Happy new year! What happened to 2012? I blinked and now it’s another new year and I’m definitely not getting any younger. My work as a sales Representative for Keena in San Francisco has kept me so busy, I’ve had little time to dedicate to 12 Small Things. Since returning from New York it seems as if I have been working 24/7, selling products to my Mission, Bernal Heights and Potrero Hill customers, as well as my key accounts including Cost Plus, Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods. Cost Plus and Williams-Sonoma both have corporate offices where their buyers work, so it’s one stop selling once you get an appointment. Whole Foods also has a corporate office, but the sales are made individually through each store, of which there are 38 in Northern California and counting, from Monterey to Reno and San Francisco to Fresno!
Margaret at Whole Foods
I asked my friend Margaret, whose son Max had just left for his first year of college, if she wanted to go on a Whole Foods road trip with me. I pitched it like a Thelma and Louise bonding opportunity, without the going off the cliff part. Funnily enough, she agreed and we embarked on a 6 day journey, complete with a car full of product samples and Starbucks, alternating tunes with NPR and the Presidential debates. We began with the foggy coast of Marin county, with early morning grocery shoppers dressed in form fitting workout wear and Uggs. As we worked our way up to Sebastapol, athletic clothes gave way to loose fitting hippie wear with attitude. But whatever town we were in, one thing was definitely a common thread; people like their food and personal care products and Whole Foods is there to sell it to them!
On our journey down the coast to Santa Cruz and Monterey, we made a detour to Los Gatos to see Emmy Lou Harris in concert at the Mountain Winery. That day we had visited some of the larger Whole Foods stores in Campbell and Cupertino, and I found myself wandering around the aisles, amazed at all the space they had dedicated to non-food products. As I viewed the various displays of items, I saw right in front of me, in large letters over the jewelry section, the words Fair Trade Accessories. And then, a light bulb went on in my brain. What are the chances that at some point, I could sell 12 Small Things to Whole Foods?
Whole Foods Fair Trade
That night, before the concert, Margaret and I were talking about the possibilities of selling not just a few dozen necklaces through my website, but potentially a few hundred to Whole Foods and other retailers for that matter, and what a bigger impact that could have for the artisan groups I work with. I feel I’ve learned a lot these past few years about which artisan groups could fulfill larger orders, and have developed good relationships with a number of wholesalers I could work with, as I do with Keena. Margaret and I were both very excited about the opportunity as we enjoyed a quick dinner and glass of wine before a glorious concert under the stars.
My work for Keena is becoming even more intertwined with my interests in supporting fair trade artisans, hand-crafted products and sustainable resources, with some of the new lines we are representing in 2013. Catharine Keena held our annual meeting in November, when new companies come to present their lines, and we sales reps get a chance to ask questions and give feedback. I love these presentations and was so happy to see so many companies represented by women producing unique hand-crafted products. One of my favorites is the company Pavo, who make some of the most beautiful hand-woven textiles in India. Their designer Neeru Kumar, is internationally acclaimed for her work, and the company has been run by her family, employing hundreds of workers in their village for decades. I had spoken with their sales manager, Anita Mehta, when I was at the gift show in August, and swooned over the samples she had so beautifully displayed in her booth.In our meeting, I had the chance to hear how they are made, and feel them as they were passed around the table. I felt like Daisy in the Great Gatsby when she sees all of his shirts so neatly pressed in his closet. Something about the sheer beauty of something so well made and cared for, that makes a person really stop and take notice and feel it’s worth.
Another new company Keena is now representing is Studio Penny Lane from Los Angeles. Their products are all about, you guessed it, pennies, and even better, about the man on the penny, Abe Lincoln. They have, a penny for your thoughts; notebooks, jewelry, belt buckles, and my favorite, t -shirts with the Gettysburg address printed on the front and back. Having seen the movie Lincoln on Christmas, and now reminded of it with the Oscar nominations, the collection seems very relevant. Their founder, Laurie Libman-Wilson, promotes both the penny and Lincoln, inspiring hope and possibilities, and how we all need a little of that these days and in our government. Penny Lane also supports a foundation for youth to promote reading and writing among urban youth, similar to 826 Valencia. I can’t wait to rep their products and spread a little Abe wisdom and good luck!
In walking the New York Gift show again last week in search of 12 Small Things, I came across two scarf vendors who caught my attention in particular. One was Kara Weaves, a small company that works with independent teams of weavers in Kerala, India, to create handmade home furnishings of the highest quality. Chitra Gopalakrishnan, co-founder, freelance designer and professor, showed me their collection of beautiful hand-woven cotton scarves and towels from India with bold colorful graphics, perfect for summer. Started in the summer of 2008 with her partner Indu Menon, a social anthropologist and author of ‘Women Weaver’s, 1983, Kara is a creative venture with a social cause, born out of the need to give the Kerala handloom industry a much-needed impetus.
The other scarf company that stopped me in my tracks was Indigo Handloom, who I wrote about in my last post. I can not wait to feature her gorgeous scarves and buy a few for myself! One of my mentors, Carol McNaulty, who I saw briefly at the Aid to Artisans cocktail reception, asked me before I left if I wanted to have lunch with her and Mimi Robinson and Smita Paul from Indigo, once we all got back to San Francisco. How’s that for coming full circle? I love how everything’s connecting right now; work, interests, people. Not so easy to figure out going forward, but with enough persistence, good guidance and following your senses, in hindsight, it looks like it was all in the master plan.