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Conversations with the Inspiring Heidi Ledger

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heidi Ledger.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Heidi. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Thread Spun has been a dream of mine for many years. The seed was originally planted when I was a college student in Toronto, Canada, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world. I was exposed to a wealth of new cultures and ideas, and began to learn more about immigration issues through a volunteer position with Amnesty International. These experiences ultimately led me to pursue a career working in nonprofit organizations and I spent five years with a refugee resettlement agency locally here in San Diego. During this time, I worked to help refugees secure employment and further their careers. Our clients were very diverse and of course each individual is unique, but most were experiencing at least some barriers to employment including lack of proficiency in English, transferable skills, references and transportation. Despite an intense desire to work and to integrate into our local community, refugees (and especially refugee women) were (and are) struggling to do so.

Through this work, I also learned more about the cultural traditions of people from around the world and noted the rich artisan traditions of many of our clients. One of my first clients and her family were Karen people (an ethnic minority group) from Burma and we ended up becoming very close. The matriarch of the family would weave colorful and intricate textiles by hand on a simple loom on her living room floor. I was always impressed by her craft and the finished products. During one visit, as she was weaving, it became obvious to me that there was an opportunity here to create fair wage employment for artisans-and not just for resettled refugees here in San Diego, but also for other vulnerable artisan women around the world. I began creating a business plan that would allow me to combine my professional background with my appreciation for artisan-produced textiles. When I left my position with the resettlement agency following the birth of my son, I ordered my first shipment of artisan-textiles woven by refugees from Burma living in Thailand and Thread Spun was born.

Our first refugee employee, Pleh, was the daughter of the Karen matriarch I mentioned, and she sewed our first collection of surfboard bags on a giant, old-fashioned sewing machine she bought at Goodwill when she arrived in the United States. After she moved to another state, we were lucky to find our two current employees, Shakila and Farida, sisters-in-law from Afghanistan. We’ve also begun working with other artisan partners abroad, and now source fair-trade and eco-friendly, artisan textiles from Mali, Burma and Guatemala to incorporate into all of our products. We are still making completely unique, one-of-a-kind surfboard bags in short-, mid- and long-board sizes, and have also introduced a line of foldover clutches. As we continue into the year, we are planning to introduce new products, including zippered pouches and other designs, and hope to hire more refugee artisans!

Has it been a smooth road?
I’ve experienced many challenges in the journey to creating Thread Spun, and in fact, I continue to experience challenges every day. To name a few… communicating with vendors abroad that don’t speak your language, learning how to sew on a machine, building a website, learning how to file taxes for a business, completing basic accounting tasks, re-learning how to use Facebook, math… no really. Because my educational and professional backgrounds have nothing to do with design, e-commerce or sales (I could go on and on), I’ve often felt that I don’t have the knowledge or skills I need to succeed with this brand. I have always known I have the passion and the desire to build something great, but I am constantly asking myself if that is enough.

Self-doubt can be such a buzz kill. The urge to compare yourself or what you create to the creations of others can be similarly debilitating. What I have learned is that first and foremost, you need to start. And what I mean is that no matter what it is you want to create, nothing is going to happen until you make it happen. So even if it’s a case of “fake it til you make it”, start faking it, and things will happen. Some will be good and others bad, but you learn from the bad and are encouraged by the good. I spent years with the idea for Thread Spun in my head, but was too scared to actually create anything out of fear it wouldn’t be “good enough”. Once I took those first steps, whether it was purchasing fabrics, sewing patterns, or creating social media content, I made plenty of mistakes, but I made a lot of good, too. I started receiving positive feedback, and making sales, and being able to offer fair wages and enjoyable work to some pretty rad ladies. And it all feels so good and empowering that when I make those mistakes I am still humbled, but I keep pushing on and just try something new.

Also, reach out for help. Utilize the knowledge and experience of your friends and family. My brother understands accounting, my husband understands retail, one of my best friends is great with social media and blogging. I ask them questions all the time. Random strangers? Reach out to them too. I am always contacting other local makers and artisans and learning from their business models and advice. Some of them have even become my friends. They’ve taught me about natural dyes, importing issues, how to run a successful makers market, etc. The wider your circle, the greater your opportunities will be.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Thread Spun story. Tell us more about the business.
Thread Spun creates surfboard bags, clutches and other accessories that are sewn by hand by former refugees resettled in San Diego. Our products always feature fair-trade and environmentally-friendly materials, and artisan-produced textiles. Our mission at Thread Spun is to utilize your investment in our goods to create jobs, empower women and preserve unique cultures, all while protecting our earth.

I’m proud of our brand, period. I sought out to create a business that’s primary goal was to create good, and I believe in my heart that we’ve done that. When you purchase something from Thread Spun, you’re not just buying something beautiful. You’re investing in the well-being of vulnerable women around the world, and you’ve done so without harming the earth. You’ve created a market for international artisan women to sell their textiles and receive fair wages for their work. You’ve created fair-paying jobs for resettled refugee women locally here in San Diego. You have protected the environment by supporting a brand that utilizes environmentally-friendly dyes, materials and production methods. And, you have furthered the work of Circle of Health International, a 501(c)(3) organization helping mothers and their babies, to which we donate 25% of all of our profits.

I’m excited to be one of many brands now focusing on people and the environment over profit. Many brands are now demonstrating a greater commitment to ethical and responsible production and we’re proud to be a part of this shift.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
Well, on a general level globally, women are experiencing obstacles to leadership ranging from discriminatory laws and institutions, to attitudes and gender stereotypes, to lack of access to educational and professional opportunities, to a lack of access to healthcare. I think most women can identify with the feeling of being marginalized, whether that be through political, economic or social systems. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman from Burma or Afghanistan or San Diego, you’ve experienced at least some kind of barrier to leadership and full participation in society that men don’t have to deal with, especially if you belong to a minority group. It’s obvious in our current political climate and with the popularity of movements like the Women’s March, #MeToo, and intersectional feminism that women in the U.S. continue to feel the effects of marginalization, but that we are also using this shared experience as a platform for creating change. Having just given birth to a daughter a few weeks ago, I’m more excited than ever to continue to witness and be a part of this progression. I hope that Thread Spun can continue to further the well-being of even more women around the world and increase their access to opportunities.

Pricing:

  • Our one-of-a-kind surfboard bags range in price from $110 to $220, based on size and artisan textile.
  • Our foldover clutches cost $85.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Oveth Martinez, Takashi Tomita

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