“The story behind a product is so important.”

Return to Sender

The beautiful vases, bracelets and baskets of Return to Sender – you see them everywhere. Besides the fact that you would like to have these products one by one because of the colorful looks, they all have a story. A story of someone who made it themselves and gets a better life because of it. Return to Sender has been giving back to the producer for over 15 years and has given many women worldwide a brighter future. We were curious about the story behind Return to Sender. Impact Manager Daphne van ‘t Hof tells us their story.

How did Return to Sender come about?

Return to Sender was founded 15 years ago by Katja Schuurman, Tessa Vos and Maarten van Huijstee. At the time, Katja traveled a lot for the programs she made and visited many different place worldwide. Once back in the Netherlands, Katja always had a feeling that she wanted to mean something to all the people out there who could use it so well. With this in mind, she met the director of Hema at the time, with the idea: what if we had the products made by those ladies (because they are mainly women), sell them here in the Netherlands and thus create employment. Ultimately it is a piece of poverty alleviation and system change. By getting women to work, you see that the whole community benefits. Children can go to school and money can be saved.

You give back to the sender.
How exactly does it work?

We reinvest the profit we receive from our products in new projects. Last year, for example, we did the Living Wage Project. This means that for two of the producers we work with, we strive for even better wages, called a living wage. The name says it all, it must be a wage that they can really live with. So that they can support their family, realize a roof over their heads, pay for transport to work and put aside savings. Four times a year they receive some extras so that they can actually save. They receive a training to be able to deal with this properly. We also teach project leaders how to start asking higher prices from other buyers right from the start. This way, they gain confidence in themselves and become self-reliant.

Where are your products made?

Our producers are located all over the world. The largest part is in Asia such as Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Nepal. Our beautiful bracelets are made in Mali and we have completed several successful projects in South America. The majority of our products are interior products, with a little fashion due to our bracelets. We adapt our products and we move with the times, it’s important that the consumer here wants the product. We work with several Dutch designers who often visit the producers. Together they look at what is possible and how the inspiring ideas can be shaped.

Why is it so important to give back?

We believe that when people get better, the planet is better cared for. A piece of community building and ensuring that people move to a higher level step by step. But it’s also important that people here in the Netherlands look at buying differently. That there’s a more conscious approach of why you buy something, what you buy, who made it and under what circumstances. We live in a consumer society and that is why the story behind a product is so important!

What are you proud of?

We have been able to support nearly 10,000 jobs over the past 15 years. We have also sold 2.5 million products, of course we are very proud of that. But if you look at our producers, for example the 16 women in Mali, you see real system change there. Where they first had an ‘I’ mentality, it has now become ‘we’. The work is now distributed fairly and they really work from a community feeling. They have also devised a new system themselves, whereby they rent out the products. They have become real entrepreneurs who look further, which makes us incredibly proud.


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Pics Return to Sender
September 2021