Friday, December 19, 2008

Getting to know Barefoot Books


Every so often I come across a publishing house that does business in a new, innovative, and exciting way. Barefoot Books is one of these houses and, wanting to find out more about this company, I interviewed Nancy Traversy, one of the co-founders of Barefoot Books.

Where did the idea for this company come from?
Barefoot Books was born out of our (co-founders Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland’s) shared desire to fill a niche in the market for beautiful books that combined global stories with gorgeous art and beautiful design. Fifteen years later, Barefoot has remained true to our original vision and now have over 300 books in print!

In what ways do you think your company is different from others?
Barefoot is unique as an independent global publisher, not only because of our unwavering commitment to creating books and gifts for children which celebrate imagination, creativity and global awareness, but also because of our community-based approach to bringing this offer to our audience of discerning parents and educators. We work very much in a grassroots way, forming partnerships with like-minded retail partners around the world, selling through our network of independent home sellers in our Barefoot Stallholder Program, and communicating with our audience directly via our interactive website, including our forums and Living Barefoot Blog.

How did you come up with the idea of bare feet and what does the logo mean to you?
The name ‘Barefoot Books’ came to Tessa Strickland, editor-in-chief and co-founder, in a dream back in 1992. The logo was taken from an ink impression of Tessa’s daughter’s feet which, when reduced, make a beautiful image. A child’s bare feet symbolize a connection with the natural world, and conjure up images of a journey to both imaginary and real worlds. You’ll find the feet on the spines of all of our books and also walking through our website and catalogs!

Are your authors and illustrators from around the world?
Yes, our authors and illustrators are from far and wide. We are always looking for new authors, illustrators and stories to share, and because of so many of our stories come from around the globe, we like our storytellers to be global as well!

In the “about Barefoot” section on your website you invite the public to “tell us your ideas and share your stories.” What do you mean by this?
‘Once upon a time, a story made a difference to our lives’. Stories matter throughout our lives, but they are especially important in childhood. They help us to discover what we care about and who we are. Seeing professional storytellers at work, and performing stories themselves, does an enormous amount to help children develop their sense of who they are. At Barefoot Books we all aim to be storytellers in our own right, so we want to hear stories from our audience….stories about how they found us and where they are from. We also want to encourage them to participate in our blog or on our forums. Feedback from our community is very important!

How do you find the authors and illustrators who create your books?
We find our authors and illustrators in a variety of ways; our editors meet wonderfully talented people at international book fairs, or sometimes it will be as simple as seeing a beautiful greeting card in a store and contacting the artist. Of course, we also find plenty of fantastic art and stories in the submissions we receive in the US and UK. We are always on the look out for authors, artists, ideas, or stories that look and sound Barefoot and they can pop up in the most unlikely places!

How do your home-based businesses work?
We have over 1500 Stallholders – Barefoot’s home-selling community – globally, and they all run their businesses in very different ways. Stallholders can market and sell the entire Barefoot Books collection through local community events, at home parties, and on their websites and blogs. They can also fundraise for the cause of their choice. We offer our Stallholders lots of different tools to help make their businesses fun and successful at the same time. Starting a Barefoot Stallholder business is simple and free! Find out more!

How are you “environmentally aware?”
At the heart of our work at Barefoot Books is an understanding of the fragility and the inter-relatedness of the world's ecology. Because we make books, we have to work with paper and ink, with transport and distribution with energy used as fuel. We founded Barefoot Books as working mothers with a particular interest in the kind of world our children will inherit. Of course, "Going Green" is an ongoing process. We continue to work on ways to become more environmentally conscious in both our offices and in our personal lives. To minimize the environmental impact of our activities, we have taken the following measures.
Forestry: We ensure that our printers source the paper on which our books are printed from ancient-forest friendly sources. This means that the paper suppliers are obliged to replant trees that they have harvested, and that they do not damage rainforests or other ancient woodlands.
Shipping: Many of our books are transported across considerable distances. We very rarely use planes as a method of transporting stock. Typically, our books are shipped by boat.
Community Based Approach: The traditional book industry operates on a returnable basis which means that books often move from the publisher to the distributor and then back again. This wastes lots of fuel and cardboard and often results in damaged product which can't be sold. At Barefoot, we have adopted a more grassroots communal approach to marketing our books, avoiding the wasteful practices of the bigger distributors, and working with a broad network of independent retailers and partners, including our rapidly growing community of home-sellers.
Communications: We set out to minimize paper use by communicating as much as possible online and by telephone. We recycle the paper that we use for print communication.
Office Supplies: We buy our office supplies from green manufacturers and our office paper is recycled. We buy our refreshments, including coffee, tea, and milk from a local organic market. We wash and reuse real glasses and mugs instead of paper or plastic.
Recycling: All of our paper and other recyclable office materials are taken to a local recycling center on a weekly basis. We recycle the toner used in our printers and copiers.
Electricity: We use energy efficient light bulbs to light our office.
Travel: We try to reduce Barefoot's carbon footprint by minimizing travel. We take the train or bus as often as possible as an alternative to cars and airplanes.
Employee Involvement: We all work together to ensure that computers, lights and equipment are turned off when not in use.
Do you work with school classes in any way?
We offer parents and teachers the opportunity, through our Stallholder program, to fundraise for their schools, both with events in their communities and also online. Our award-winning books also make great additions to school libraries and classrooms – visit us online to see our complete range of educational ideas and fun activities for kids.

Do you have any big goals for the future?
2008 was a big year for Barefoot Books! We opened a beautiful store and storytelling venue in FAO Schwarz Manhattan this summer, embarked on an innovative partnership with PBS, published our first Young Fiction chapter book called Little Leap Forward, and are also sending lots of Barefoot Books to Africa with the help of our new friends at Books For Africa. We hope to continue to spread the word about Barefoot in new and innovative ways in 2009, capitalizing on new social networking tools and grassroots marketing with our Stallholders. Lastly, and most importantly, one of our main goals in 2009 will be to find more ways to ‘Give Barefoot’ and seek out partnerships with like-minded organizations who are making a difference in the lives or children around the world.

Thank you Nancy for this interesting interview.

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