India is renowned for its extraordinary jewellery and handicrafts; too bad India is more than 10,000 kilometres away. Now there is a way to have a small piece of India shipped straight to Vancouver. MyMela (pronounced May-lah) is a social entrepreneurial start-up that connects Indian artisans with North American consumers via the Internet.
MyMela, which means festival in Hindi, aims to conserve traditional artisan methods, from embroidering to jewelry making, by selling them internationally. It provides artisans access to a sustainable e-commerce market, enabling them to make a steady income with their trade instead of being forced to abandon their cultural traditions to work odd jobs in the city to support their families.
Many of the artisans are women, who are finding new-found economic independence and contributing to their family incomes by selling their work. One of my favourite stories on the MyMela site is about the beautiful embroidery created by women in the Kutch area. For centuries, women have been embroidering for their dowries, and have passed their techniques down the generations. Each village and tribal group have their own unique stitching patterns, each weaving a rich tapestry of local history and traditions.
MyMela also finances the materials the artisans need to purchase to create their pieces through a micro lending scheme. Shoppers can lend money to artisans to help support their work. Any loan will be paid back, plus the lender gets a shopping credit towards any purchase on the website. Basically, it is kiva combined with a commercial incentive.
There are a wide variety of goodies available on the site: jewelry, purses, scarfs, rugs and household wares. While the products on MyMela are more expensive than those that are mass-produced, there are still some affordable products for the budget conscious shopper. My favourite is a brass cuff that has a design similar to fish scales for $14.95. Hopefully it will be under my Christmas tree in four weeks.