Dreaming of making a difference, but overwhelmed with life’s workload and daily challenges? Sometimes the littlest things really count. There are so many easy steps – small shifts we can make – to help facilitate a real difference in the lives of others. Yes, even shopping can help change lives for the better. NOVICA.com is one of most uplifting places to shop for meaning-filled, ethically-crafted handmade fashions, exquisite home décor, and unique gifts from far distant lands – and NOVICA is also home to the largest online collection of handcrafted jewelry in the world. NOVICA seamlessly connects shoppers with thousands of featured master artisans in developing nations, bringing a world of impassioned fair trade shoppers into artisans’ remote home workshops via the Internet. Shoppers (and their gift recipients) learn about each artisan personally, and read about the cultural significance and/or inspiration crafted into each handmade treasure. NOVICA’s eight international offices manage all transactions, meticulously overseeing quality, gift wrapping, packaging and prompt shipping to individual customers.
“There are few shopping experiences this inspiring and mission-driven,” explained Roberto Milk, NOVICA’s CEO and Cofounder, who launched NOVICA 22 years ago in Los Angeles. “We wake up each day with a tremendous sense of mission, and we experience great joy each time we hear from an artisan whose life we’ve helped improve,” he added. “We love hearing from our participating artisans. Often artisans tell us they experience greater respect in their communities, or have received new awards for their work, or can now send their kids to university, thanks to increased sales and individual recognition from NOVICA,” Milk said, adding, “And all of this is ultimately thanks to the impassioned customers who shop at NOVICA – shoppers who appreciate beautiful world arts and cultures, and who spread the word about what we’re doing. So yes, it is definitely possible to help change the world – even through our shopping choices.”
NOVICA’s mission–driven history
Roberto Milk co-founded NOVICA with his mother-in-law (a former United Nations Human Rights Officer), and other family members and friends around the world. Long before co-founding NOVICA, Milk wrote about the idea of creating an economic development model for artisans in developing nations. He said his vision for helping improve artisans’ lives was greatly inspired by his own family’s long history of beneficial work throughout the world. Milk’s paternal grandparents devoted their lives to living and working as missionaries in Vietnam, China, Cuba, and Mexico, pioneering agricultural development and working successfully to improve the quality and quantity of local food production.
The Schwab Foundation has named Milk an “Outstanding Social Entrepreneur,” and the World Economic Forum has recognized Milk as a “Young Global Leader.” Milk’s mother-in-law Armenia Nercessian retired from a lifelong human rights career with the United Nations to co-found NOVICA.
“Beyond business and the economic improvement of artisans, NOVICA is also about dignity, pride, and the international recognition of extraordinary work,” Nercessian explained, adding, “Our artisans become personalities in their communities. When artisans become successful and important, their children and other young people in the communities begin to have a new respect toward traditional cultures and skills. In many areas, because NOVICA has dramatically increased demand for traditional crafts, many skilled craftsmen are now able to return to their traditional work. In many cases the artisans had been working as unskilled laborers because the local market for traditional handicrafts had dried up.”
Nercessian said NOVICA is not just about selling handcrafts. “We are actively working to disseminate cultures and restore the importance and appreciation of traditional cultures and skills,” she said, adding, “Since we work hard to make shopping at NOVICA a personal, truly unusual, enriching experience, we’re succeeding in transmitting human energy along with each item that is sold through us – overcoming the sense of alienation and separation between a product and its maker. We are establishing human contact between diverse peoples around the globe – people who otherwise might not ever have the opportunity to interact.” Nercessian’s father immigrated to Brazil as a refugee from the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Nercessian was born later, in Brazil, where she experienced Brazil’s military dictatorship firsthand in her youth – friends and colleagues were imprisoned, tortured, and assassinated. Nercessian said it was therefore natural that she would pursue a human rights career with the United Nations. And now, in a different way, through NOVICA.
