I’m excited to announce a new interview series today called “What Big Girls Do.” Whenever I’m about to do something that scares the pants off me — like getting on a jet to Ethiopia to adopt two orphans, or even just walking into an intimidating meeting — I whisper a prayer and say to myself, “Zoe, this is what big girls do.” And then I step off the ledge. I don’t know why, but the little pep talk always helps!
That’s the spirit I hope to capture with this series. There are women out there doing creative, courageous, inspiring things — making the world a better place while staying true to their values. I hope these interviews will inspire your own dreams and help you find greater meaning right where you are.
Sometimes you come across people doing things you’d love to do, if only you could be two people. I felt this way when I read about Lydali and the women behind it. In 2011, friends Ali Price and Lydia Harter brought their talents together to launch an online boutique of one-of-a-kind curated items from artisans in remote areas of the world. Read on to learn more — and be sure to visit their site. (I already have my eye on some bracelets and a bag!)
Zoe Saint-Paul: What inspired you and Lydia to launch Lydali?
Ali Price: Lydia is a dear friend, and for years we talked about starting a business together. About a year ago, I visited Indonesia with my old job, and while I was in Bali, I came across some artisans a friend was working with who were making beautiful products — but they were having trouble selling them outside of local markets. My background is in microfinance and microenterprise, and as I thought about it, I realized this group in Bali was experiencing the same challenges of getting their products and story out there as other groups I’d worked with or heard about in the past.
On the long flight back from Jakarta to San Francisco, I started drawing out a plan for a store that brought together beautiful products from around the world with incredible stories behind them, and as soon as I got home, Lydia and I met up to talk about it. Her background is in merchandising and buying home furnishings, so it felt like a great fit for both of us. Lydia signed on right away, and we started getting to work.
Where did the name come from?
It’s actually a combination of our names — Lydia and Ali — and pronounced “Li-dolly.” We had such a hard time naming our business! We had a big party at my apartment and invited a bunch of friends over to contribute ideas to a pot throughout the night. In the end, all the names we liked were already taken by other businesses, or else the URLs were owned and being sold at crazy prices. If we wanted to have something totally unique and not add “shop” or “design” to the end of our name, we had to make up a word — so we did. It sounds like it could have a meaning in another language, which we like.
Can you tell us how you find your producers? And how you choose your countries?
So far, we’ve been working like crazy to make connections with anyone and everyone associated with artisans. When we first started, I was on the phone all the time with people in Asia and Africa, trying to get a sense of the artisan landscape and the products available. Before leaving to focus fully on Lydali, I worked at Kiva for several years, so I have a lot of great connections around the world, which has been awesome. Now we have a team of three volunteers focused on different regions who are working with us to find artisans who make great products.
Our main stipulation (aside from good design) is that the artisans we work with are well-paid and even offered additional services like child care, continuing education, savings accounts, health care, etc. Up to this point, we’ve only worked with producers in developing countries and emerging markets. We love great stories, so if we hear about how a certain artisan learned to weave from her grandmother, or a craftsman is teaching his son woodworking so they can work together, we’re more inclined to work with them.
Lydia and I have done some travel to meet with artisans: She went to Turkey last fall, I went to Jordan over Christmas, and I’m going to Guatemala soon. We’re also planning a big trip to India this summer (fingers crossed that we can make it work!).
Your shop items are carefully curated. What criteria do you use to select them?
We look for high-quality design, and everything we sell is something that we’d love to wear or use or have in our homes. We’re also focused solely on women’s accessories and home furnishings right now, so that allows us to focus on finding beautiful items in a few specific categories.
How would you describe your own personal style?
I’d describe it as “eclectic global chic.” I love things that are clean and crisp, but I also love bright pops of color and unexpected, unique shapes and designs. Before starting Lydali, I enjoyed picking up products when I traveled and finding places for them in my home or my wardrobe. Now I’m doing that on a larger scale, and I love it!
What are the biggest challenges to running this kind of business?
When we started the business, both Lydia and I were already working full-time jobs, which meant that we worked a lot of long hours on nights and weekends. Another big challenge is that many artisan groups we want to work with are small and remote, so we’re not always able to place orders and count on their being made and shipped right away. We’re actually waiting on one order now from South Africa that we’ve been trying to get sent to us for the last 3 months! It’s been such an interesting learning experience, and there are new challenges to tackle every day.
What’s next for Lydali? What are some of your hopes and dreams for it?
In the longer term, we would love to help Lydali grow to be a large retailer, working with thousands of small artisan producers around the world and allowing them to access a larger market for their products. My biggest dream is that, as we seek to tell the stories of the people behind each product we sell, people will start training themselves to think more and more about the humans behind the products they buy, no matter where they’re shopping. If Lydali can help to make consumers more mindful of how their spending affects others, that will feel like a great success to me!
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Thanks so much to Ali for talking with me! Lydali’s focus on quality craftsmanship, beauty, and working with local artisans is inspiring for those of us trying to live slower lives in whatever way we can. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for Lydali — and I’m sure I won’t be the only keeping up with their gorgeous products!
Images: Ali Price (Ali is on left in the photo above; her partner, Lydia, is on the right.)