In conversation with Rebecca van Bergen
Since 2014 I have continually been inspired by and participated in many events run by Nest, a nonprofit organisation that connects global crafts people, brands, and consumers. I had the honour one year of participating in a Nest initiative—Nest Home and Away—which saw us furnish an amazing eco–friendly penthouse in Tribeca, NYC.
Rebecca van Bergen founded Nest, at age 24, following her passion to turn craft into a means to correct the gender and income imbalance in our world.
Rebecca shares with us some stories from her impressive journey.
Tell me about your professional journey—up to and including creating Nest.
I started Nest when I was 24, so my entire professional career has been spent founding and leading Nest throughout the many stages of our growth. That said, the foundation for Nest began as far back as when I was a little girl. I remember watching my grandmother sew and recognized a unique connection between women and craft. While studying to earn my Masters degree in Social Work, I decided to explore this connection more closely, and learned that craft is the second largest employer of women in emerging economies. Whether it's weaving, embroidery, quilting, ceramics—this act of making with one’s hands has given women a vehicle for personal expression, sisterhood, and more importantly, economic inclusion—in our still gender unequal world, for centuries.
How have you managed growing such a great business and balancing a personal life?
It is very hard! I am a mother to two amazing children. When I might miss a school play, or come home late too many nights in a row, I try to remember that I am also modeling for both my kids, my son and my daughter, the power of hard work, compassion and committing your life and talents to creating a more just and equitable world.
What is your favorite holiday destination and why?
It is not necessarily a glamorous destination by most counts, but I love returning home to St. Louis. There is an obvious nostalgia you feel for the place you were born and raised, but it is also exciting to return to a growing city. Living in NYC, we are spoiled in many ways with the vibrancy, culture and activity. There is something dynamic about being in a city that is reinventing itself and doing so deliberately. They are currently investing in the maker’s movement in exciting ways and we, at Nest, are inspired by local movements throughout our country to reinvigorate making in places that have been witnessing its decline.
If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
I love where we live. It is a little over an hour outside of New York City, a town called Katonah. It is small town life with easy access to the city and all that affords so we like to say we have the best of both worlds.
What are some of the biggest success stories of brands you have worked with at Nest?
At Nest, we are proud to work with a wide range of brands. Our long-time partnership with West Elm has been pivotal in the creation of the Nest Standards and Seal and the brand continues to be an industry leader when it comes responsible and innovative sourcing from artisans.
It is always rewarding to see beautiful artisan handcraft appear on a high-fashion runway and we have also had a hand in bringing many of these success stories to life. Most recently, we connected Oscar de la Renta with a group of artisan women in Uzbekistan to produced stunning oversized handwoven Ikats that appear in the brand’s Spring 2019 collection. For several years now, Nest has also been fortunate to partner with QVC and HSN for their Giving Tuesday and International Women’s Day campaigns. Shoppers have been invited to make a purchase in support of Nest, and one year, this purchase was a t-shirt featuring a hand embroidered heart-shaped patch made by artisans Nest works with in Guatemala. It was a proud moment both for Nest and for the artisan women who worked on the shirts to see this partnership come to life on live television.
We are also very proud of one of our newest partnerships with Madewell. Together, we have built on Madewell’s Hometown Heroes program to launch the Hometown Heroes Collective, by which a select group of US-based makers are selling amazing handcrafted products on the Madewell online market place, while also gaining access to all kinds of business-boosting support from Nest.
How has the fashion landscape changed in the last 5–10 years?
At Nest, we have seen a dramatic shift in the industry in extremely positive ways. Consumers are demanding transparency and brands are recognizing the powerful role that they can play in improving people’s lives through safe and responsible employment across their supply chains—even at the homeworker level. While buzz around automation and AI technology grows, so does the consumer interest in the handmade. It is my personal belief that the human touch is a quality that human psyche will always crave—perhaps even more so as technology increases its role in our day-to-day lives so we are excited to see artisan and handmade find a permanent place in our purchasing decisions.
How does Nest work with artisans?
Craft-based work is an enormous driver of women’s employment around the world. It is highly unique in that it can be done from the home, where women can also care for their families. Nest currently works with a community of more than 500 artisan business across more than 90 countries, all of whom have free access to learning and development tools to help them scale their businesses and increase their roles in the globalized economy. As a member of this community known as the “Nest Guild”, artisan businesses are able to tune into monthly webinars hosted by industry leaders like Steven Kolb, President of the CFDA; to apply for selling opportunities like the Hometown Heroes Collective mentioned earlier; and to request access to personalized mentorship from Nest’s network of pro bono consultants known as Nest Fellows. Each year, Nest also selects 10 artisan businesses from a competitive applicant pool, to participate in our Artisan Accelerator, an intensive year-long business development program that includes both onsite capacity building work and full enrollment in Nest’s compliance program.
What do the next 3–5 years hold in store for you?
Since launching Nest’s Standards for Homes and Small Workshops and Seal of Ethical Handcraft in December 2017, 13 artisan businesses have completed the Nest compliance program and of those 13, close to half (6) of them have become Nest Certified. The Nest Seal appeared for the first time this year on select handloomed rugs in West Elm and is slated to appear in more retailers within the year. It is giving Nest a means to bring consumers unprecedented transparency to handmade items, from fashion to furniture, that they shop. We hope that this will empower consumers to make mindful purchasing decisions so that demand for responsible handcraft will grow, bringing more business to artisans worldwide.
In addition to the Seal’s growth, we are excited about the new data that our programs are unearthing. Handwork has been poorly and inconsistently quantified to date, leading to many false stereotypes of artisan as niche and not scalable. Nest recently launched our first State of the Handworker Economy Report revealing new descriptive data on artisan SMEs, home-based workers, and the global craft economy. We hope to continue playing a role in collecting and sharing data on the handworker economy, increasing industry transparency through new technologies like blockchain and mobile surveys.
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