Examples of lives improved and cultures preserved
In Mexico, NOVICA jewelry artisan Adriana Trejo helps keep alive an intricate, historic beaded art tradition that has been handed down for generations within the Huichol indigenous community. “It is exciting to know that far away, someone wears and appreciates a necklace, bracelet, or earrings that I’ve made with love and dedication,” Trejo said, adding, “Our NOVICA customers have helped our sales grow. This has provided the opportunity for my daughter to study. I am very grateful.” Trejo said she finds inspiration in the artistic details of jewelry. “What I like best about my work is letting my imagination fly,” she said, “Playing with colors and shapes inspires me. Every time I work on a new design, I try to imagine how it will look, and I combine shapes and colors until I can see it finished. This greatly motivates me.”
Thai ceramic artist Duangkamol Srisukri sells her handmade ceramics at NOVICA.com, including exquisite celadon-style vases. “Each piece that I work on involves hours of reading and researching to get the most accurate details,” Srisukri said from her workshop in Thailand, adding, “Once details have been fully collected, after many trials, a masterpiece is completed. Having my work featured on NOVICA is very good because people can enjoy seeing our beautiful works of art while sitting at home in front of their computers – an indescribable experience.” In West Africa, jewelry artisan Joycelyn Sena Zigah, a member of the Ewe tribe in Ghana, thanked NOVICA customers for helping empower her. “It was a challenge working in a male-dominated industry,” said the mother of three girls, adding, “Coming from a very traditional place, it was tough as a woman to be taken seriously in the trade by my colleagues, who are mostly men. I am one tough cookie so I don’t get pushed over easily. I persevered and worked harder.”
Zigah has hired others in her community to help fulfill her NOVICA orders, and they now share in her success. “I have gradually increased to five permanent staff members and five casual workers, and I also take in apprentices and interns from the university, whom I train during their vacations,” she said.
“I am grateful for this opportunity to sell internationally, and I hope my customers take great pleasure in wearing my designs,” Zigah added. In Indonesia, the Bhakti Senang Hati Foundation has also found a platform for positive change thanks to NOVICA. Its disabled artisans offer a broad collection of unique handcrafts to NOVICA customers.
Bhakti Senang Hati was founded by people with physical challenges, who also run the organization, providing an important service for the physically challenged in Bali. The group also provides wheelchairs and housing, and runs Bhakti Senang Hati Places, a home for children with disabilities.
The Foundation assists disabled persons by creating programs to assist them, including crafts programs. The Foundation’s goals are to help disabled persons develop self-confidence, and physical and economic independence, as well as to increase awareness in the general community of the rights of people with disabilities. The Foundation endeavors to lift disabled individuals out of social isolation, provide technical assistance with physical independence, build confidence through assertiveness training, and teach skills that will enable members to become self-supporting – especially painting, sewing and woodwork.
The Foundation’s sales on NOVICA have a profound impact on members’ lives, according to its founders, contributing not only to the artisans’ financial stability but also to their self-esteem – because their handcrafts are now seen and appreciated around the world. The Foundation’s artisans are proud to have achieved almost a five-star customer rating on NOVICA, where they have received more than 100 glowing reviews from international customers. These are just a few of the thousands of inspiring artisans whose biographies and handcrafted offerings are featured at NOVICA.com.
Over the past 23 years, NOVICA.com has become one of the largest sellers of artisan crafted goods in the world. Mission-driven to empower artisans and preserve cultures worldwide, NOVICA features the biographies and creations of thousands of master artisans who sell a selection of more than 70,000 limited-edition fair-trade treasures to retail customers at NOVICA.com. Offerings range from handmade jewelry and apparel to handwoven rugs and tapestries, hand-carved decor, collectibles, original fine art and unique gifts. In addition, NOVICA added a print catalog marketing division in 2018 with the acquisition of the National Geographic Catalog from National Geographic, NOVICA’s long-time partner.
In September 2021, NOVICA launched the Undiscovered Box (undiscovered-artisan-box.com) – a quarterly, regionally-themed, curated subscription to ethically crafted, handmade global treasures. In November 2021, NOVICA expanded its reach into Canada by launching a dedicated sister site, NOVICA.ca. NOVICA is headquartered in the United States with eight Artisan Empowerment Hubs throughout the world. By facilitating long term economic sustainability for artisans, NOVICA also continues to aid in the preservation of traditional arts and cultures, while at the same time helping bridge social and cultural divides around the globe – increasing understanding and appreciation between diverse peoples through art. To date, NOVICA has sent more than $119 million in funds to artisans around the world.