the Islamic inscriptions of the tower.”

The local Afghan artisans who make the jewellery with Artisan & Fox were trained by the NGO Turquoise Mountain, an organisation initiated by HRH The Prince of Wales, that seeks to preserve the traditions and culture of places of historical significance.

Turquoise Mountain, a beautiful building.
Home to Turquoise Mountain, the NGO that preserves architecture and trains artisans, photo credit: Jaron Soh

Building a sustainable business

“Quality is super important but what really makes people come back is your ethics and your values,” he says. “Be transparent and make an effort to do good.”

As an ethical business, sustainability is a key consideration for Artisan & Fox. “Our primary aim is to bring artisans up the value chain but we also want to reduce our carbon footprint. We don’t label our boxes so people can reuse them or use them for gifts. We try to avoid plastic in all our packaging but where we have to use it, we use biodegradable plastic material,” he says.

In addition, when customers make a purchase, they can choose between new wrapping or the material used by the artisan when they sent the items to Artisan & Fox. This saves on paper used to wrap glassware or jewellery.

Malak smiles in a headshot showing her embroidery designs.
Malak, an artisan, holding up the embroidery designs for the tee-shirts, photo credit: Jaron Soh

Everyone who works at Artisan & Fox shares a passion for culture and sustainability. The hiring process places this as a priority. “We find it exciting and we have great working relationships,” says Jaron.

Finding an innovative bank

When he needed to open a second current account for his business, he turned to a high street bank. “They said I’d have to call them, which I did, but it took a long time. I finally submitted my application. And then they told me they’d lost it,” he says.

“Starling was really fast and it was much easier.” Starling offers business bank accounts for limited companies or sole traders and you can apply for multiple business accounts from the app.

“I do a lot of transfers through the app and make payments to artisans in different countries,” he says. “It’s just easy knowing exactly what’s coming in and out and being able to see everything in one place.”

Find out more about Artisan & Fox.

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