THE HISTORY OF dZi
For over 25 years, dZi has worked directly with over 1,000 Tibetan, Indian and Nepalese artisans to create, import and market designs that celebrate the beauty of the natural world and the amazing culture of Tibet.
Before its incorporation in 1990, there were a number of interesting events that lead to the creation of the company.
The Background Story!
As you may know, the Dalai Lama and 100,000 Tibetans fled Tibet in 1959 following an uprising in the capital of Lhasa against occupational forces from China. Over a period of nearly 30 years these Tibetan refugees re-settled and organized themselves into a new Government-in-Exile and into communities in India and Nepal.
In 1987, a comprehensive economic development survey was made of the Tibetan refugee communities in India and Nepal. The survey sought to identify the resources and potential for development throughout the community. To better coordinate development activities, an interdepartmental body called the "Planning Council" was created within the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, based in Dharamsala in northern India, also the home of the Dalai Lama.
In the fall of 1987 in Washington, DC, the Tibetan human rights advocacy organization known as the International Campaign for Tibet was launched following the widely publicized October 1987 uprising in Lhasa. This new office became a hub for Americans looking to help Tibetans to connect with initiatives promoted by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.
In 1989, several American development consultants began talks with the Tibetan Government’s Planning Council to determine how to bring more business to the Tibetan handicraft centers that had been set up within various Tibetan settlements throughout India to provide better employment opportunities. dZi’s current CEO, Mac McCoy, who was volunteering at the International Campaign for Tibet at the time, was hired to perform a basic market survey in the US to study the interest of retailers and consumers for Tibetan-style products.
Following further discussions and enthusiasm for starting a new business initiative, coordinating offices were organized in Dharamsala and Washington, DC, under the banner of ‘The Tibetan Handcraft Development Project.’
The Company is Created!
In 1990, a small group of American investors worked with Mac McCoy to transform the Washington coordinating arm into a for-profit company incorporated with the express purpose of providing a direct link between Tibetan artisans in India and the U.S. market. The founding mission was to increase economic opportunity for Tibetan artisans in India by selling their products to American consumers and to educate customers about the culture of Tibet. McCoy was appointed CEO to lead the company.
While the business was initially named the ‘Tibetan Handcraft Import Company,’ the name was later changed to ‘dZi’. ‘dZi’ is the Tibetan word for the famous Tibetan dZi or "eye-beads" which are considered a powerful charm and vessel of great secrets to be revealed in the future. It was felt that the transliteration spelling was interesting as it uses a lower case ‘d’ and an upper case ‘Z’ to indicate proper pronunciation in Tibetan.
Through a grant from the Ford Foundation to the Tibetan Handicraft Office, a new training and design development program was introduced to increase basic skills and to begin to create new and more marketable designs. Invaluable advice and assistance was also provided by an Chicago-based company called MarketPlace: of India (www.MarketplaceIndia.org) which was also doing artisan development work in India, and Aid to Artisans (www.AidToArtisans.org), each of whom generously lent the expertise of their staff and designer networks.
In 1991, dZi began to actively market a new generation of Tibetan-made products from India at the New York International Gift Fair and the International Fashion and Boutique Show in New York under the name ‘dZi - The Tibet Collection.’ The company seasonally presented new collections of Tibet-inspired fashions and folk arts to American retailers each year and continues to exhibit at trade fairs in New York, Atlanta, Chicago and other national market locations through a network of sales reps.
A distinctive color catalog was developed and distributed annually to the trade. dZi began to pursue a retail market through mail order and the internet just as ecommerce was beginning to establish itself. dZi also opened a retail store adjacent to its warehouse space in Washington, DC. The store was closed in 1999 so that the company could focus on its core wholesale business.
In 1994, dZi helped launch the Fair Trade Federation (FTF) trade association. At the time, FTF was just a handful of companies and organizations. Today the FTF has over 200 members.
By 1997, dZi had begun to design and import new items from Kathmandu, Nepal, including hand-made paper, incense gift boxes and sterling jewelry. The mix of products eventually expanded into hand-felted and knit wool accessories, glazed ceramics and a broader range of traditional Himalayan arts made by talented Nepalese artisans.
The Company Moves, and Grows!
In 2007, the Company moved operations from Washington, DC, to Easthampton, MA, where it is now located in an early 20th century mill building. Buyers are invited to visit the new showroom anytime but especially during spring and fall warehouse sale weeks.
As the ‘great recession’ of 2008 deepened, dZi diversified and broadened its product mix beyond its founding Tibet Collection line in order to appeal to a wider audience and build a new customer base. The first new line to be introduced was Fair Trade Holiday with a focus on hand-felted holiday ornaments, stockings and home décor. Next came Wild Woolies, again with a focus on hand-felted items including North American bird ornaments, wildly popular birdhouses and other home décor items. More recently the Company has been building its newest line, Sweet Bird, which includes nature inspired jewelry and gifts.
In April of 2015 a series of massive earthquakes shook central Nepal, affecting millions of people as well as all of dZi’s producer partners. dZi responded by fundraising with its customers and friends, but it was mainly through the resilience and commitment of the Nepalese people that they were able to maintain their business operations and go forward.
Today dZi operates exclusively as a wholesale trading company, employing a staff of 10 people in Massachusetts. It continues to focus on its close association with its customers and producer partners in India and mainly Nepal.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us:
• Email: info@dZi.com
• Phone: 413-527-4500 (Easthampton, Massachusetts)
• Office Hours are 9-5:30, M-F, EST
- Please leave a message if you can’t reach one of our staff.
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