An Inside Look with Tracey George: Supporting Independent Designers and Artisans Around the World
Tracey George in Santorini, Greece
Two years ago, Tracey George was shopping for Christmas presents for her family when she realized that she felt no connection to any of the products she was looking at in the store. The lack of transparency in products in the market today prompted Tracey to start a business of her own.
As the founder of Koromiko, an online design store that sells beautifully designed handcrafted products, Tracey promotes and supports independent artisans from around the world. With a name as unique as Koromiko, its handmade products are just as special, ranging from brass bottle openers from New York to ceramics from Japan.
Each year, Koromiko donates at least 5% of its profits to an organization that supports arts in the community. This year, Koromiko has chosen to support Aid to Artisans.
We recently sat down with Tracey to discuss her experiences of starting her own business and why Koromiko’s support of Aid to Artisans means a lot to her.
What is Koromiko?
So many different ideas go through your head when you’re thinking of a name for a company. Should it be something easily recognizable? Or should it be something totally different? Being from New Zealand, I wanted something that reminded me of home. Koromiko is a plant that can only be found in New Zealand. Even though it doesn’t have anything specifically do with design, it’s unique and sounds multicultural.
Why partner with ATA?
In the beginning, I was deciding between starting a business or a nonprofit. I decided that I wanted to show that a business can be socially responsible and profitable. Even though my business is fairly new eventually I hope to create social impact by supporting these independent artisans who make handmade products. When I found ATA while doing research and thought to myself, “This is the organization that I want to support when I’m starting out.” I contacted Maud [ATA Senior Program Manager] and it went from there. Right now, we’re small so our contributions will be small but I hope to grow and get more involved. I love that ATA does. It’s important for me to support an organization that’s related to what I’m doing.
What experience did you have that helped you start Koromiko?
I work for a small company that manufactures tennis training aids and equipment for children, like portable nets and soft bouncing balls. I work with all of the importing from Taiwan and China as well as website maintenance. It helped me with e-commerce and dealing with importing and a little bit of exporting. That’s one of the things that led me to start Koromiko, seeing everything mass-produced from China and Taiwan. You have no idea who’s making the products, what kind of conditions they’re working in, how much they’re getting paid, and if they’re even happy and maybe the quality’s not the best.
What makes Koromiko different?
There are a lot of design stores that sell products that might be handmade or might not but they focus more on design. Then there are stores that focus on handmade but are more fair trade with an ethnic kind of look, not necessarily with a focus on design. Koromiko is a balance of both.
Where do the artisans whose products you carry come from?
Most of the products I carry on Koromiko are made by American artisans. I originally wanted to focus more on New Zealand and Australian artisans but I found so many amazing American artisans that I love while doing research. But I also carry products made by artisans from France, Switzerland, Canada, Italy, Spain, England, and Turkey. Eventually, I’d like to expand to more countries. It’d be great if I could create my own product line and work with artisans from Central America or South America.
What are the qualities you look for when choosing products to carry on your website?
I look for good design, environmental sustainability, and handmade. On top of that, sometimes I look for who else carries the product. If a major retailer is carrying it, I generally don’t carry those items because I probably can’t afford the discount and pricing that they can. They’re obviously a much bigger competitor. I find products by reading design blogs and visiting the artisans’ webpage. I look at who else stocks their products and what products they carry. Now since I’ve opened, people have been contacting me from different places. The artisans generally produce their products in small batch rounds and are very high quality.
What are your future plans for Koromiko?
I hope to continue building the online store and making it profitable to contribute more to Aid to Artisans. In the next few years, I’d like to open a brick-and-mortar store here in Dallas then maybe in Austin and Portland. I’d also like to travel more to have more of a selection of handmade goods from different countries that no one any sells rather than finding them online. I know in Texas we have a lot of Mexican immigrants and senior citizens. With them they have craft talents that could be utilized to create products with modern design aesthetics. That’s something I’d like to explore more as a side project. We’ll see what happens. It’s so unpredictable. Even starting out, it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen. Give me a call in about a year or so and we’ll see where we are.
SUPPORT KOROMIKO AND AID TO ARTISANS!
Looking for one-of-a-kind gifts? The Koromiko Holiday Shop is live! Choose from beautiful handmade ceramic tree decorations, lovely red and white linens from Strasbourg, and some awesome handmade gift boxes choc full of handmade goods that your dear ones would love to receive! Take the stress out of putting a gift together by choosing a pre-packaged, eco-friendly gift box. All items are handmade and the gift boxes are 100% consumer recycled kraft cardboard, tied with black grosgrain ribbon made from recycled plastic bottles. Give consciously this holiday season and support small, independent businesses!