Day 9 – Ara Collective

On the ninth day of Christmas, The Archibald Project gave to me a shop that is such a treat to the eyes – Ara Collective! You will definitely want to read more of what founder and designer, Sarah Contrucci Smith, has to say about Ara and shop her store for the most beautiful Christmas gifts! 

Where are you from and why did you start Ara?
My name is Sarah Contrucci Smith and I am the founder and designer of Ara (“are-ah”) Collective. I grew up bouncing around the Midwest (where my parents are from) but moving to Papua, Indonesia from age 7-15 where my dad was a bush pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). We returned to the States to Southern California, which I claim as my “home” in the US. (Although I still have a healthy love for the Green Bay Packers and fried rice!)

What's your mission and vision for Ara and why are you passionate about it? 
Ara Collective collaborates with artisans to curate handcrafted pieces, blending traditional craftsmanship with modern style. We travel to uncommon places in search of vibrant designs and time-tested techniques that reflect the communities from which they originate. Each collection is made in limited quantities to preserve its authentic detail, offering beautiful and meaningful products for home and traveler. In addition to paying above fair wages for their work, we invest 10% from every sale to help provide education and health care for the artisans and their children.
We believe every person – despite the social, economic or geographic situation they were born into – deserves the freedom to discover, to dream and to thrive. Ara is a brand born out of a love for travel, finding exceptional talent in distant places and discovering creative processes that are the heart of a culture. I believe these talented craftsmen and women – as with all human beings – have value and the right to freedom. I think good business, that is done differently and values both profit (sustain ability) and people, can make good changes in the world that empower others, open up global trade, and allow every person to build the future they want.

What is your favorite part about your business?
My favorite part of doing this the traveling and working directly with the artisans. I love wandering through local marketplaces and seeing where it takes me... stumbling upon exquisite traditional designs, meeting the artisans, seeing them in action, and rethinking the colors and products that will showcase these rich, cultural designs in a new and fresh way. Not matter how many times I’ve seen the natural dyeing and loom weaving techniques, it floors me. The process, the skill, the significance of every line, the quality! There is such extraordinary talent in tucked away places of the world, and it’s the kind of talent that has been perfected for generations and holds so much meaning. I love seeing the pride the artisans have in their craft. They are experts in what they do, which makes working with them a fun and truly collaborative process.

What is the hardest part of your business?
My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how to scale Ara Collective up and lead it in a direction that is beneficial for the artisans, our customers, and the heart of Ara. We’re growing quickly, which is exciting but also challenging. There’s a million ways to go but it’s hard to know what has the most positive impact in the long run. I think it can paralyze you but seeing the excitement the artisans have with every new and larger order is a constant motivation.

What advice do you have for people out there about shopping ethically?
Shopping ethically is expensive, which can make it hard to do as much as you want. But it’s a powerful action. Not just because you’re supporting artisans (which is great in itself) but because you’re voting for quality, processes, and values that will drive the entire marketplace. The more you do that, the more the entire tide rises and changes the way things are done, the way people are being treated, and the future of consumerism. So, shop selectively. Go for quality, pieces you truly love, and values you identify with.

Why is it important to support small and/or ethical businesses? 
Let’s be honest, running an ethical business is hard. The profit margins are small because you’re spending more on things like paying people good wages and using socially conscious packaging materials. Your competition is other businesses that are doing it cheaper and faster and sometimes use terms like “artisan made” (but not “fair wages”) for their marketing. But small, ethical businesses are doing it differently based on values, not profit.
For Ara, our collection is made up of pieces that are each handpicked as a reflection of the land, the rich heritage of the culture and the makers that have been mastering their craft for generations. It’s a collective of artisans who, in a sea of industrial production, create timeless pieces that tell their stories. It provides for their families and futures, and it does so in a way that they can have pride in, a voice through, and a sense of contributing to the world in a meaningful way. And I think that’s something we all want and deserve.

We have loved getting to read how you got started and see photos of the beautiful work you have created alongside artists around the world. How can we continue to follow and how can we shop your products? 
Ara's website & shop is  & our social media handles are: