Two Thumbprint businesses empower women, work to bring jobs to Detroit and South Africa

Two Thumbprint businesses empower women, work to bring jobs to Detroit and South Africa
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Becky Riess and Kris Engle have put their thumbprints firmly in Eastern Market and South Africa.

The women run two businesses – Thumbprint Artifacts and Thumbprint Fulfillment, both of which have a particular desire to help women in the world succeed.

Friends since they were 10, co-founders Becky Riess (right) and Kris Engle (left) have helped improve the businesses and lives of many artisans around the world by providing jobs for men and women previously in poverty.

Thumbprint Artifacts, which they opened in 2012, brings in handmade items created by women in rural villages in South Africa and is part of Eastern Market’s Sunday Street Market. The current product line consists of candles, linens, ceramics, and other home décor items. Just like every thumbprint, each product is unique.

“Unemployment in South Africa is so high, and Kris said there were so many beautiful things there,” says Riess. She says she likes that the women are usually upbeat and “approach life so joyously.” They even dance as they work.

Unemployment in that nation is 40 percent, according to company’s website. Of all the South African women making items for Thumbprint Artifacts, 90 percent are single mothers supporting an extended family. Each item they sell positively impacts employment security and growth to build sustainable and profitable businesses.

Riess and Engle saw an opportunity to help by bringing their work here to sell. They are also offered the women daycare, but the artisans said they had family to help with that and instead would like educational programs and ways to improve their craft that would better the lives of their families.

Once a ceramics high school art teacher from the eastern part of South Africa, Toni Burton started Zizamele Ceramics in 2008 with a mission to help women who showed artistic talents.

Riess says they are adjusting to fulfill those requests.

Engle lives in South Africa where she goes to markets in different villages looking for artisans. They currently have around 250, all of whom produce fair-trade works. Riess lives in metro Detroit.

Thumbprint Artifacts now provides products to 400 wholesale customers in addition to customers on its e-commerce site.

Customers include:

  • Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  • Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
  • Anne founded Decorative Details, which specializes in reclaiming, up-cycling and re-purposing wooden and resin items to create its products.

    American Folk Art Museum

  • Museum of New Mexico Foundation
  • Princeton University Art Museum
  • U.S. Holocaust Museum

Obviously, they were had a winning formula.

“Orders were filling up in our living room,” says Riess.

With so many crafts going around the world, it isn’t surprising the two women looked for a fulfillment company.

The search had some disastrous results.

Julian Keyser of Julian’s Hand Painted Linens and Ceramics provides employment for many, especially single mothers, who otherwise would not have an income to support themselves and their families.

In one case, items for the holidays were lost in early December and not found again until January. Sales were lost and Riess and Engle had to pay for a year of storage.

Realizing others had experienced the same kinds of disasters they decided to start Thumbprint Fulfillment.

Located at 2448 Riopelle in Eastern Market, it acts as a middleman for small companies by taking care of distribution concerns so their clients can focus on their business. For instance, some items may need special care or require a personal touch. In other cases, a company may have  a large number of orders to fulfill, which can become difficult for a business to give all the care needed and make the product.

Thumbprint Fulfillment offers customized services such as handwritten notes, gift wrapping, follow-up calls or e-mails and marketing materials.

Thumbprint Fulfillment offers customized services such as handwritten notes, gift wrapping, follow-up calls or e-mails and marketing materials. This kind of personalization is something larger fulfillment companies often do not offer. The more minute or personalized the concern, the more likely it is to be overlooked.

Other services include:

  • Warehousing
  • Pick and pack orders
  • Inventory management
  • Kitting and assembly of product lines
  • 800 number service with friendly customer service
  • Same day order fulfillment
  • Shopping cart integration
  • Payment processing
  • Managing Returns
  • Monthly sales reports with accounting & e-commerce integrations

There is also shop at the front of the warehouse, which sells products from Thumbprint Artifacts. While that brings in some extra cash, it also shows clients they are business women as well and have an intimate knowledge of their needs.

Thumbprint Fulfillment has only been around since August and only has a handful of employees and six clients. Riess says they are talking with more potential customers.

As the holidays approach, Riess and Engle are looking to add more workers and say they hope to bring on more beyond just the holidays. Job inquiries can be made at becky@thumbprintartifacts.com.

While Thumbprint Artifacts and Thumbprint Fulfillment have different business goals, Riess says they both have one mission – “To empower women on both sides of the world.”

To find out more about the artisans please click here.

For more information on Thumbprint Artifacts please click here or go to Facebook. For more information on Thumbprint Fulfillment please click here.

Editor’s Note: This small business feature is sponsored by Bank of America. To learn more about Bank of America’s many programs and resources for small business owners visit: https://www.bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/business-financing.go.

Small shops are the mainstay of our neighborhoods. Open the door and look inside and you will discover dreamers and doers who embody the spirit and energy of Detroit’s entrepreneurial class. We invite you to meet them inside our Small Shops series, sponsored by Bank of America.
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