DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL.
BE THE BRIDGE.
Sapahn’s story starts in 2010 when I met Marie Tu, a travel guide in Myanmar. But, you’re probably wondering what brought me to Thailand in the first place. Well I just had got married a month before, and my then husband and I decided to move to Thailand to pursue our graduate degrees in Human Rights which lead us to Myanmar for my husband’s dissertation.
Over the time I spent with Marie I learned that she was supporting herself and her mother single-handedly through a range of jobs. Her life was tough. But, what I learned quickly was Marie Tu was the most socially savvy person I’ve ever met. She’s full of compassion, grace, grit, resilient, intelligent, and full of aspiration to do more for this world. It was this hunger for more that I saw in her which made me ask her what would change her situation the most. She said education.
At the same time as meeting Marie, I had been working for the United Nations on a regional human trafficking project based in Bangkok. I knew that one of the biggest risk factors to people becoming vulnerable to trafficking was a lack of economic stability and job opportunity. I saw the value of the more policy focused work the UN was doing but I knew for me I needed to see and experience tangible change.
All I needed was a way to generate money for Marie Tu’s scholarship. But how, at only 25 years old myself, and having just started my Master’s degree in Human Rights degree myself was I going to find money for a scholarship? I needed a creative solution, ideally one that could help more people than just Marie Tu and that’s how Sapahn started to take shape.
I have always loved and admired the skills of local artisans while working in Thailand and I saw an opportunity. Most of the artisans were women in rural villages without stable incomes, or opportunities they were just as vulnerable as Marie Tu had been.
What if there was a way to empower these women through the beautiful products they were already making while generating a scholarship for Marie Tu to study?
Enter Sapahn, a bridge built to empower these highly-skilled artisans by connecting them to new, global markets.
This idea in itself wasn’t ground-breaking, people have been transporting goods all over the world since the Silk Road in first century BC. What was radically different was how Sapahn was going to do it. It was time to walk the walk from my work at the UN, to develop a business model that put human rights first and foremost.
I travelled thousands of miles across Thailand finding and getting to know our Artisans. I shared countless meals, stayed in their homes, became like family learning about their dreams, their needs, their challenges, and building trust.
A few months later I tested the waters by taking a few of the artisan’s best pieces back to the my home-town of Lincoln, Nebraska to sell at a trunk show hosted at my parent’s house. We sold absolutely everything. It was phenomenal. People were so engaged. They loved the design, the quality and especially knowing the story of how the product came to be, the women they were supporting. That’s when I knew this could work. While I was home for the month of April 2010, I met with some attorneys and created a business.
I doubled down on our process. I travelled more frequently to the artisans. I help them source higher quality materials. I started to collaborate with the artisans on the design process. And here we are. Almost 9 years later, empowering almost 300 artisans in 9 villages.
But what about Marie Tu? Well, the profits from the first 2.5 years of Sapahn paid for a good portion of her education. Her first job out of school was working at the United Nations in Myanmar and now she works as a liaison for Myanmar Parliament. Plus, in 2016 she opened her own therapeutic massage business in Yangoon to employ women in her neighborhood.
This is what you are a part of when you support Sapahn. It’s not just another bag, this is a story you are becoming a part of. A story of opportunity, of humanity, of respect, and of dignity. A story that ignites meaningful conversation and changes life for the better.
Be a Bridge Builder | Shop Sapahn
Who We Are
We are a group of strong, bold, dynamic women (and a few men) who are changing the way business is done. We all deserve better than the cycle of exploitation in fast fashion. The products we buy are an extension of ourselves, they reflect what we believe in.
As customers ourselves, we know that you don’t want to sacrifice on quality, design or functionality when you do good. With Sapahn you don't have to. We source fair-trade high-quality materials made to stand the test of time and take you on life's adventures.