Jane Mosbacher Morris has dedicated her career to tackling some of the world’s most complex social issues. From working in the U.S. Department of State’s Counterterrorism Office to serving on numerous advisory boards such as USA Cares, Women LEAD and Speak Your Silence, advising on difficult issues ranging from child sexual abuse to post-9/11 veteran support; it seems that no challenge is too intimidating for Morris.
Extreme poverty has been one of the most pressing global issues of this millennium and finding solutions that are culturally sensitive and empowering, rather than prescriptive and victimizing, is no easy task. Yet Morris has found a remedy with her business TO THE MARKET (TTM), a handmade goods company that connects local artisans in need of income, to customers desiring social impact goods.
Believing that one of the essential ingredients to poverty reduction is women’s empowerment and economic independence, Morris has connected with existing NGOs to identify female survivors of abuse, conflict and disease to hire as artisans. The survivor-made goods are then promoted through TO THE MARKET’s online store, pop-up shops, and retail partnerships. TO THE MARKET not only offers these victims vocational skills-training, but professional and mental health resources as well as a platform to share their stories. Five years since the company’s inception and thousands of women have become economically empowered with over thirty artisan cooperatives operating in twenty countries around the globe.
While Morris’ life-long commitment to helping the less fortunate is commendable, her ability to transform intention into action in order to cultivate lasting positive change is truly inspirational. By way of her own empowerment she started a company that can empower others; whether it be an individual victim of conflict, an ethical fashion consumer or an entire impoverished community. We caught up with this humanitarian to learn more about TO THE MARKET, her experience running her own business and her favorite ethical gifts for the holiday season.
Give me a brief background of TO THE MARKET and how it came to be.
TO THE MARKET’s mission is to connect the incredible capacity and skills of the artisan industry with businesses and consumers seeking social impact products. This allows us to create and sustain jobs for vulnerable communities while delivering in-demand product that is ethically produced. We connect with a global network of ethical producers in over 30 countries, helping them scale by facilitating sales to businesses and consumers, amplifying their stories and building their capacities. I launched TO THE MARKET after visiting two extraordinary social enterprises in Kolkata, India that were employing human trafficking survivors. There was something so different about the survivors being employed than the many beneficiaries of social services I had interacted with in my previous work. The pride and confidence in their spirit reflected the fact that they recognized their self-worth. I attribute this confidence and peace to the dignity of work which is central to our mission.
What made you decide to sell ethically-sourced fashion?
I wanted to help vulnerable persons, sadly most of whom are women, achieve more economic independence and began exploring industries that could have a large-scale impact and thrive in the developing world. Simultaneously, I observed the consumer demand shift towards products that have strong storytelling elements and are ethically-sourced. I found that through ethically-sourced products I could increase sales for the communities with whom we partner. This enables the artisans to sustainably grow their businesses and economically empower themselves and their families. Recognizing the impact it could make and the market that exists for it, ethically-sourced fashion became a clear choice for creating meaningful change and providing beautiful products.
How does your business model cultivate empowerment from the bottom-up?
Our business model cultivates empowerment from the bottom-up because we don’t get paid (as a business) unless we create economic opportunity for our partners on the ground. It truly is trickle up economics!
When did you realize you wanted to commit your career to improving the lives of the marginalized?
My parents were really wonderful in helping to model what a meaningful life looks like, and it’s centered around service to others. I specifically became passionate about empowering women in college when I came to better understand the number of women and girls with hearts, and minds, like mine, that didn’t have the same opportunities to pursue their dreams.
How has your previous work experience translated to what you do at TO THE MARKET?
My first job was working on counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State. This exposed me to the populations, mostly composed of women, around the world that lacked control of basic decisions within their own lives. Through this experience, I began to understand the importance of economic independence and opportunity in having agency over one’s own life. This understanding was solidified during my time in the Secretary’s Office for Global Women’s Issues, at the Columbia Business School and at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Each position I’ve had has pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to learn on the job, and contributed bits and pieces to the way that I operate at TO THE MARKET.
What have been some of your greatest challenges in running your own business and how did you overcome them?
