Many entrepreneurs start their business because they see a problem or need in the marketplace. But Mandy Nagel, founder of I Thought of You, a small business with the mission to expand the global marketplace of developing countries by selling fair-trade handmade products describes her entrance into entrepreneurship as a, “joyful accident.”
Now in it’s third year in business, the company has purchased more than 60,000 pieces from global crafters. It’s grown into a thriving woman-owned business that’s looking to spread hope through economic opportunity.
An Unexpected Detour
When Nagel traveled to Indonesia for pleasure in 2012, she worked at a marketing and digital design firm. But when her employers downsized some of the agency departments, Nagel had the opportunity to rethink her own career path.
“As an avid traveler, I was on a trip to Indonesia to experience the culture and explore their beautiful country. I met what would be our first artisan group at a local market,” says Nagel. Struck by the unique beauty of the handcrafted glass bead and carved wood jewelry pieces, Nagel purchased several items to bring home. When she realized that friends were equally moved by the pieces, she decided to form a business. It’s purpose to help empower the local artisans to reach a global customer base. About six months later, she returned to Indonesia to do just that.
“I traveled back to collaborate with the artisans to create many styles that would translate to style trends here. My degree in design was a huge help with this. After we felt like we had a nice collection of products, we launched our online shop. The tremendous response encouraged us to brainstorm how we could continue growing,” says Nagel.
Making Dreams Reality Through Financial Empowerment
She knew she wanted to maintain control over her business; Nagel own funds got the business off the ground. She then extended the same financial empowerment to the artisans who create and sell pieces through I Thought of You.
“Artisans set their own prices for labor and talent, which are closely monitored against fair wage standards,” says Nagel. “We educate artisans on the fair market value of the worth of their talent so they can use that knowledge to continue the conversation throughout their towns. This leads to a steady rise in the quality of living for those living around our artisans as well.”
Women Helping Women
I Thought of You sells its products online through its own site, and via online shops on Amazon and Etsy. Additionally, products sell through wholesale partners and by an independent selling program that allows curators to earn a commission on I Thought of You products they may sell at farmer’s markets, fundraisers, and similar venues.
“We felt this [the curator selling program] was the best way to quickly spread the word about our products and our mission. Meanwhile it allows women in our country to generate an income along with our partners abroad,” says Nagel. “We provide training to give them the skills needed to pursue their business in a way that works best for them. We’ve been overwhelmed by their support, the ideas we brainstorm together, and the way it’s allowed our company to grow.”
Nagel and I Thought of You team members are also providing artisans with the tools and knowledge that will improve their ability to earn a sustainable income. This includes access to a global marketplace, product development and quality control support. “We visit our groups several times per year. Knowing them on a personal level and having a hand in their growth and prosperity is truly an inspiration. I never thought a small accessories brand could have such lasting impact on communities a world away,” says Nagel.
Limited Resources, Lasting Impact
Many small business owners know the challenges that come with having big dreams and scarce resources; Nagel’s entrepreneurial experience is no exception. “Oftentimes there aren’t enough hours in a day/week/month to pursue all of the ideas we generate. We’re a small team on purpose at the moment. We want to grow responsibly and not over-extend ourselves. But this sometimes leads to not being able to pursue the next great idea as quickly as we would like,” says Nagel.
While Nagel describes her first year in business as a sort of, “stumbling ground of learning and growing,” she says year two allowed for more focus on strategic and responsible growth. Now that I Thought of You has been in business for three years, Nagel feels the organization has reached a crucial turning point. “I can now see that our small size is a benefit and feel confident in the daily decisions we make. It’s reassuring to know we’re heading in the right direction,” she says.