JOYNing Together

This is my friend Lolei. She has leprosy, but is an incredibly sweet and joyful woman. Here, she is teaching me how to spin the yarn onto a spool to prep it for the loom, before weaving. -Melody Murray, founder of JOYN.

The corporate world often puts profits above human interest, but JOYN puts human interest at the heart of its business model. Melody Murray and her family are making opportunities for local artisans in India by offering training and employment for those who would, otherwise, have no opportunities to advance their circumstances. With handcrafted products, the JOYN brand is setting new precedent for thinking locally and acting globally — proving that human interest is a marketable quality. To purchase a JOYN item, visit Mama Carmen’s Coffee Shop or The Mustache  Boutique in Fayetteville.


Q What are your ties to Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas?

A I grew up in Kansas City and then attended JBU due to an education and volleyball scholarship, from ’97-’01. I met my husband at JBU and we married and then traveled all over. We lived in Alaska and California for a time, but then settled back in Fayetteville for five years before moving to North India. Fayetteville still feels like home to us in many ways. We had both of our boys in Fayetteville, love our church, New Heights, and miss Fayetteville’s wonderful community.


Q What experiences led you to the decision to begin JOYN? Can you recall a specific instance that inspired you?

A My first inspiration came 13 years ago when we spent a few months in an orphanage in Uganda. The orphans had no future. I wanted to start something that would create a future for those less fortunate. My second inspiration came when working onsite at P&G and learning how consumer marketing works and realizing the buying power of the American woman. My third inspiration came when working with Tibetans and seeing their amazing skills with textiles. I’ve put these inspirations together to form JOYN.

Q There are two elements of the JOYN line: Fashion and humanity. How did you envision these concepts working together?

A For me, it is simple. I want to connect artisans in poverty with the American woman’s buying power. If you want to tap into American women, you have to be fashionable. Artisans in the majority world can make fashionable items. They just need the design and the market. I created JOYN to connect those two: the American woman and the majority world artisan.


Q Who works for JOYN?

A We have over 40 families currently receiving work from JOYN. We work with a colony for lepers, a women’s center for women challenged by life, and a project with street youth. The kids have reached working age and have chosen to work with us instead of begging. We have focused on three main skills: spinning and weaving our cotton-base fabric, hand block printing and then the finishing/stitching work.


Q How do the workers of JOYN benefit from your company?

A Before JOYN partnered with our 40 families, they didn’t have markets to sustain their work. They never knew if they’d be able to pay the bills or keep the work going. Working with JOYN gives them sustainable work, good wages, a happy work environment, a healthy market, respect for their trade and empowerment for their future. We have just started a savings matching plan for our employees. If any one of our employees is able to save part of their salary each month, JOYN will match that savings and help them save up for something they’ve desired for their family — better education, better health care, a vehicle, some land, etc. We are always looking for ways to better the lives of our employees — mainly to see them helping themselves and their communities pull out of poverty.


Q Have you received national/international sales?

A We sell all across the U.S. — JOYN is currently sold in 20 Retailers.


Q What’s next for Joyn?

A We have many, many plans. The more we grow, the more artisans we can support. We are working on our e-commerce, and we are also starting partnerships with brand name designers in NYC. We’re increasing our distribution in the U.S. and are expanding into parts of Europe. Our goal is to add at least 10 Retail Partners per quarter and double in size each year for the next five years.


Q What is the most rewarding aspect of the job?

A My artisan friends and their relationships with me and my family. Seeing them happy and fulfilled and watching their kids have a better life. Seeing lives changed. Watching my own kids get to participate in spreading joy and learning from this experience. Raising my children in this type of environment where they see how fortunate they are and desire to give to others.


Q Can you share the story of a specific worker that speaks to the overall mission of Joyn?

A Right now I’m thinking about my good friend Kunga. She is Tibetan. She is my age. She has a son that is my son’s age. Her husband has struggled with drug addiction for over 10 years and they’ve had a hard life. He is addicted to Opium, which is a very difficult drug to conquer.

Kunga has always been worried about her future and the future of her son. She came to me six months ago. She was a quiet, nervous girl. I could barely get a word out of her when she came to us, and she rarely looked at me. She never smiled. JOYN has hired her and trained her in block printing and now, she’s a totally different person.

She is loud, beautiful, strong, confident and joyful. We’ve placed her son in the best school in town, and he is flourishing as well. After school, he comes and plays with my boys and does his homework at our house while Kunga works at the block shop. She has become a close friend. She takes great pride in her work and now spends time bossing me around on how to have a better shop, how to save money, how to be more efficient in our work. One day, I hope she runs this thing on her own.


Categories: Fashion