Around the world, traditional crafts, like languages, are in danger of fading and dying out. Those crafts are an expression of a place and its people, the result of a unique context, available resources, and techniques developed over centuries.
Will & Atlas is a fair trade home goods and lifestyle brand believing that these goods — and the communities they support — are worth fighting for. They are consciously building a business in partnership with craftswomen and organizations to bring beautiful, handmade housewares to a wider audience.
Benicia to Bangladesh
Benicia, California, a small town about an hour north of San Francisco, is where Will & Atlas owners William and Katherine Berg make their home and headquarters.
Seven thousand miles away from Will & Atlas’s headquarters is Dhaka, Bangladesh. Dhaka is the home base to the nonprofits that provide support to several thousand craftswomen in communities throughout the country by bringing their handmade products from villages to the international market. These nonprofits are members of the World Fair Trade Organization, and they ensure that the women are not only fairly paid, but also supported in their family life by being offered fair working hours, financial education, health care, and other resources.
An All-Hands-on-Deck Effort
The largest organization Will & Atlas works with produces the woven bags and baskets that became popular staples in the brand’s inventory. Another partner is a longstanding nonprofit working with craftswomen who create beautiful jute runners and rugs, and are also working on an upcoming line of palm-leaf basketry products.
As Will & Atlas co-founder and owner Katherine explains, “When designing new products for Will & Atlas, we are careful to balance the need for designs that we know will appeal to our buyers with the production methods and materials that are appropriate to the context and location of their makers.”
From the raw materials — including jute, palm leaf, and other grasses — to the striking charcoal and indigo dyes, these inputs are very much products of their environment. The materials, non-mechanized production, and training of new makers means traditional weaving and other crafts are being kept alive, taught to the next generation, and extended to new audiences, so they will continue to remain relevant and valued.
Operating the way that Will & Atlas does is certainly not the easy route. Large retailers often demand consistency and can be unforgiving with long lead times and unpredictable shipment dates, both of which come with the territory when your products are made entirely by hand, using local resources, and in a country prone to extreme weather.
For Will & Atlas co-founders William and Kate, it’s the only way to do business. William has visited Bangladesh to meet their producer partners, and the pair never loses sight of the fact that there are real families and communities who benefit from this work.
While she and William were packing orders one day, Katherine had a realization: “[Here] I was working in my village with my family nearby, and that the women who make our products were able to do the same. We are building something that allows all of us to live meaningfully. Being a part of this larger circle of equity and good quality of life is at the core of what we do.”