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Crafting Travel With Crafts Of Love Through Shanny Harel and Kelly Roth! An Interview With The Nopo. Founders

Travel Stories With The Nopo. Founders-SHANNY HAREL and KELLY ROTH-and The Healing Power Of Storytelling Through Craftsmanship!

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(Photograph By Dan Bronfeld: Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)
(Photograph By Dan Bronfeld: Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)

In our myriad travel adventures, there are sacred treasures, which are purchased. They are one of the tangible forms of proof, that we have journeyed to another land. On an even greater scale is the fascination of purchasing an uncommon gift. A piece of jewelry, basket, collection of pottery, or other collective item, which is more than just a “souvenir.” You can find souvenirs. They are common in any nation, that you venture to. Awaiting tourists, who want something to show off for friends, neighbors, and family members. For many of them, it will be a token of bragging rights. Its a boisterous way to mark themselves into the category of world traveler.

Then, you have those Special Beings. For them, travel is an art. Not only does it have its own aesthetics, but it transforms into a role as healer. Through this window of travel, people get lost, only to find themselves, again. This very lens of travel provides people the answers, they have been seeking in whatever troubles dealt with, back home. Such travels require a more personal touch. In order to engage on that level of travel storytelling, a traveler, or group of travelers, must engage with the cultural gatekeepers of the spaces, they venture to. For this particular theme, we focus on the the craftsmen, and women, whose work paints the authentic stories of nations. Its that tangible proof of Universal aesthetics being at work, and in full production, within Earth’s spacing.

Very few, if any, travel companies have done the work of making the hidden stories of craftsmanship visible to the greater public. Many would rather stay focused on the major resorts, and the very luxuries of travel. That’s ok. Travel is supposed to be enticing and appealing. However, there is another side-a more hidden side. For one particular company, and the dynamic duo of women who run it, the beauty of travel embodies a personal storytelling approach. Not only are there stories behind the product, but the faces are presented in order to match.

One such haven, which stores these treasures is the Nopo. with Kelly Roth and Shanny Harel. In this colorful, enchanting, and bountiful interview, we journey in the founding of this haven, and how it aims to bring a more humane and nurturing experience to the travel world.

(Photograph By Dan Bronfeld; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)

Lauren K. Clark: Take us down a mental journey in the moment when you had the idea to create the Nopo.  What was that “aha” moment?  How did it elevate your thinking?  What were the myriad ways it exposed you to new worlds in the world of travel?

Kelly: I am an avid traveler. I love exploring new countries and cultures, and I love meeting people that have a different perspective on life than I do. It challenges my own outlook; it enriches me. One of my favorite parts of traveling is discovering local crafts. When I  purchase a beautiful handmade item while traveling, I get to take home with me some of the magic and wisdom it represents. And when I meet the people and hear the stories behind these creations I get to take home some of the ingenuity and passion that went into creating them. When we started developing the concept of the Nopo. our motivation was to make this experience more accessible, to bring the joy of discovery to people’s everyday lives. We wanted to create a platform that would enable people to virtually travel the markets of the world, meet spectacular artisans and decorate their lives with beautiful items that tell a story and reflect their values. COVID made this concept all the more necessary. Not only are we unable to travel, the artisans that depend on incoming tourism for livelihood, have been hit terribly. The Nopo enables them to access new audiences.

Lauren K. Clark: How have your particular travel experiences contributed to you creating such an entity?

Shanny: Both Kelly and myself experience each trip as a journey to a new world of culture, styles and most of all new and exciting characters we will meet. We take these stories with us back to our everyday lives as it fulfills us with inspiration and creativity. Not once have we not met an amazing artisan, that she or his creation story touched us so deeply that we felt we have to take a “piece” of it back with us. And more than once we saw beautiful items we wished we could buy and take them with us on the plane. Unfortunately, most of the time we walked away and didn’t purchase it just because of the hassle we feared to meet.

The items we did buy are the ones we love the most as they turn the spaces we live in to be uniquely ours. We aim to provide this feeling to our customers without physically visiting far destinations. Or at least until then. 🙂

“I feel that theNopo. enables online shoppers to discover really special creators, who combine ancient wisdom with modern perspectives, and the outcome is beautiful and special.”-Kelly Roth

Lauren K. Clark: What do you find is lacking in the world of travel when it comes to tourism, markets, and artisans wishing to sell their craft?

Kelly: We love exploring the markets wherever we travel; the smells, the sounds, the colors- there is such an amazing energy in the air. It’s exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. There is such an abundance and it isn’t always easy to differentiate between quality craft to cheap counterfeits that may be imported from China. Often, many of the quality crafters and designers sit in studios and galleries off the main streets, and you wouldn’t find them unless pointed directly there. Then there is the haggling which is not for everyone… Finally, once you find what you were looking for there is the issue of carrying these items with you throughout your trip and then on the airplane. We’ve found that many people end up buying much less than they had intended to because of these inconveniences. Our platform is perfect for those who can’t travel, and for those who are traveling. After walking through the markets, you can go back to your hotel, find the truly unique and quality crafts, and have them delivered to your doorstep. It will be more costly, because there is international shipping involved, but you get to enjoy a curated selection, and the items get delivered to your home hassle free; while still directly supporting local craftsmen and women. 

Lauren K. Clark: On your website you have a magazine pertaining to different articles. One such posting relates to “Four Female Moroccan-born singers that are Rockin’ it.” How did you come to hear about these women?  What is it about them, which inspired you to include them on your platform?

Kelly: We define the Nopo. as a discovery platform, that encourages people to transcend their cultural and geographical boundaries to experience the true riches of humanity- the cultural and creative treasures. When we launched in Morocco we interviewed all our onboarded artisans. We wanted to hear their stories, their inspiration, and get deeper insight and understanding of how they view Morocco. We always ask them for recommendations on art, music, places to visit and food. And we do our own research. We spent days going through social media to find unique voices to come out of Morocco. When we discovered these talented musicians, we knew we wanted to share this with our Nopo community. Music is such a great way to connect to a country. And specifically, these four female musicians are inspiring women; with a lot of hard work they built their way up and received international recognition. We want people to fall in love with the country as we did, and we feel our magazine is a great way to deliver the stories of the people and its culture.

(Photograph Provided By the Nopo.; Artist’s Name-Soufiane Aissouni; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)
(Photograph Provided By the Nopo; Artist’s Name-Hamimi Living; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)

Lauren K. Clark: When we examine the issue of travel wellness, what colors would you say come to mind?  Please name at least three.  In current times, how would you define travel wellness?

Shanny: The first three colors that come to mind are blue orange-yellow and green-> the sky, a sunrise and nature. For me travel wellness is taking the time I spent on the trip to explore. Explore the environment I live in at that moment, the flavors and smells of the local streets, the styles and decor, the sounds I wake up to. Being able, for a short period of time, to imagine that I’m a local, and I’m part of the creation of that place.

Lauren Kaye Clark: What have been your own travel journeys and experiences?  How have you managed to grow and develop in your persona as women, through such paths?

Kelly: I started traveling abroad on my own at the age of 16. Mind you, we did not have cellphones, email, or navigation apps back then. So it was up to me to figure things out completely on my own. As a mother of 3 daughters, now, I am not sure what my parents were thinking… but the experience as a whole empowered me. I had to work hard to save money for the trip. I had to plan my routes and transportation. I had to figure out who to trust. Since then I have backpacked through Europe, North, South and Central America, and South East Asia. Traveling on my own has made me more confident and self-assured, more empathetic to others, more open-minded. I don’t see things in black and white as I did when I was younger. I have created deep bonds with people from very different life circumstances, from different religions and cultures, and I have been inspired by the kindness and courage of the people I’ve met on my travels. Today, I travel with my three daughters. It is amazing to see them connect with children from around the world, often not speaking the language, but still managing to communicate and play with such an open and willing heart.

“Since we couldn’t travel to Morocco and meet the artisans in person, we had to communicate through Zoom. We were a little concerned in the beginning that this would create a real barrier to cooperation. But the contrary is was true.”-Kelly Roth

Lauren Kaye Clark: Through your company, you come across different handmade items and fabrics.  If you could choose any of the traditional items from Morocco, which describes you, what would it be?  Why do you choose this piece?

Kelly: That is a difficult question to answer. I really believe that what represents us is the “eclecticness” of it all. The ability to access a myriad of unique, quality items in one place. Still, if I have to choose one item it would be the Zellige tiles created by Zineb Bennani. We wrote an article about her, titled, “The Rebirth of Zellige Tiles.” (http://www.thenopo.com/post/the-rebirth-of-moroccan-zellige-art). She is a fascinating, fearless female artist. Attempting to reinvent an ancient craft takes guts, especially if you’re a woman working in a traditional discipline, dominated entirely by men. Zineb Bennani, set out to redefine Zellige, and broaden its applications beyond its conventional purpose. I feel that theNopo. enables online shoppers to discover really special creators, who combine ancient wisdom with modern perspectives, and the outcome is so beautiful and so special.

(Photograph Provided By the Nopo.; Artist’s Credit-Zellige Art; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)
(Photograph Provided By the Nopo.; Artist’s Credit-Zellige Art; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)

Lauren Kaye Clark: Close your eyes.  Imagine you are in the home of one of the artisans whose home you are physically present in.  In having a special connection with the artist and their work, what beauties would you like to experience in their home, with their families?  What cultural trends do you imagine yourself partaking in?  Culinary? Fashion? Customs?

Kelly: The truth is that the epidemic presented an amazing opportunity in this respect. Since we couldn’t travel to Morocco and meet the artisans in person, we had to communicate through Zoom. We were a little concerned in the beginning that this would create a real barrier to cooperation. But the contrary was true. Communicating through Zoom, we got to speak to the artisans in their homes, sometimes seeing and hearing their children running in the background. In one case, for instance, we got to meet a one-week old daughter and the wife of one of our contacts. That was amazing and created a great deal of intimacy right from the start. The fact that we were all locked in our homes, made everyone feel like we are all in the same boat, trying to make the best of this unfortunate situation. That being said, of course we can’t wait to travel and meet our artisans, spend time talking face to face, sharing a drink or a cup of mint tea and discuss all the things we want to be doing with theNopo.

Lauren Kaye Clark: The building of every company carries its stressors.  Let’s talk about those difficult challenges the two of you faced.  What were some of the emotional barriers? How did you overcome them?

Shanny: This is a great question always but at this special time more than ever. Kelly and I registered the company literally on the day the government announced lockdown. Both of us are optimistics by default so we just said “hey let’s wait a week or two and see where this is going.” None of us thought we were going to be in this situation for a couple of months. After a few days it was hard not to feel that this is something that we, as long as we are here, have never experienced before. We decided to think over the idea and be open minded. As none of us really knew (and to be honest still don’t) what was going to happen and how the world will look like post COVID-19. We needed to put aside our own private desires and examine theNopo. as if we haven’t started working already on it. We needed to be super creative, but most of all we needed to go back to the basics- to believe in each one of us, and in both of us as a team. Looking back at this I really believe that this couldn’t turn out better. We learned that there are so many ways to do something, to build trust in people, to communicate. We learned that both of us can work well in a super high level of uncertainty and changing reality. Partnerships are never always easy, but if you invest in good communication from the beginning almost everything can be solved.

“The Nopo discovers these unique characters, their creations, and create access not only to their stories, but also to their beautiful creations.”-Shanny Harel

Lauren Kaye Clark: In what way do the two of you find yourself growing emotionally, and spiritually, through this exciting business venture?

Kelly: All the clichés about starting your own venture are true. You need a lot of grit. It’s an emotional roller coaster; its exhausting. But we have also accomplished so much in a short time in a very crazy situation. Every day we learn something new, and it’s an amazing feeling. There aren’t many opportunities in life to learn so much, so fast, first-hand. Overcoming the lows and learning to really appreciate and celebrate the highs- is something we will take with us where ever we go from here. Its humbling, yet empowering. We both feel that we have come along way, not only in terms of our business acumen and problem-solving skills and pure knowledge, but in terms our emotional and spiritual resilience.

Lauren Kaye Clark: How would you describe how the Nopo. is bringing humanity and equality to the world of travel and tourism?

