I flew back east for my annual pilgrimage to the New York gift show at the Jacob Javitz Center last week. It’s the one chance I get each year to see many of my international wholesalers and touch base with all the wonderful people at the Aid to Artisans booth. There I met Katherine Allen from Craftmark, who has been so great in helping me source beautiful scarves from India. She was speaking with a group of women including my friend Gwendy from Original Women, who I met at the gift show in Peru last year. We all put on some of Katherine’s beautiful scarves and posed for a photo.
Through ATA, I met Simone Ambroise from Haiti, who brought me samples from artist Jomileau Exuvera, who works wonders with recycled metals. Jomileau made me smaller versions of his beautiful angel candleholders, so that I can offer them on my 12 Small Things website this holiday. I also met Lucrecio Macuacua and Chila Lino, who work in Mozambique, helping artisans export their products to international markets. I have ordered dark wood candle holders from them; very handsome, mid-century.
I reconnected with one of my former teachers from the Aid to Artisan’s training classes, Michelle Wipplinger. Michelle has an amazing eye for color and has a line of natural dyes that she sells to those in the know around the world. Michelle keeps track of color trends in the fashion, design and film industries and is a consultant for those trying to anticipate future customer demand. Michelle was meeting with Anne Pressoir, another amazing woman who moved to Haiti and raised a family there. Both Michelle and Anne have faced many personal and professional challenges in their work helping artisans around the world, and both are still continuing to give of their time and talent. I remarked on what strong women they were, which they dismissed laughing, but it’s true. It’s too much work for the weary.
It was hard to leave the Aid to Artisan booth but I had to see the rest of the show and my other fair trade wholesalers. I ran into all my favorite people who knew each other from being involved with the Fair Trade Federation, and obviously from doing shows together. I saw Kim Persons from Gecko Traders, who imports handbags made from recycled fish feed bags, by disabled and disadvantaged workers in Cambodia. She introduced me to the women from Global Girlfriend who had just purchased her business after 10 years of her tireless work. We also met up with Eve Vanderschmidt from New Ramona, who imports the jewelry from Afghanistan I will be selling this fall. Eve is carrying on a business started by her aunt in New York years ago when the fair trade movement was just being formed.
In between making the rounds at the show, I managed to get in a lunch with my friend Suzanne Ellis who was the head of merchandising at Red Envelope where we worked together for two years. She now has her own business, Luna and Stella, selling mothers’ birthstone jewelry. Suzanne has been great sharing tips about her website and shipping methods, etc. She chose a trendy restaurant, Cookshop, not far from the show, that was deserted when we arrived and packed when we left, with the ladies luncheon crowd. I felt so posh.
After the show I took the subway up to Harlem to see my photographer friends Ann Stratton and her husband Ruedi Hofmann. I took the wrong train and wound up lost on 122nd Street in the 100 degree heat. Anne came and rescued me in her air-conditioned car and her husband cooked us a fabulous pasta dinner while we caught up with a few glasses of wine. Anne and Ruedi have just finished restoring thier old brownstone and we sat in their new kitchen and watched an amazing thunderstorm light up their back yard.
I left New York the next morning feeling very good about the products I have chosen for my website launch and the artisan groups who are making them. I had the most harrowing shuttle ride to the airport – worse than the cabs in Lima Peru and that’s saying something. My fellow passengers and I weren’t sure we’d get to the airport in time, let alone in one piece. Our driver was from Srilanka and didn’t stop his running comedic dialog as he drove up on sidewalks and cut off traffic along the way. In my much less dramatic shuttle ride home in San Francisco, I met a young woman just returning from Peru, where she worked with incarcerated women making crafts. She is starting a non-profit business to help them sell their products in this country and was so happy to meet me, as I was her. What are the chances of that, or is something happening here? Gifts come in many different forms and often when they’re least expected.