Taizjo chats with Our Barehands' co-founders, Chanel and Germaine to find out more about their journey of running a social enterprise. Grab your tacos, we've got a good read ahead! 😉
Q: Tell us about Our Barehands how it came about?
Chanel & Germaine: Our Barehands was conceived one evening over a casual chat between three good friends - Chanel, Germaine and Mitchell, and over many nights of brainstorming before we finally took the leap.
As consumers ourselves: Like everyone else who felt like it was time to put the dollar where it mattered - it was a dilemma when it came to purchasing lifestyle products. We searched high and low for quality products that were not mass-produced, well-designed, yet had a positive impact on society. When we found them, we either had to pay a huge premium for it or purchase something that may not be of the quality and design that we would keep for long.
Undiscovered beauty amongst artisan communities: We thought long and hard about the local communities around the world we'd met individually and collectively over the years. Many were farmers by day, artisans by night, or simply beautiful people who made beautiful products, but did not get credit where it's due. They were of varying backgrounds, possessed cultures with rich traditions or simply had a life story worth shouting for, but many went unheard. It dawned on us that they were beauty undiscovered - the best-kept secret.
Our leap of faith: So, shelving plans society and family had charted out for us, we decided to take a leap of faith. We wanted Barehands to be a bridge of resources to the local communities we've come to know and grow friendships with. And so, joining the myriad of organisations that stand for doing good through sustainable business, Our Barehands was born May 2019. We were then registered as a Social Enterprise under the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises (raiSE).
Featuring: Germaine in RAINFOREST Card Slot Phone Sling.
Q: How does the social entrepreneurship business model set you apart from others?
Chanel & Germaine: Our Barehands is founded and built on one simple belief - that every pair of hands can make a difference, be it in small or big ways. With that, we are on a mission to build strong, sustainable artisan communities around the world, no matter their background. We do this through discovering potential amongst our artisan communities, connecting collaborators to them, and creating a range of versatile, beautifully handcrafted products for the ordinary folk who loves a story to tell!
We are clear on what we do not want our social business model to be - to be driven by sympathy, to be lacking financial prudence or viability, or one that creates subpar value for our customers.
So how do we know that we did not shift from why we started Barehands? We ask ourselves this simple question every day! Are we constantly creating value for all our stakeholders through working at our mission? As long as we can honestly say yes to that - it’s good enough for us!
Featuring: Chanel in DAWN Modular Phone Sling in Grey with LUXCHAIN XL.
Q: Share your favorite collaboration.
Chanel & Germaine: It would be our first-ever collaboration with Inez Tan, Singaporean embroidery artist and founder of Inez Designs, whom we paired with our artisan, Samy, another mother from our local mothers community. Both shared many similarities; having two kids and the love for crafting jewelry with their hands. Read more of our collaboration here.
Q: What is the best memory while travelling to artisan communities?
Chanel & Germaine: We visited our artisans in Myanmar who handmade the accessories on our site (Eh Wah and her women artisans). We managed to spend a few days with her, talking about everything from business to personal matters.
Although our visit with her that day did not have physical products to show immediately, at the end of the day, we realised the importance of understanding our artisans first; their wins and struggles, their story and situation. After all, we’re here as people first, business partners second. Needless to say, our conversations did not end there - we also had a productive chat on how to move forward in the business; how can we better support the work that she was doing from production, amongst others. It’s conversations and memories like these that we cherish and sometimes in the midst of busyness, we forget that we’re humans first. Learn more about Eh Wah and her artisans here.
Featuring: Sarah, founder of Taizjo in BLACKGOLD.
Q: What is your vision for the brand?
Chanel & Germaine: We envision a more equitable world for us all - a world of opportunities and resources shared; no matter our backgrounds. We hope that by bringing our customers versatile, quality, beautifully handcrafted pieces by our artisan communities, it will enable our artisans to have a dignified livelihood and grow into strong, sustainable communities in the long-run. We strongly believe that every pair of hands can make a difference - customer, artisan, or collaborating partner.
Q: How do you work with artisans to develop new products?
Chanel & Germaine: There are 3 pillars in which we work with our artisans; we celebrate their remarkable artistry, we encourage ownership amongst them, and we aim to foster long-term partnerships.
As each artisan community has its own unique characteristics, how we work with them is tailored to their needs and potential. In other words, there’s no fixed format on how we develop new products across our communities. There are times where our artisans would be inspired to make a product, other times it's a collaborating designer who would love to work with our artisans to make something or we ourselves are fired up to create something special for our customers… so really, too many ways! But one key ingredient that we keep in mind when developing new products is, do people/the market really want that? We can be honest that there’s a bit of research work that goes into this before our artisans actually produce a new product.
Q: What is the dynamic between you both, how do you organize the business as co-founders?
Chanel & Germaine: Hahaha… we were friends first and then became business partners. We would always hear others say “never ever work with family members or friends unless you want to end it!” We do see where they’re coming from, but to be honest, every day is a day we are debunking that myth. Yes, there will be times disagreements will arise or hard conversations have to be broached, but ultimately, we work on the basis of trust, humility and honest communication.
As founders of Our Barehands, we do everything - it’s literally all hands on deck! If one is busy with other matters, the other picks up the slack and so forth. As it’s just the two of us running the business day-to-day, we do ensure that we’ve got our bases covered and nothing falls through the cracks. We do have very regular chats and of course, zoom calls now.
Featuring: Germaine (left) in RAINFOREST, Sarah (middle) in DAWN Modular Phone Sling in Rose with Black Lanyard Strap, and Chanel (right) in DAWN Modular Phone Sling in Grey with LUXCHAIN XL.