Meet the Maker: Sapana
Our Houston show is around the corner! We’re pumped to give our HTX vendors a high five and support their dreamy businesses next weekend.
One small biz we’re excited to hug is Sapana, a lifestyle company that sells fashion, jewelry and home items sourced from artisans around the world. Founder Jolie Helm’s mix of pretty patterns, cheerful colors and breezy items are perfect for spring.
Get to know this big-hearted business here and be sure to stop by Jolie’s booth April 21st at Silver Street Studios in Houston!
“Sapana” means dream in Hindi. What inspired your company’s name?
Everyone dreams. I love the idea that dreaming or having goals is something that we have in common globally. It’s a wonderful way to start a connection that can lead to understanding one another.
Tell us about your wares!
We sell fashion, jewelry and home items. We source our pajamas and handbags from India, which is famous for its block print textiles and dhurrie rugs. Nepal is where we source our pottery, woolen socks and brass and beaded jewelry. At Flea Style, we’re debuting our new organic jersey tank tops that match our new spring pajama line. These tops are made in Nepal as well.
What inspired you to start Sapana?
My husband worked in Nepal to evacuate people after the 2015 earthquake. That experience led to us making lifelong friends in Nepal and was the beginning of several trips to the area. Asia is amazing – the colors, cultures, crafts — and I fell in love instantly when we moved to Malaysia. Buying directly from people in the area was how I chose to contribute to the community. Once we moved back to the states, creating Sapana gave me a reason to keep travelling and also a sense of purpose.
You feel strongly about “empowering through employment.” We’d love to hear more about this important topic.
There are significant needs within the communities where we source our products. Some people feel inclined to help contribute financially. Unfortunately, sometimes that money doesn’t end up where it was intended — or, the problem still exists after the money has been exhausted. Giving someone a job gives them a purpose and an opportunity. You validate someone when you purchase their work. It’s so much fun to let our producers know how well their product was received and to place the next order. It’s the beginnings of some financial control for their life and a great source of confidence. At the end of the day, the idea is that it inspires them to do and dream more. Your purchase from Sapana impacts the maker financially and emotionally.
How do you curate artisan’s offerings to make a cohesive collection?
First, I usually fall in love with the maker and their background or story. You meet some people and you just feel a connection sometimes – that’s so important to me. Then I see their work and I find myself getting lost in the details or colors and amazed with the talent and work that went into creating the piece. Things that are beautiful at first glance but even more special when you know the story behind them. It’s important to make sure I know who they are as a person and see that their products are produced safely and fairly. Those are the pieces that I buy. This past trip, we spent half a day with four generations of women as they crocheted bracelets, wrangled their children, and enjoyed tea with us. When I go to a show, somehow it all fits together, but I don’t think I have a set style – not intentionally at least.
Is there ever a language barrier or obstacles sourcing from around the world?
In India, I am still working on local connections and there is a language barrier. I work with a group there who manages the artisans and makes certain that my concerns with wages, safety, and working conditions are met. While I can’t always communicate directly with the producers, I am there once a year at a minimum to meet the artisans themselves, do quality control, and to learn more about the culture.
Talk to us about your amazing artisans and how you’re empowering them.
Sapana buys from local producers at above fair wages. The artisans we choose to work with have a strong sense of community as well and as their businesses expand we are excited to see them pay it forward. Bishal, our jewelry designer now gives ten percent of his earnings back to a local animal charity and he works to teach his trade to other people who aren’t able to afford an apprenticeship. The group who makes our tank tops employs people from a village that was devastated by the earthquake. Currently they are working to make our retail bags for the April Flea Style show from recycled Nepali newspapers. We are currently working with Kiva organization to fund loans in India as our means of empowerment in this area. Until we feel 100-percent certain about where our money goes, we have chosen to go through Kiva and to work with our partners in Jaipur to pay above fair wages in ideal working conditions.
What are the countries or communities you want to explore for Sapana next?
I want to go everywhere! I’ve learned it’s much more efficient to work where I have some existing connections. I have close friends in Cambodia. We’re working online at the moment trying to find artists who fit our profile. Africa is another area where I have resources and I could see Sapana including some goods from there within the next two years. I could ramble on this topic forever! The idea of travelling and seeking out new artisans is so exciting to me.
You lived in Malaysia for three years. How did the experience influence you personally and professionally?
It opened my eyes to so many different beautiful cultures and religions. We have friends from around the world now despite our many differences. Most people aren’t going to have the opportunity that we had. But, our online culture offers some exposure. Maybe telling other people’s stories can help make what people see in the media more “real” and help people feel a connection or a willingness to be open to others.
How do you educate shoppers about your company’s mission and amazing artisans?
At markets, we display photos and written stories associated with the pieces. Tags and cards come with our products to tell customers more about Sapana. We made prayer flags from our latest trip to India and Nepal with the dreams of people who we met on our journey. We hope that this inspires you not only to purchase – which helps our artisans – but help to support others pursue their dreams.
We love that! You highlight the artisans’ dreams, what are yours?
To continue to travel, meet new people and share their dreams.
Favorite style of clothing?
I love all things Anthropologie, but nothing beats the perfect pair of jeans and a worn in tee.
Favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Too many to choose from!
Describe yourself in three words:
Ambitious. Curious. Creative.
Describe your company in three words:
Global. Empowering. Personal.
Where do you see your company in five years?
I see Sapana as an established brand showcasing products from at least five different countries with a full-time employee in each country responsible for finding new artisans and new ways to contribute back to local communities.
Support Sapana at our Houston spring show April 21st at Silver Street Studios located at 2000 Edwards Street! Tickets are $5 and now on sale at shopfleastyle.com. Parking and children 12 and under are free!