[Visionaries in Craft] Nest

[Visionaries in Craft] Nest

Rebecca van Bergen
Published on Thursday, July 7, 2022. This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of American Craft Magazine.
group of artists sitting around a table in india working on a series of black white and yellow patterned textiles

Photo courtesy of Nest.

Inspired by Muhammad Yunus’s work microlending to small businesses, in 2006 the 24-year-old Rebecca van Bergen, armed with a master’s degree in social work, decided to aid female craft artisans globally “beyond the creation of small debt,” as she puts it.

Craft, she realized, had long been crucial for women’s employment, yet was underestimated as a driver of economic growth, cultural preservation, community engagement, and gender equity. Meanwhile, consumers were demanding the handmade, the “artisanal.” From that confluence of factors, Nest was born.

“Our work with artisans has given us the knowledge, relationships, and credibility to be the expert that major global brands turn to when it comes to handcraft,” says van Bergen. Nest’s Ethical Handcraft Program sets standards for wages, working environments, and representation for artisans and lesser-skilled handworkers in the developing world, who often work in their homes, not in factories. The Makers United program provides American makers with business development help, with an emphasis on BIPOC communities. All told, Nest works with 1,506 small businesses in 120 countries (above in India), supporting 279,000 craftspeople and, indirectly, more than a million family and community members.

portrait of rebecca van bergen

Portrait of Rebecca van Bergen by Wesley Law.

Portrait of textile artist stella mae pettway smiling in front of blue and red quilt

Portrait of Stella Mae Pettway by Stacy K. Allen Photography.

The renowned quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, partnered with Nest and the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, which supports Southern Black artists. That synergy helped 20 quilters set up Etsy shops via training programs in digital and financial literacy, product photography, and more. The resulting sales testify to the power of partnership: more than $522,000 has flowed into the community. Before the initiative, the quilters were making $1,403 per month; now they’re averaging $5,875.

buildanest.org | @buildanest

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stack of four issues of american craft with the summer 2022 issue on top