Network Innovation Spotlight / January 27, 2021

Global Artrepreneurs in Akron

By Christine Meeker Lange, Communications Consultant, Global Ties Akron

Global Ties Akron (GTA) transformed its social enterprise – Global Threads Fair Trade – into a retail boutique that is located in downtown Akron’s Northside Marketplace and offers a curated collection of handmade textiles, jewelry, and crafts for sale by “artrepreneurs” who represent countries around the world. Global Threads purchases these items directly from the artisan, with proceeds going to Global Ties Akron to expand its cultural, civic, and educational programming.

GTA Executive Director Michelle Wilson (left) and Corey Cargill from the Akron Public Library’s TechZone pose in the entrance to the Northside Marketplace. Photo credit: Global Ties Akron

Michelle Wilson, Executive Director of GTA, conceived of Global Threads in 2013. Her personal, creative outlet was in making origami crane ornaments as gifts to present to visiting dignitaries and participants. Shortly after, she began to sell the ornaments at local festivals to add a new revenue stream for GTA. In 2015, the then Akron International Friendship rebranded to Global Ties Akron and the store idea broadened to commissioning with Akron’s local refugee and immigrant communities for custom merchandise.  The idea of literally making “global ties” (neckties) seemed to be a natural addition to the items sold, and the Global Threads online ETSY store was born.

“We are so excited to help promote Global Ties Akron as Akron’s Gateway to the World by featuring the works of artrepreneurs who share our mission to build a mutual understanding of others’ cultures, situations, and beliefs,” explained Michelle, Chief Curator of the shop and a featured artist herself.

The Global Threads Fair Trade shop now has a  physical space where it can take advantage of the unique urban market landscape—which focuses on social interaction, local businesses and grassroots artisans, and features an eclectic mix of the area’s best startups—to showcase a growing number of local and international artisans, advance entrepreneurial opportunities for diverse creative businesses, and highlight the importance of women’s empowerment.

A matching head tie and mask created by Ghanaian artisan and exchange alumna Safia Assimiwu. Photo credit: Global Ties Akron

Featured international artists include U.S. Department of State exchange program alumni such as International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) participants from Central and South America and Africa – Ecuador and Madagascar specifically – as well as creators from Ghana and Zanzibar representing the IREX Community Solutions Initiative. GTA is expanding its portfolio of artists through continued relationships with its IVLP and other alumni around the world as well as Akron resident artists from the Karen, Bhutanese, and other refugee and immigrant communities.

Global Threads is both a sales venue for participating artists, as well as a mentorship opportunity. Alumni who are already featured in the store, along with GTA leadership, offer mentorship to expand novice artreprenuers’ knowledge base and provide economic opportunity for small business.

Photo credit: Global Ties Akron

GTA’s connection with refugee and immigrant communities has resulted in making deeper connections with alumni by offering thought leadership expertise, mentorship, and various support services such as quality assurance, marketing, branding, display, and helping them understand U.S. retail opportunities while retaining and celebrating their individual cultural heritage.

Michelle’s dream for Global Threads is to “grow this initiative into a project-based entrepreneurial hub… a ‘collaboratory’ where we can both commission works from various groups as well as help facilitate collaborative opportunities between local and international artisans.”

To learn more about Global Threads Fair Trade and to purchase products, please visit: