Sharon Dryflower Reyna of Taos Pueblo, N.M

(WOMENSENEWS)–Internet shopping is rising in popularity as way to find that unique holiday gift or just to avoid crowded stores. But shopping on the Web this holiday season is also a way to help female rural artisans achieve sustainable incomes.

The Albuquerque-based Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team–better known as Wesst Corp–is just one of many organizations in the UnitedStates that seeks to help low income, unemployedor underemployed women and minorities by putting their wares online.

Their site,, offers 24 original lines of homemade fine crafts, gifts and housewares. It allows shoppers to browse a diverse selection of fine art wool tapestry; micaceous clay pots and figurative sculpture; jewelry; home accessories in glass, clay, copper and hand-forged iron; painted silks and hemp bags; botanical bath products; ceramic tableware and two lines of locally hand-woven textiles.

“Overall the idea is to help people be self-sufficient in their enterprise,” said Clare Zurawski, the regional manager at Wesst’s office in Taos, N.M.

While Zurawski admits she would like the site to draw more business, entrepreneurs working with Wesst have nonetheless been able to raise their sales, on average, threefold after completing Wesst’s Marketlink program–a 13-week series of courses which is unique in that its comprehensive curriculum provides customized sales and marketing training specifically for artists and artisans. The program was founded in 1998 and is mainly geared toward people making less than $10,000 per year.

New Hampshire Arts and Crafts

In Bethlehem, N.H., population approximately 2,300, December has long been a busy time of craft shows and shipments by Christmas tree farms to points around the country. Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network, or WREN, a female-led organization in the town, is putting some of that commerce online. At a range of gifts are offered, from bath soaps to jewelry to rugs to bird houses. The site is the latest effort of WREN, founded in 1994, to help rural women achieve sustainable incomes though business ownership.

WREN currently touches the lives of nearly 700 members–women, girls and an increasing number of men.

One of WREN’s members is Joanne Rasser, who joined WREN when she moved to Bethlehem two years ago to pursue her art. In such a rural population where the closest town is four miles away and smaller still, there are not a lot of opportunities to make money.

“I learned in order to support my art I had to pick up as many as 16 jobs at a time,” said Rasser, who makes handcrafted paper from recycled materials.

WREN’s program, like Wesst’s, helps members like Rasser learn how to market their art and promote themselves. It also provides them access to computers, cameras, and other resources to do so.

At the core of WREN is the notion of providing a better sense of community to people, such as Rasser, who might otherwise feel isolated. By providing technical assistance, access to often expensive resources and business advice, it also strives to help lower-income members overcome market barriers.

Lakota Crafts from South Dakota

In Kyle, S.D., Annie Kills in Water helps run the Lakota Fund. The private community development nonprofit began as a project of the First Nations Development Institute of Falmouth, Va. In 1992, operators held a separation ceremony and began running it as the communal property of the people of the Oglala Lakota Nation in the southwestern part of the state.

Through its two lending programs for small businesses and micro-enterprises, the fund has since 1986 extended over a million dollars to almost 300 tribal members. The average loan to date is about $3,600. In general, the fund makes high-risk loans to borrowers to whom banks won’t extend credit. The terms of repayment are worked out on an individual basis to accommodate the workers ability to pay.

The loans provide crafts workers with the funds to buy the raw materials–leather, beads and threads–that go into the jewelry, clothing, dream catchers and leather pouches that local artists offer on the Web site,

“We give loans until people get to the point where they do not need us anymore,” said Kills in Water.

The fund assists local artists in a number of ways, from offering training, to running a supply bank to selling their products to both retailers and wholesalers.

It also runs an arts-and-crafts marketing program to help teach basic business concepts. For instance, women learn how to design a business plan, make a presentation and market their products.

Marianne Sullivan is a New York-based free-lance writer who writes frequently on economics and finance.

For more information:

Shop at WREN:

Lakota Fund:


Michigan Women’s Marketplace: