Those with a penchant for exotic crafts will be able to indulge their tastes while bettering the livelihood of their makers thanks to Ezaria, a student-developed e-bazaar that imports products from artisans in developing countries and sells them in the U.S.
Ezaria was started by a group of Harvard students that teamed up with students from five other colleges.
Half of Ezaria’s profits will go to charity organizations, which the group hopes will help improve the artisans’ living standards.
Chief Executive Officer and President Alexander S. Captain ’06 initially set out to provide relief and aid to people in Iraq, where he has family.
“The [Iraqi] economy right now is paralyzed, and I wanted to provide people with things to do...they are out of work and have no market to sell their products,” he said.
Captain recruited other founding members, resulting in a staff of ten hailing from Harvard, MIT, Babson, Boston University (BU), and Northwestern.
The Harvard staff includes Captain, Vice President of Marketing Deena S. Shakir ’08, Vice President of Finance May Habib ’07, who is also a Crimson editor, Vice President for North Africa Ahmed K. El-Hoshy ’06, Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa Samuel M. Kabue ’06, Vice President for South Asia Dhruva K. Kothari ’06, and Regional Director for North Africa Mahmoud T. Fawzi ’07.
Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq then deteriorated and shipments could not be arranged, Captain said. So the founding members extended the idea to importing jewelry, home décor, and artwork from other underdeveloped countries.
“With the number of products we’re bringing from Kenya, we can increase the standard of living of the average Kenyan artisan by over 20 percent every year,” Captain said.
Products from Egypt have already arrived, and goods are currently in transit from India and Kenya. Ezaria also plans on shipping products from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and possibly Albania and Ecuador, Captain said.
Louie Y. Huang, a junior at Northwestern who helped design Ezaria’s website, believes Ezaria has a unique business plan in targeting specific customers who want specific goods.
“What’s even more interesting is that Ezaria is committed to giving part of their profit to those artisans in those countries from which they’re importing goods...allowing for their sustainability,” he said.
Ezaria is in a league of its own, according to the founders’ research, Shakir said. “It’s a business with a social conscience...as non-profit you can get without being non-profit,” she said.
Fifty percent of Ezaria’s profits will be donated to UNICEF, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and charities within the artisans’ countries.
“We care a lot about children and education,” Shakir said. “We believe that’s where you start with helping countries get to the developing stage.”
Ali H. Mohammad, a second-year graduate student in computer science at MIT, worked with Huang on the website, slated to debut in mid-February.
An online survey will help Ezaria’s founders determine prices, which they emphasize will be reasonable.
Friends and family of staff act as Ezaria’s agents, taking photos of products, recording dimensions and prices, and shipping them to Ezaria, which then sells them, Captain explained.
“We were able to get transportation prices down very low,” he said.
As an extra perk, Ezaria will offer free next-day shipping to Harvard students, and is also strongly considering the same deal for students at Babson, BU, and MIT, Shakir said.
To its founders, Ezaria’s future as a national company looks promising. Thousands of dollars have already been raised from investments and they hope to work with 15 countries by the end of the year and at least a 100 different artisans in those countries, and sell their products all over the U.S., Captain said.
“We...hope to bring Eastern culture into the Western home...we think it’s going to benefit both worlds,” Mohammad said.
—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at email@example.com.