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Bringing Up Bali - Vendor Spotlight With Ben Katzaman (Wanderer Bracelets)

Ben Katzaman_headshotName: Ben Katzaman
Hometown: Delmar, Delaware
Company: Wanderer Bracelets
Items Sold In The E-store: -------------

Dream superpower: I would love to teleport between different locations. There's so many places that I love, but the complex part is getting from one place to another.

How did Wanderer Bracelets begin? When I was 21 years old on a trip in Bali, I was riding my motorbike through the jungle and came across a guy who was carving on the side of the road. I started to talk to him about what he was doing, and asked if he could make a custom carving for me on a bracelet. Eventually after talking with him for some time, I learned that carving was a traditional practice of the Balinese. But this master carver hadn't made a bracelet before - he and the others were normally doing wall art, necklaces and tribal designs on the side, meanwhile he was pouring cement to make a living. I realized there wouldn't be a market in the states for what they were currently making, so I went to designing this idea where people could get handcrafted jewelry. When I came back to the states, my friends loved the bracelets I had. So, I made a Kickstart in December 2014 and things grew from there. Today, we provide sustainable work for 150 people in Bali, where previously there had been no work before. This model allows the villagers to work from home just one time a week and still carry out traditions in their community.

How are the bracelets made? The bracelets are carved out of natural water buffalo bone, which is a great alternative to ivory. Unlike ivory, no water buffalo is killed; the material is collected from these animals (used to plow the fields of Indonesia) once they die of natural causes. The bone is then turned into art, tools and jewelry. Because the Balinese work and live in family compounds, they participate so much in village life, so it's important to us to have a low impact on their traditional livelihoods. We believe that helping these groups at or below the poverty line can better help them more economically than just through a charity donation.

What is the bracelet-making process? I can't draw at all, so I worked with an artist to help bring these visions to life. The weaving of the bands happens with a single strand of sewing thread, so I tried to figure out how to make it look nice (and waterproof!) But it took a lot of patience, research and development to get it to where it needed to be. And in fact, the first bracelet I made still sits above my desk. Each bracelet passes through 10 people's hands over a 12-day process.

Why "Wanderer?" What was the inspiration for the brand? When I first discovered the master carver in Bali, I was lost in the jungle. When I finally came across these guys and learned from them, I realized I wasn't lost at all and I remembered the quote that not all who wander are lost. In fact, the Wanderer Bracelets logo is an eye symbolizing one opening his or her eyes to new horizons for the opportunities life holds and what's around you. I want to inspire people to be open to how they can make a difference in their world. And I wanted to create meaningful bracelets that people could wear, showing their life journey, the places and people that are important to them, and also to engage others in positive conversations. Still, the most important thing is to create sustainable work for the people in Bali. That's at Wanderer Bracelet's core, and it's up to the brand to sustain that goal as we continue to grow.

How do you come up with new designs?
When we first started, I was coming up with a few designs, like the anchor, the Shaka sign and the Volkswagen bus. Then I realized I needed to design for other people, so the team would bring in ideas and give me feedback. When we were done, everyone's ideas were included - we have 50 to date.

What made you choose to partner with LMC? I've always loved sea turtles. Sometimes, I would see the hatchings going into the ocean in the summer in Florida. I knew some people who did beach walks in the morning, and they told me all about Loggerhead Marinelife Center. We thought that it would be great to give back to LMC with the sea turtle bracelet, which is actually one of my favorites. We're really grateful for people who share a similar mission.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received? I think I was about 14 when a mentor of mine sat me down and asked me what I thought what success was. After I gave him my answer about making it big, he shared with me that success was actually just "where opportunity meets preparation." It's not about hitting a pinnacle. It's when you're in the moment and you're prepared for an opportunity. People should go out and have as many experiences as possible; you never know when you'll be able to use what you learned in those experiences.