A few words about the nature and work of Mary & Martha … Agents For Change
Founded in 2007 with the express intention of running an ethical, fair and transparent business that has a primary objective of supporting the growth of small and micro indigenous businesses in Mongolia.
Mary & Martha is a company that stands or falls on the products it sells; it has to make a profit to be self sustaining and to have the cash flow to fund the expanding business and those of its artisans. We believe that we should show ethical, fair and transparent businesses can compete head to head with main stream businesses, without major donations and without running at a loss. Ethical, fair and transparent because that is in our DNA and because many said it was not possible in Mongolia. We follow the principles of “Unashamedly Ethical” personally and corporately (Unashamedly Ethical Link) and we adhere to the 10 Fair Trade principles used by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO). We were members of WFTO from 2011 to 2017 but have recently resigned our membership - ask the owners if you want to know more about this decision.
Currently most of our business is in the hand craft or semi hand made product sectors. These sectors tend to be non-automated, using hand tools or basic cottage industry type machines and so employs more people to step up production rather than buying more machinery. We try to take skills and cultural aspects passed on from generation to generation and utilise them to make products that appeal to other cultures, without loosing the indigenous aspects. But this does not always make a living for people so new skills need to be developed to produce products that a wider audience desires. We encourage a number of our artisans to see themselves as more than hand craft workers - actually artists in their own right, which brings out more self expression.
We support artisan business growth by helping them to design and develop products that meet customer needs, advise on production techniques, finance and pricing, HR and productivity. We are their shop front through our retail shop in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia where customers see and feel the products and hear the stories of the artisans behind the products and how the products are produced. Our relationships are long term and transparent partnerships.
We contract with our artisans each year, often taking up to 90% of their yearly production through 8 - 10 orders during the year. We encourage them to become self sustaining in relation to finance but we still provide up to 50% advances on orders and often give long term advances so that materials can be bought when available or equipment purchases can be made. Some advances can last up to 2 years when we are effectively funding business start ups. No interest is charged on advances. Advances are gradually paid off at a reasonable rate through the purchase of products.
In the early years we grew rapidly, but even after ten years, growth is about 20-30% year on year. In 2016 we increased our shop space (now about 220 square meters across two shops) to accommodate growth and to make it possible to take on more artisans and to introduce more new products. Profits do not always follow growth!
Currently we partner with 4 SMEs, 5 Cooperatives, a number of NGO projects and a raft of self employed individuals linking our economically to some 150+ folk.
Our hope is that customers buy our products because of the quality and the usability at an affordable price, covering a range of budgets. We hope the icing on the cake is for customers to discover how our business model works and to learn more about the artisans behind the products - an ethical and fair success.
Bill & Irene, Owners