Melissa Gray of Kaleidoscope Global
Melissa Gray is the director of Kaleidoscope Global, importers and suppliers of fairtrade fashion accessories. She is also the secretary of the NSW Fair Trade Network group and a manager of The Fair Trade Emporium shop in Marrickville, NSW. We are very excited to share more about her business, challenges, learnings, and of course, experiences having mentors!
Melissa, can you tell me a bit about Kaleidoscope Global?
Kaleidoscope Global specializes in sourcing unique, hand crafted, fashion accessories from diverse communities around the world for the Australian market. We are proudly the Australian distributors for Tintsabas‘ jewellery range. The jewellery is handmade by a women’s group in Swaziland a tiny, land-locked country in Southern Africa.
The jewellery is hand woven from sisal agave sisalensis, an invasive weed that grows throughout the country. The sisal is processed using little water and GOTS certified organic dyes. Tintsaba endeavours to be sustainable in all areas of production.
The women who make Tintsaba jewellery receive training, enabling them to become master weavers, silversmiths or managers, giving them the chance to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Their products are certified fairtrade and recognized around the world for their outstanding quality as well as the beautiful story attached to them.
I wanted to combine my love of travel with a business that was I was passionate about, and was sustainable for the long-term future of the planet, and fairtrade was a natural choice.
I see myself as a link for the artisans to the global market. With traditional trade, artisan groups were taken advantage of by middlemen who took a good chunk of profit out of the products and took advantage of the producers, and showed no care for the environment etc.
I had been volunteering at Kinma on my childrens’ school board for 5 years, doing PR and marketing, and I wanted to find a business I could start slowly while I was still busy with the kids but that would be exciting and satisfying over time.
I went to visit my sister in the UK and saw fairtrade products everywhere. I wondered why I never saw it in Oz, Googled it and had an ahha moment realising this was the direction I wanted to go. I resonated with the principles of fairtrade.
What was your motivation for creating an ethical business?
I have always operated with an alternative mindset. I guess I would sum it up as a value of respect for people, the earth. Fairtrade was a similar concept to attachment parenting and alternative education where you respect and trust the child’s ability to learn and grow in their own way and their own style and time frame.
Fairtrade is similar in that the artisans are given a chance to create a life for themselves and their families/ villages through business. It is not disconnected credit card giving, where charities decide where the money should go. The producer groups and individuals are running their own lives. Previously fairtrade producers were established by not for profit groups, churchs, etc. who travelled there to help. Now with technology, I can connect directly to producers and do business with them, making fairtrade more accessible to more groups.
What were some stumbling blocks you encountered as you got started, and some advice you’d give others from that learning?
I always planned to grow the business slowly, learning as I went.
I started with a few products, selling them at a few local markets and building a basic website, learning through Youtube and using amazing new technology like Weebly (my free website software). I was able to grow a business with very little initial financial outlay and without paying to outsource much.
I joined the NSW Fairtrade Network to meet other people in the fairtrade business and began to do advocacy work and learnt a lot from collaborative projects such as popup shops and events, fashion shows, movie night, etc.
Now Kaleidoscope is focusing on wholesaling. I have downsized my product range, which is logistically easier and I am doing fewer markets, as now I have vendors selling my jewelry for me at many markets.
What is your goal ultimately with your business?
I want to continue to increase Kaleidoscope stockists through trade shows twice a year and through Facebook marketing. At the moment, I am in the early stages of a new business plan to focus on event management support to the fairtrade sector.
Thank you Melissa, and we look forward to checking out your jewellery!