“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you.” - Anthony Bourdain
Thomas and Greta Ballard have dedicated their lives to finding the beauty in all things, big and small. They seek out this beauty in the form of food, art, culture and design from all corners of the world. This wanderlust informs their business, allowing them to tap into artists and stories beyond the typical. The story of Dutch designer Siska Schippers is a perfect example of how their love of travel has bolstered their business.
From a cooperatively owned compound in Thailand, Schippers invites her reps from around the world to immerse themselves in all the new beauty that comes from Zsiska each season. After accepting the offer in 2017, Thomas and Greta were so blown away that they knew they had to make the long trip across the Pacific again. Last year, during a soaking wet winter in the Pacific Northwest, Thomas and Greta jetted off once more to discover what the Dutch designer turned Thai expat and her team had produced.
In the Cha-Am district, just 2 hours South of Bangkok, Thomas and Greta arrive to the large compound that houses Zsiska’s manufacturing, design studio and gallery, surrounded by beautiful gardens. Schippers wanted to create a space that would be conducive to working as one big family. She never wanted to have reps that were focused on sales, but rather friends who believed in the brand as much as she does. She wanted to create a time and space for them to fall in love with Zsiska and then share that with their customers.
To do this, Schippers hosts a seasonal showcase for the reps to sit down with the Thai artists and craftspeople and get a true sense of the design and manufacturing process. They look at each and every piece, both in the hands of the artists and on a model. The reps have the opportunity to ask questions and even provide constructive criticism that the designers truly take to heart.
After the reps have the chance to see behind the scenes at Zsiska, Schippers takes them out to her to her other passion project, The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Animal Sanctuary. While being served a beautiful dinner, the guests are treated to roaming elephants and other large animals, some of whom may stop by to say hi or ask for a snack. Schippers sits on the board of WFFT which offers these animals a home after losing theirs to deforestation or being abused in the tourism industry. Her commitment to the Thai community and international cooperation is apparent both at the sanctuary and at the heart of her brand, Zsiska.
Over a twenty five years ago, Schippers traveled to Thailand with the intention of changing her design focus. After working primarily in gold and silver with a traditional aesthetic, Schippers wanted to explore color and new techniques. In order to realize her goal, she moved to Thailand to be surrounded with the abundant nature that inspires her. What began as an exploration of color has exploded to a 100 person business, employing primarily women, often multiple generations of the same family. Creating this space for women to grow and work has changed the economic paradigm of the rural Thai town that they reside in, offering financial independence to women who were otherwise tethered to men and the farming or fishing work that could get.
If creating a business that these incredible Thai artists could be a part of wasn’t enough, in 2017 Schippers gave 100% of the business to the employees. Now cooperatively owned, Zsiska is not only a powerhouse of a brand that turns out unique wearable art, it is a shining example of how a company can change the world for the better.
The inspiration from their immersion into Thai life, art and design was brought back with Thomas and Greta and informs their relationships with Zsiska customers and even their relationship with the world around them. The peace, integrity and kindness with which the Thai people live their life inspires them to harness these qualities and inject them into their business.
Stay tuned for photos from their next trip to Thailand with a stop in beautiful Bali.