Making a difference through design

Shannon Sheedy knew by the end of her 20s that she wanted to do something that was meaningful and gave her a sense of purpose, but she didn't anticipate she would discover a business idea while travelling around India and Nepal for a year with her husband Mick. The plight of Tibetan refugees motivated Shannon and Mick to return to Australia in 2004 and they set about designing The Dharma Door's first product - a reinterpretation of the culture's traditional fabric prayer bag, now fondly known as The Everything Pouch. Motivated by the difference she was making and the impact of placing ongoing orders, Shannon continued searching for new products and people to work with. Her search led her to Bangladesh where she met a wonderful not-for-profit NGO group who genuinely supported and cared for its artisans. 16 years later, working from their home studio in the hills surrounding Byron Bay, Shannon and Mick have expanded their range and their impact collaborating with female artisans from rural communities around the world to create fair trade, natural and handmade homewares and accessories.
“Our ultimate goal is to genuinely empower as many people as possible out of the cycle of poverty. We partner with fair trade organisations in Bangladesh that focus on women's empowerment,” says Shannon.
Shannon and Mick visit communities and observe the skills and the raw materials available there. With this knowledge, they create contemporary designs in collaboration with their artisan partners so that they're not imposing their designs on them.
“By working with not-for-profit NGOs on the ground, and keeping a close eye on what our customers enjoy, we have developed an approach that honours both artisans and buyers,” says Shannon.
As one of the first Australian businesses to be endorsed as a Fair Trader of Australia, Shannon and Mick always exceed the local and international fair trade standards. The not-for-profit NGOs they partner with are members of the World Fair Trade Organisation and are regularly demonstrating their efforts to meet or work towards the globally-recognised Ten Principles of Fair Trade. The Dharma Door artisans work alongside other women in shared community workspaces or from home, and although they are highly skilled, they come from the poorest and most disadvantages communities in Bangladesh. By working with The Dharma Door, these women are breaking the poverty cycle by using their traditional weaving and craft skills. They set the price for each piece based on the time it takes to make it; intricacy of design; and the cost of the raw materials.
“We believe that fair trade has the power to transform lives. It allows people to use their own skills to plan for their futures.”
Through long term partnerships with the artisans, they're able to make significant and meaningful changes in their lives such as choosing to send their children to school and in some cases university. Consistent work translates to secure employment for artisans, which in turn provides financial security and the ability to educate families; access health care; and plan for the future.
“It's widely understood that when women are economically empowered, they make financial decisions that will benefit not only their families, but entire communities.”
The ultimate goal for The Dharma Door and mission is to support as many artisans as possible and to empower women out of poverty. “I can't imagine doing business any other way,” says Sharron.
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