William Fitzgerald and Sana Saleem were so impressed with the unique qualities of accessories, clothes and other goods they came across on their travels through Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka they decided to open an online fair-trade store specialising in such wares.
The aim of the Desi Store - " desi" is a slang term for the people, cultures and products of the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora - is to market these goods and ensure the artisans who created them get their fair share of the profits.
"We fell in love with the exquisite embroidery, the rich colours and the artisans' skills. We came across a lot of small organisations making beautiful products and felt we could help sell them," says Fitzgerald, a Google employee based in Hong Kong.
Saleem is a Karachi-based journalist and executive director of the Pakistan human rights advocacy group Bolo Bhi.
"To ensure most of the money goes to the craftsmen and women, we decided to build an e-commerce store that not only sold their products, but told their stories," says Fitzgerald. "We thought that would be the best way to give credit where it is due."
Fitzgerald says all profits from the Desi Store, which neither charges sellers fees nor pays its founders any wages, will go directly to the artisans and their organisations.
The store's suppliers include Basha in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which produces hand-stitched kantha blankets made from saris, and accessories firm Akorshon, also in Dhaka. It has also sourced hand-embroidered leather handbags by Bliss in Punjab province, Pakistan, while another Pakistani concern, Al-Falah Trust, offers, through the site, hand-embroidered, mirror-embellished products including cushions, table runners and bags.
The online store www.desi-store.org is being launched today with a party at Boom Gallery (48 Sai Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 3428 2121) from 7pm to 10pm, and the event is open to the public.