Many of us dream of traveling to exotic lands to take in foreign culture, meet local people and maybe bring back a souvenir to remember our trip. This week’s Why Not Girl! of the Week Marla Showfer has traveled the world and has definitely brought back more than just something that fits in her suitcase. From her travels to Nepal, she has brought back with her a new business and a partnership that will help many Nepalese women become self-supportive members of their communities.
A former associate professor at Northwestern University, Marla was inspired to start her business The Winding Road while accompanying a group of master’s students on a global trip to India, China and Japan. Inspired by the bustling markets in Dubai and the beautiful artistic works for sale, Marla thought about how interesting and entrepreneurial it would be to help local artisans, especially women, export their goods to the United States and develop an income that would be much greater than what they were realizing in their home countries.
A frequent traveler to Nepal, Marla came across the Nepalese Women Skill Development Project (NWSDP), a program that houses Nepalese women who are often from rural villages and are widowed, divorced, disabled or victims of domestic violence. NWSDP provides them with the skills they need in textile training such as cutting, sewing, weaving, and dying in order to make their own goods for sale. They also are taught basic business management, health awareness and English. During her visit, Marla discovered that these women create 100% silk hand-block printed scarves, an item that Marla knew many women back at home would love to have.
Within eight weeks of traveling back from Nepal, Marla took The Winding Road and her goods on the road to the ever popular San Francisco International Gift Fair and later at the New York Accessories Show where she was able to attract many potential customers like the Field Museum in Chicago and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which has become her biggest customer. She has been shipping out of a spare room in her house the colorful scarves made by the women of the NWSDP as well as a variety of yak wool items like bags, placemats and cute stuffed animals made from another fair trade business in Kathmandu. After just six months, The Winding Road has already broke even.
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This article was originally published on February 8, 2012.