ArtZoco is trying to give artisans in the developing world a more direct channel to sell their wares — and a more direct channel to the money that comes from the sale of their products.

Founded by former Peace Corps volunteers, ArtZoco is an e-commerce platform that gives artisans in remote locations, who may not be tech savvy or have a bank account, the opportunity to sell their crafts.

Cofounders Julie Frieswyk and Vince Hartman served in Moldova and Peru, respectively. They both met local artisans who were making beautiful, handcrafted products that their own communities couldn’t afford. However, when they sold them abroad, they only earned 20 percent of the final cost of the product — intermediaries took the rest.

“This was not sustainable for the artisans, and we saw an opportunity to create a platform designed for sellers and their limitations in developing countries,” Frieswyk told VentureBeat. “In doing so, we open up a path to connect these artisans with the rest of the world, so that the artisans have the freedom to post what they want, at the prices they want, with the freedom to work for themselves. They are no longer dependent on foreigners coming to them.”

Selling handcrafted items and materials from around the world is a big e-commerce trend right now. Consumers are interested in unique items with a story around them, and the Internet has opened up more models and channels for distribution.

Etsy and Ten Thousand Villages a name-brand players here, but smaller companies like Cuyana, Soko, and Lauren Conrad’s recently launched “Little Market” have a similar goal.

ArtZoco’s marketplace is self-serving, and the company offers guidance on areas like how to photograph your items or what prices are realistic.

What really makes ArtZoco stand out is the unique approach to payments — ArtZoco drew inspiration from companies like oDesk and Elance, which are successful in the developing world. It gives artisans the option to get paid with one of Paynoeer’s prepaid debit cards.

Artisans sign up for Payoneer, a debit card is mailed to them, and using that card, they can transfer funds from ArtZoco and withdraw money at any ATM without needing a bank account.

Frieswyk said this approach means the artisans get to keep a much larger portion of the money from the sales, and it is the most direct platform out there for consumers to shop from craftspeople in the developing world, and vice versa.

“Eliminating the need to physically travel to the artisans to procure goods dramatically increases the scalability of global commerce,” she said. “Hopefully in a year or two we’ll have hundreds of thousands of artisans set up and selling their products around the world. There will no longer be a need for smaller stores to curate and buy goods from the artisans before them selling to the end consumers.”

ArtZoco currently features artisans from Peru, Moldova, Nicaragua, and Ukraine. It is based in Ithaca, New York.


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