Shanny: The travel and tourism industry is facing a shift in the last couple of years. More and more people are looking “to meet” and discover the true face of the places they travel to and the stories behind them. Companies like AirBnB have raised because people weren’t tourists any more, but locals. They wanted to feel the vibe of the streets rather than a 5 star hotel that feels the same in every city. Same with culture trips that list the cool and special places to visit, which in most cases won’t be the most touristic ones, and so on. Artisans and creators are the heart and soul of every place. They inspire and shape the music, the design, the special aroma (“secret sauce)” of the community. However, they are most hard to find. The Nopo discovers these unique characters, their creations, and create access not only to their stories, but also to their beautiful creations. No matter who you are or where you are.  

(Photograph Provided By the Nopo; Artist’s Name-Hamimi Living; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)

Lauren Kaye Clark: If you could paint your travels with 3 landscapes, what would they be?  How do they convey the texture and objective of your mission?

The first would be the old-city, the medinas, the markets. The hustle and bustle, with all the colors, flavors, sounds and scents. The lively urban scene with all its cultural elements.

The second would be the villages in the mountains, with the little mud, and wood houses. The traditional workshops, the women sitting together chatting and crafting together. The third would be of natural beauty, the deserts, the sea.

These are the experiences we seek when we travel: the culture, the traditions, the natural wonders. These landscapes are the backdrop from which our artisans draw their inspiration. 

Experiencing all this is what we are trying to create for our online customers. To let them travel vicariously to these incredible places, meet the people, see the beauty and get to bring a little bit of this in to their homes, through craft.

Lauren Kaye Clark: How do you envision the Nopo. and its vision in other regions of the world?  Where do you see its expansion 5 years from now?

Shanny: Our goal is to create access to every market and unique item in the world, and to maintain the values that lead us which are fair trade, preserving heritage and bridging the distance between different cultures. We are building an experience that will make you feel like you entered the market itself or met with the artist with only the mind traveling elsewhere. However, when actually visiting these places our community will have the opportunity to visit the most spectacular corners in each destination with the knowledge and information they discover with the Nopo. 

Lauren Kaye Clark: A work day is done.  The two of you have completed your tasks for the day.  Closing your computer, you debrief.  How do you relax and keep your mental and emotional wellness in tact?

Kelly: That’s a great question. When starting your own venture, it is all-consuming. The day never really ends. You take your work to bed with you, and bedtime is always very late. Luckily, we both have our families to keep us grounded, “forcing” us to take breaks and devote time to the most important thing- our loved ones. Our families are very much a part of this journey and it would have been impossible to do what we’re doing without their support and encouragement. We try to make some time for the two of us to just talk- it’s hard not to talk business all the time, but we try. Shanny and I started this journey as friends, we really love and respect each other and it does make working all the time much easier. Finally, we both also try to stay active and work out twice a week, have a date night with our husbands, and for me personally, the best medicine is dancing in the living room with my three wild and beautiful daughters.

The secret treasures and beauties of the travel world are not meant for everyone. In fact, a selection process is needed. There are certain arenas of the travel world, which are too sacred for every eye to view. Its why certain people are only granted access to this realm. The fascinating arena around this wonder is that it gives the true meaning of travel artistry. Forget about the facade, abuse, and exploitation as a symbol of well and stature. On the contrary, there is a more intriguing aspect to the travel industry, which provides a lens rebirth and restoration. It is healing and gives an authentic presentation of human interaction.

In the world of the Nopo., the very essence of travel comes to life. There is a journey taken by weary Souls, who yearn to understand their life’s mission, through travel. Regardless of their success, economic standing, or what have you, they yearn to find completion. In the realm of craftsmanship, stories are told. The patterns and designs, in which cultures and nations witness themselves through the Universal gaze, is presented direct and center. There are no falsehoods, unless you want them to be. Healing takes place as crafts lead you to others’ humanity. It is a true form of cultural ambassadorship. They are wonderous tellings of travel adventures, and it is a holistic example of traveling, well!

(Photograph Provided By the Nopo.; Artist-No Name; Edits By Lauren Kaye Clark)

To stay up-to-date with the latest information on the Nopo., you can click on the following link: https://www.thenopo.com/

You can also find more information on the following: Instagram: @thenomadpopup

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