Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace exchanges international goods, experience on campus

Organization focuses on development of local artisan groups, student participants alike
Photo Courtesy of Janet Niewold

The Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace connects University of Wisconsin students and international artisan groups in partnerships, not top-down business arrangements.

Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace emphasizes fostering entrepreneurship with its international partners. The student organization now has six partnerships across the globe, Janet Niewold, Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace faculty advisor, said.

“We stress to [our local artisan groups] that they are entrepreneurs,” Niewold said. “And if the product isn’t good, we won’t buy it.”


The organization started as a project in La Calera, Ecuador that Niewold was invited to participate in 2010 due to her experience running a hobby business where she imported goods from Latin America.

When she arrived there, Niewold said she found what the women of La Calera felt they were missing industry.

“They had these beads and knew how to make necklaces out of them,” Niewold said. “But they didn’t know how to turn that into a business.”

By the end of the week, Niewold and the group successfully set up the basic infrastructure for a jewelry line, though a challenge remained — selling the jewelry.

Niewold first tried to sell these new goods as part of her hobby business. But when this wasn’t doing enough, she had the idea to form Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace to gain some clout in Madison.

“We decided it would make sense to form a student org to have the means to sell these products on campus through methods such as pop-up sales on campus, or by fair trade events in Madison as a whole,” Niewold said.

Word quickly spread through these pop-up sales, and faculty members facing similar dilemmas quickly contacted Niewold.

Niewold recounted one UW faculty member who worked in Kenya saying, “I have $500 worth of zippered bags, but I don’t know how to sell them.”

From these interactions, the club eventually ballooned to having the six partnerships and counting. Niewold said the club is currently looking to expand into India and other countries in Africa.

Jen Wagman, a spokesperson organization’s , described one instance in Presa de Barajas, Mexico, where local women were making doilies with an intricate weaving technique called “tatting.”

But the problem was that there was not much of an American market for doilies, Wengman said. UW students in an affiliated School of Human Ecology course then worked hand-in-hand with the artisans to channel this technique into beautiful jewelry, she said.

Niewold said the emphasis on fostering growth on local level entrepreneurship is aimed at one day allowing their partners to grow completely independent of Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace, at least from a business standpoint.

“Eventually we would like the project to be self-sustaining,” Niewold said. “And we would like our artisan partners to have the design and business management skills so that they can succeed on their own without us by selling their products locally.”

Away from business, Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace has crafted friendships with their partnership groups that will last a lifetime.

Madeleine Wagner, one of the organization’s student directors, said one of their biggest impacts is the ability to connect on a personal level with members of their partnered local artisan groups.

She recalled them even being able to fly the women of La Calera to Madison this past year. During the time they spent together, the two groups exchanged cultural practices, potluck dinners and dance lessons.

Whether it is experiences, both cultural and professional, or connections, both local and international, much more than just fashion items are being exchanged at the Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *