Meet Our Artisans
Each season we feature artisans from around the world whose products are in showcased in our current collection. Discover how these talented artisans make their sustainable, unique products by hand, along with the challenges they face, and the non-profit groups who help support their craftwork.
After two years of pandemic Groundhog Day, I'm starting to head back out into the world again, mask half on, nose in the air. But before I talk about where I'm going, I'll try to catch up a bit by trying to recall where I've been. As in 2020, I continued my wholesale work in the safety of my store's back office, representing artisan crafts with 12 Small Things, along with commercial products from Keena Co, to World Market and Whole Foods stores. These retail business saw increased sales during the pandemic, both online and in person, as people sought comfort in cooking and decorating their homes.
One of the most challenging and rewarding projects I helped broker was for Day of the Dead paper decorations from artisans in Mexico for sale at World Market stores. These paper banners and crepe paper flowers are often reproduced in India and China using machinery, but the authentic products are handmade by artisans in Mexico. I called the owner of a local store in our Mission District, Nancy Charraga, who used to sell these products, including a paper Trump piñata, but closed her store during the pandemic. Nancy explained the art of cutting the paper banners from stacks of tissue with a hammer and chisel, just like it was first done in China ages ago and then later learned in Mexico.
The crepe flowers are hand rolled and attached with wires covered in paper by other skilled artisans who have passed the tradition down through family generations. Nancy supervised the different groups working on the orders and made sure to meet the deadline for shipping the products to World Market's warehouses on time. We hit one snag in the process when the World Market visual display team discovered the holes in the packaging were too small to fit on the store's display pegs. Nancy stopped the shipments at the border and hired a team to reopen the boxes and punch the product tags with larger holes before sending them on their final leg of their journey. Happy to say we got a reorder for this fall.
Last year I lost my oldest sister Kris Reynolds to Parkinson's disease, and attended her memorial in Colorado with my other sister and brother. I learned so much from Nancy about the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, and how loved ones are remembered with special alters on the occasion. So last fall I made my first Dias de Los Muertos alter in the store, honoring my sister Kris along with other family members and friends who I've lost, but are still with me in memories and dreams. Having their photos and alter in the store gave me a sweet sense of love and honor each time I saw them, and spoke of their memory to customers who inquired. This is a tradition I will continue.
Another group I was thrilled to start working with last year is Powered By People, co-founded by the fabulous Hedvig Alexander from The Far and Wide Collective, which was a beautifully curated collection of artisan crafts, similar to 12 Small Things, but much more comprehensive and ambitious. Hedvig chose to pivot to a different business model which links international artisans directly to the end consumer, and created Powered By People, showcasing over 100 international artisans, and reaching out to wholesale and retail buyers around the world.
World Market ordered paper mâché hand mirrors, decorative boxes and magnets from Nepal, along with ME to WE beaded bracelets from Kenya, all from Powered By People, that are currently for sale in their retail stores and online. We are in the process of getting ready to ship notecards from Kenya and fabric bookmarks from India, and presenting dozens more products for consideration for next holiday 2023 already, if you can believe it.
I did venture out of the office last summer to attend the NYNow gift show again and also to the Las Vegas Market with some fun stops along the way. Before going to New York I took a detour to visit my friend Laurie on her family's summer home on Chokecherry Island near Chippewa Bay on the St. Lawrence River. Talk about a little slice of heaven, complete with rowing skiffs, good food and drink and lovely company. From this remote charming island, to be back in New York City was quite a contrast, but always a fun experience. The NYNow show was hit hard by the pandemic along with the competition from Shoppe Object that was being held at a different time that year.
NYNow had asked me to be a mentor to some of their new exhibitors and I was very pleased to meet and review the different groups including Abby from Abby Alley, working with jewelry makers and leather smiths in Kenya. Abby had gone to Kenya to teach English and ended up staying to work with the local artisans to help them market and sell their products in the US. I don't sell a lot of leather bags at my store, as the price points are usually high, and people often want a designer brand when buying fashion accessories. But I admired the bags Abby was selling and placed an order that sold very well at my store, and I've since reordered. The organizers of NYNow are hosting SFNow next month here at Fort Mason and have asked me to mentor another three groups who I'm looking forward to meeting.
I also had a chance to see some of my familiar vendors returning for the show, including Natalie Tancreed with Prosperity Catalyst representing products from Haiti and Iraq. I also saw the group from Belart in Colombia and bought some colorful straw ornaments for holiday. I also bought holiday notecards and felt garlands from Giftlands in Nepal, more organic shaped ceramic vases from the Art Floral Trading working with artisans in Thailand, and bought lots of famous personality felt ornaments from The Silk Road Bazaar in Kyrgyzstan, including Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, that all sold well in my store. That night I had dinner with Natalie outside at a French Bistro until a sudden thunderstorm forced us inside, which was a lot more comfortable, even though we were still in a spreading pandemic.
My visit to the summer Las Vegas Market was a lot quicker but still worth the visit, as I found two new vendors from Indonesia, Jitana and Ceremonia, who both had beautiful handmade decor I thought World Market might be interested in. I also continued my Day of the Dead research and found wonderful small painted animals or Alebrije from Oaxaca along with painted skeleton figures that I also plan to carry in my store for our local Dias de Los Muertos celebrations in San Francisco.
All seemed to be going well with my wholesale representation and at the store, which was thankfully very busy with holiday sales, but also a bit stressful trying to juggle both business and personal plans. Unfortunately that was just the time the new omicron virus decided to visit me and I was forced to cancel our Christmas plans. Talk about the grinch who stole Christmas! I quarantined in my daughter's bedroom for five days as Christmas went on without us. Fortunately it was a mild case thanks to my vaccinations, and we were all able to celebrate together after testing negative on New Year's Day.
The new year brought some new projects including mentoring again for Aid to Artisans with entrepreneurs in South Africa over Zoom. I had the pleasure of getting to know; Stephen and Linda Nessworthy from Cape Alpaca who run an alpaca wool farm and make beautiful yarns, blankets and socks, Candice Lawrence from Modern Gesture who is a lighting designer of wonderful hanging lamps and custom installations for home and commercial interiors, and Johan de Meyer from Macassar Pottery ceramics studio, who employs youth from the community to produce custom orders for large retailers. I am truly inspired by these talented individuals and hope I've been able to help them with issues I've also dealt with in my professional experience.
Which brings me up to date with my current project, 12 Small Things Destinations. Before the pandemic I was aware of the growing consumer trend in creating experiences for purchase, rather than shopping for merchandise. Anticipating this shift, I curated a collection of some of the most popular items from my store, that I thought would compliment a boutique hotel, spa, or winery destination; from sun hats, to warm shawls, beach cover-ups and candles, made by artisans in need of support around the world. And then the pandemic hit and travel slowed to a halt. Now that its picking up again, I've printed a Destinations brochure and created a wholesale website and am hitting the road again, visiting hotels in the Bay Area, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, that I think might be interested in carrying the collection.
I also signed up for my first ever virtual spa conference hosted by the Green Spa Network, where I will present my collection to spa buyers across the country. I'm excited to learn more about the hospitality industry and bring my collection to customers who will hopefully appreciate the beauty of quality, handmade products, that are preserving crafts and helping to support communities in struggling economies around the world. I am working on a way to add QR codes to my product's hangtags, so customer can scan and watch a video of the products being made by the artisans who made them.
Be on the lookout for 12 Small Things on your next travels, OK, maybe next year, but hopefully coming soon! Laurie
Last month I participated in Aid to Artisans E-Market Readiness Program with attendees from around the world, attended the online gift show Shoppe On, where I bought products for 12 Small Things and listened to a great panel discussion moderated by Patti Carpenter on Building Diversity, sat in on a conversation with Vanity Fair's editor Radhika Jones, interviewing Ta Nehisi Coates about their brilliant The Great Fire September issue, and watched Beyonce perform songs from her new album Black is King, all from my laptop computer and was elated.