Angels have arrived!
One of my favorite vendors, Jasperdean Kobes from Bamboula Ltd, emailed me last month very excited to say, "Laurie, the angels have arrived!" She and I had just sold our first order to the Northern California Whole Foods regional office serving 40 stores from Monterey to Sacramento. Jasperdean and I have been working together since I first launched 12 Small Things back in 2009. I sold the same, natural sisal fiber angel ornaments on my website and later helped her sell to Red Envelope where we featured them on the catalog cover.
Now working as a manufacturer's rep for Keena Company, I have made connections with the Whole Foods corporate office and was able to submit Jasperdean's angels along with some of the other lines I represent. We were notified that her angels were accepted for a group purchase of about 28 stores in August, and Jasperdean placed the order with her artisans in Kenya. The angels arrived in brilliant colors right in time to ship in November and are now in stores up and down Northern California. I was also thrilled to help sell Hope for Women's recycled tire tube bracelets made in Bogota, Colombia to the same group of Whole Foods stores, who are very interested in promoting fair trade products, and have found them very pleasant and professional to work with.
Another group I was able to help with wholesale representation is Craftspring, who work with artisans in Kyrgyzstan to make wonderful felt ornaments, slippers and toys. My friend Shelley Nandkeolyar was over visiting with his family last year and admired the ornaments I had in my home. Shelly placed a nice order for his new business, The Ivory Company and a second reorder just this month. I find this wholesale business model is one I'm well suited for in my current freelance position and one that seems to work well for the artisans I represent. I am continuously amazed by some of the new artisans I encounter through my work with 12 Small Things and through vendors introduced to me through my work for Keena. Two of my shining stars this year are Julie Wagner from Petel Designs and LauraLe from Oxgut Hose Company, both living in the Bay Area.
I met Julie when she came to interview with Catherine Keena about potentially representing her textile products from Mauritania. I happened to be at the Keena showroom for another meeting and fortunately Catherine asked me to stay, since I had experience with handmade fair trade products. Julie had met her husband in Mauritania when they were both working for the Peace Corps. Her husband's village had a long tradition of textile weaving that has been in need of support, and they are both trying to help by creating products they can sell to US markets. The first textiles Julie showed us were vintage pieces to die for; so beautiful were the colors and fabrication. They were not in pristine shape however and were no longer reproducible if someone placed a order for multiple pieces. Petel now offers a line of women's handbags and pillows that can be reproduced for multiple orders and can hopefully continue for future years and artisans to come.
Another of my personal craft heroes is LauraLe Wunsch from Oxgut Hose Company. LauraLe is an independent video producer and has a great community of designer friends she collaborates with in sustainably designed products. In her exploration of materials she found that fire stations across the country have to replace their fire hoses every few years and have been disposing of them in landfill. LauraLe and her friends came up with amazingly handsome industrial designed furniture and woven floor mats that are truly works of art. The firehouses are donated by different local stations that all have slightly different color hoses, so they can identify their gear when different stations respond to the same fire. LauraLe picks up their donated hoses and washes them and strips out the lining before her industrial sewers can begin their creations. Oxgut also offers wine carriers, firewood carriers, iPad cases and firemen slippers!
All of this startup work requires angels of its own in terms of investment, introductions and lots of helpers. I was happy to be asked back to the Art Angels Fair at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Belvedere by my friend Sharon Hilpert who I met when her husband Dale and I were both working at Williams-Sonoma. Sharon is on the board of directors for the Episcopal Relief & Development organization which works to alleviate hunger, fight disease, respond to disasters and help create economic opportunities in close to 40 countries around the world. Members of St. Stephen's parish formed a foundation, Siempre Unidos, to help communities in Honduras struggling with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Denise Main, who is a doctor, along with Evelyn Wells and Lydia Arellano, have been working in Honduras to set up clinics for medical care and education and also created a line of jewelry to help create income for the groups they are working with. I hope to be able to feature their necklaces for Mother's Day next year. I am continually impressed with the work groups like these do with very little fanfare, hoping to make the world just a little better through their involvement.
Happy holidays to you and your families with best wishes for the new year. May you all find your own angels along the way, Laurie