Shopping with purpose



When the war in Bosnia began in 1992, Lejla Radoncic worked for a travel agency in Sarajevo. Finding herself in Tuzla, the town her husband worked in, the day the war began; she remained there for four years. Two years later, she joined Norwegian People’s Aid to help manage one of the first refugee settlements in the region. She worked with thousands of traumatized and displaced women, many from Srebrenica, where thousands of Muslims were massacred or expelled by Bosnian Serbs in 1995. Most of the refugees were illiterate, but all knew how to knit, so when a church ordered 1,500 sweaters a project she initiated as group therapy turned into a business. The women filled the order in six weeks, and Bosnian Handicrafts was born.

Bosnian Handicrafts is a modern production and retail business that trains and employs female refugees displaced by the Bosnian war. Founded amid social and economic devastation, it provides sustainable income for women who suffered the loss of their families and homes during the war. The company’s handmade products include clothing, fashion accessories, home furnishings and traditional Bosnian crafts, and are marketed globally to top international designers and retailers. The organization already employs 500 women of different religious and ethnic groups, including Croats, Muslims, Serbs and Kosovars. It provides women who have experienced trauma and hardship with an opportunity to support themselves financially, while continuing to nurture their cultural traditions. The women apply their knitting, crocheting and embroidery skills to create products that appeal to international and domestic markets. Each year, they introduce new product lines at international trade shows and reach customers worldwide via its e-commerce website. Clients include French designers Agnes B and Sophie Digard, American retailer Neiman Marcus, and the Sundance film festival. Lejla Radoncic dreams that Bosnian Handicrafts will becomes an internationally recognized fair trade organization for products made by Bosnian women, which will continue to provide them with a fair and vital income. The women have regained their dignity and self-confidence, she says; it seems difficult not to believe her.

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