Crafting Strong Communities Together

Creative thinking. Responsible leadership. Being a global citizen. These are qualities we put into practice every day. Undergraduate students in Design Studies, Retailing, and Consumer Science are thinking outside the textbooks to tackle societal issues on an international level by helping artisans in developing nations build better careers and foster strong communities.

As part of a global initiative, students are partnering both online and side-by-side with artisans in Ecuador, Mexico, and Kenya, getting the opportunity to put the design thinking principles they’ve learned into practice in a real-world marketplace. Students work alongside the artists to provide insight into trends and demands abroad, helping them translate traditional skills and designs into more marketable consumer products—such as reimagining intricately crocheted and beaded doilies as colorful necklaces. In addition to assisting with design and creation, students also devise and implement promotion plans, and work with the artists to convey their stories to consumers via product tags.

Artists working in underdeveloped areas often struggle to make a living wage due to insufficient demand in local markets. By sharing the ideas and principles they’ve learned in class, students have devised new and creative solutions to this challenge—such as the student-organized Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace, which maintains Fair Trade practices and provides artisans with a vehicle to expand their customer base, increasing their sales and income.

By fostering relationships with global artisans, Human Ecology students support micro-enterprises and help people in developing nations create sustainable business models, empowering people to improve their lives and those of their families. Putting their knowledge and experience into practice, they see how acting ethically and with empathy builds stronger and more prosperous communities worldwide, and increases opportunities for success for everyone.