Me to We - Q&A

1. What made you want to be an entrepreneur?

“ME to WE is driven by the belief that economic opportunities are the best way to break the cycle of poverty. We work within a social enterprise space that is made up of dynamic individuals who are motivated and challenged to make an impact and a difference in the world. Take Artisans, for instance.

In Maasai culture, women are responsible for much of the hard work—collecting water, tending to children, running the household—but men were the only ones working outside the home. Women had little financial or social autonomy. Increasingly, we’re seeing studies that prove women earning outside income helps local economies grow. When women contribute financially to their families, their status and inclusion in decision-making within the family and the larger community rises significantly. Realizing their earning potential also boosts local and even national economies. Artisans is a business-based solution to women’s empowerment.

I’ve learned so much from the mamas in Kenya, who were entrepreneurs even before Artisans launched—perhaps the greatest lesson is to never underestimate the human ability to respond to opportunity. That to me is true entrepreneurship.”

- Roxanne Joyal, Founder, ME to WE Artisans

2. Biggest fear in getting started

“We actually tried to start the beading program back in 2003. I took a sabbatical from my studies at Oxford and no student had ever requested that, but I condensed my courses so I could spend one term in Kenya.

The beading program didn’t take off because the organization wasn’t firmly established in the country yet. It took an additional four years to build trust and obtain the knowledge we needed from local elders and community members. Our biggest fear was that we would impose a program that didn’t work—we were careful to let the community lead us in the process in order to overcome the cultural hurdles of women working outside the home and to establish a work schedule on their terms. We wanted the women to feel ownership over their work, so it took time. The Maasai have a saying, slowly by slowly. We couldn’t rush this or take for granted that we knew what was best.

Now Artisans is a true partnership between ME to WE and the mamas; it’s been a process of building an incredible team, made possible by so many amazing people in Kenya and Toronto. We’ve achieved a lot working in Kenya, and now we’re bringing the Artisans line to Ecuador.”

- Roxanne Joyal, Founder, ME to WE Artisans

3. Who/what inspires you the most?

“What I love about ME to WE is that we work within a business framework, but success within our company means success for so many people—our employees, customers, guests of ME to WE Trips and other stakeholders here and overseas. Every time we have a win, it’s a win that creates a lot of good. That’s inspiring.”

- Roxanne Joyal, Founder, ME to WE Artisans

“I would definitely say the strength of the women we work with, both in Ecuador and Kenya. I appreciate that they're all strong women with distinct personalities and opinions. I try and create a collaborative environment and welcome their input. I’m especially inspired when I get to see a new project or product line come to life—especially when it is something that showcases their traditional techniques in a way that is really fresh and new.

-Kessa Laxton, ME to WE jewellery designer

4. Best advice for aspiring designers

“Trust your instinct, and your design voice will come through. There’s so much visual information out there—especially with things like Pinterest and Instagram, everything is at your fingertips—which means it’s easy to get lost. Trust yourself and your own process and you’ll create something that’s unique to you.”

-Kessa Laxton, ME to WE jewellery designer

 5. Most unexpected thing about yourself

“I’ve learned how much I have in common with the women who craft our product in Kenya and Ecuador, not only as a maker a working mother. I was in Kenya recently for a design trip to work with the mamas at our Atelier in Nairobi. On these trips, I leave my kids at home, which can be really challenging, but it’s also really freeing to be able to focus completely on the creative process. I’m used to juggling all of the demands of home and work, and this was an opportunity to just focus. It was the same for the mamas—when they work in the ME to WE Atelier, they are able to really immerse themselves in their work.  Even though our day-to-day lives may be different, we have that commonality as women, in our desire to do meaningful work while providing for our families.”

-Kessa Laxton, ME to WE jewellery designer