Since TO THE MARKET has artisan partners and ethical producers that are mainly based in developing countries, we often face dynamics that are outside of our control. For example, we have a number of partners in Haiti that are producing for us currently. When Hurricane Matthew hit in Fall 2016, we wanted to first check on the safety and well-being of our partners. We then moved on to exploring how production and shipping would be impacted, if at all. We work to overcome these challenging operational dynamics by putting the wellbeing of our partners first and then over-communicating to our clients about how what we have promised them may or may not be impacted.
What has been one of your most rewarding experiences since starting TO THE MARKET?
The biggest highlight for me has been watching some of our partners significantly scale while working with us. Every time we bring a purchase order to one of our partners it is a rewarding experience, knowing that we are creating more opportunity for vulnerable populations and helping to change lives.
What does a typical work day entail for you?
The one constant of my day is a healthy amount of caffeine, but that’s about the extent of my daily ritual as when you are running a startup you wear many hats. My day can consist of anything from meeting with a director of corporate social responsibility at a Fortune 500 company to editing a blog post. Everything I do is 24/7, with the exception of sleep, but it’s wildly rewarding!
What do you do to stay balanced?
My balance comes from my wonderful support system. I have an incredible network of friends and family that I love spending time with and the TO THE MARKET team is a blast! Other activities that help keep me sane include nightly devotionals, listening to music, and adding dreamy hotels to my bucket list.
You have served on many advisory boards and seem to have a lot of wisdom, but who has been your biggest mentor?
Working in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, my boss, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, taught me about how to have a significant presence in the public sphere but also care deeply and genuinely about your team and their respective careers. At the McCain Institute I was able to shadow Cindy McCain and understand how she managed all of the overwhelming demands on her time. It was really interesting to see how she was able to juggle so many competing interests trying to get her involved in different humanitarian initiatives.
What TO THE MARKET products are you most excited about for the holiday season?
Ethical Leather Tote In Caramel And Black
Our *Limited Edition* Leather Tote was born out of a search for a beautifully constructed, ethically-made every day tote. We knew we wanted a bag that would match almost anything and could be dressed up or down. Opting for two-tone leather, we partnered with our friends at the Haiti Design Co-op to create a limited edition piece that fits all of our goodies, from our laptop to make-up bag. Haiti Design Co-op works to provide consistent employment in-house in order to give job training and stability to individuals in vulnerable situations, as well as raise up artisan leaders to succeed as independent entrepreneurs in the community.
Ethical Midi Crossbody Bag
Our ethical tote’s fun sister! We partnered with Haiti Design Co-op to create this sophisticated, black, goat-leather bag fits all of your essentials for a day out on the town. Perfect to pair with any polished or more casual outfit. Snap closure ensures safekeeping of your essentials.
This necklace is handcrafted by women in Uganda and in Dallas by TTM local partner Akola. Akola empowers these women to transform their families and communities, providing them with the income to care for their families basic needs. Hand-carved bone beads, matte lapis beads, pyrite beads with an ethically sourced horn pendant and a 100% genuine leather tassel.
Bi-Fold Wallet - Eco Camel
This full grain eco-leather wallet is made of leather tanned without heavy chemical use, providing a safe environment for artisans. TTM local partner Elevate, helps to create financial sustainability for vulnerable artisans in India.
Jasmine Soy Wax Candle
Made with US-sourced, non-GMO soy wax, paired with lead-free wicks and a proprietary blend of fragrance and natural essential oils to provide you with the highest quality product. White Field Farm, a TTM local partner, brings healing to women survivors of human trafficking through job training and employment. Scent description: an exotic blend of freshly cut jasmine flowers with a base note of rose petals.
Bubu & Lulu Mix and Match Wooden Block Set
Bubu & Lulu Mix-and-Match set are handmade Wooden Block sets produced by disabled refugees in Jordan. Each block is a cubic block with 6 sides. Each side contains part of a cute illustration for kids to mix and match.
Maria Bracelet Ebony
The Maria Bracelet is fun, fabulous and sure to make your wrist shine! This bracelet is made with gemstones and recycled bullets by women overcoming injustice in Charlotte, NC.