Hemp Sisters & Earth Divas
Hemp Sisters was started in 1996 by Cindy Shaffer, who was making some hemp jewelry with her daughter. Cindy and her daughter often made jewelry together, and they began to sell it locally in local shops. Cindy came up with the name as she and her daughter began to call themselves the "hemp sisters." Cindy's husband Dave built the first Hemp Sisters website, and over time, they added lots of different items made with hemp from all over the world. The website was really well designed, and the pictures of the products looked terrific, but it was very hard to maintain. Dave worked full time and Cindy was involved with lots of other activities, and it just became too much. In 2001, Dave and Cindy listed the website for sale, and Ed Edmundson bought the business and the inventory. I'm Ed, and I've been working with Hemp Sisters ever since. Hemp Sisters has evolved a great deal over the last few years. About two years ago, our little family moved from just outside Philadelphia to New York City. My wife works full time in the hotel industry and offers me the opportunity to work full time on Hemp Sisters.
Our World Today
Our goal hasn't really changed, but it has probably expanded a little. When we started, I hoped to offer the widest selection of the best possible products made with hemp and offer them at the lowest possible price with the highest level of customer support. Over time, I felt we should expand beyond making just items with hemp and also make items with other natural fibers including nettle, silk, wool and organic cotton. But importantly, we wanted to the focus to be on handmade, fair-trade items. We try not to source product out of China, although we do offer some clothing from China. Our hope is to have all clothing made in Nepal, and we have made some progress toward this goal.
We currently source food and bath items from Canada, the U.S. and Germany. Twine from Hungary and hopefully soon from Romania, and some beads from India. We have hemp jewelry from Columbia and the Philippines, and we'll soon offer some hemp handbags and pouches from Thailand. One thing that has not changed is that I'm still the only "employee". I use the term employee loosely. I've never taken a salary or paid myself a wage. I've only invested in Hemp Sisters in the hope that it will one day be able to support itself. That is the ultimate goal.
As we have grown, we've outsourced the non-essential backoffice operations like packing and shipping, accounting and first level customer support. We've also changed the focus of the business. Dave and Cindy had a really nice retail website, and they would keep some inventory on hand and sometimes would order products as the orders came in. My hope was to make Hemp Sisters into a larger company that would source elevate the benefits and uses of hemp to a larger market and expand the general awareness and appreciation of the handmade, fair trade items. The focus of Hemp Sisters became selling to other retail stores and that remains our focus. But things are changing quite rapidly…
What the Future Holds
Our product name is changing from Hemp Sisters to Earth Divas. This transition should be complete sometime next year. Some product will still have Hemp Sister name on it until the transition is complete. We're changing our name so only items with the Earth Divas name will be handmade, natural fiber, fair trade items. We currently have some items with the Hemp Sisters name that are made in the US and elsewhere and are not fair trade.
Earth Divas products are handmade, natural fiber, fair trade accessories made by women for women from around the world. We currently have items from Nepal and are adding jewelry from Columbia and hemp bags from Thailand. We hope that by next year we can offer products from several other countries.
Our natural fiber, handmade accessories from Kathmandu, Nepal are made by working women's co-ops and small woman-owned cottage industry producers. We work directly with the people that make these items. We help them source supplies like zippers, rings and buckles, and provide feedback on designs and offer suggestions to improve quality. We work directly with and pay the people that make the items, we don't work through a middleman, which is fairly common. My wife is from India, and each year for the last four years she and I have spent about a month in India, and I have spent a couple of weeks in Nepal working on new designs and trying to figure out better ways to make the core items that we will always have, like wallets, backpacks, hats and coin purses.
In Nepal, the hemp fabric that we use is from the remote Western Region of Nepal. It grows wild in the lower Himalayan Mountain regions. It is not cultivated or farmed as in all other countries. The villagers in this remote area cut the hemp down by hand and soften the hemp in water. Other larger processing countries use chemicals and softeners to get a consistent, smooth, refined finish. Nepali hemp is a bit rougher and uneven and has some color variations. The stalk of the hemp plant is then brushed into a wool like material and then spun by hand into a strand of twine. The twine is then woven by hand on a pit loom into a piece of fabric that is 1 meter by 3 meters long. The fabric is carted down the mountains on foot and to the nearest road where it is brought into Kathmandu. In Kathmandu, the craftswomen buy the fabric and make the unique and beautiful creations that we offer.
It may seem weird that we have silk and wool items on a hemp site, but the ladies that make the hemp items also make the silk and wool items, and they are considered fair trade so we added them. Our plan is to separate these on the site under the Earth Divas brand name and then eventually have an Earth Divas website that will carry all the handmade, fair-trade, natural fiber items.
Our recycled silk items are of the highest possible quality because they are 100% silk. The silk is from the waste cuttings in India where silk sari's are made. Most other recycled silk items contain other man-made fibers like nylon, which is soft, but not natural. Like the recycled silk items, the felted wool items are made by a working women's co-op. The ladies we work with create the designs and make the items for us. The wool is imported from New Zealand.