Happy new year! I love my new winter collection of gifts for 12 Small Things, all handmade by fair trade artisans around the world. I am particularly happy to be featuring products from Tibet and Afghanistan, brought to my attention through a network of friends and colleagues, plus an unexpected great find just north of San Francisco.

Our amazingly soft, cashmere shawl from Fibre Tibet was first shown to me by Adriana Mello, my boss and partner with Catharine Keena of Keena Company. Tanyia Kandohla contacted Adriana last year as part of her collaboration with The Bridge Fund, a non-profit organization in Washington DC devoted to creating sustainable economies in developing markets. 


Fortunately Adriana reached out to me thinking it might be appropriate for 12 Small Things. Once I saw and felt the beautiful silky cashmere weave and wrapped it around my shoulders I was convinced of the quality. Fibre Tibet shawls are made of the finest Tibetan cashmere, collected by Tibetan nomads near Mount Kailash and woven into shawls by Tibetan, Newari and Nepali women in Kathmandu, Nepal. Tibetan nomad cooperatives, businesses and Himalayan artisans all directly benefit from this special collection. The shawl is designed by Jill Platner, artist and surfer who notes the world ocean is integral to all life and the Dalai Lama is known as the ocean of wisdom. 

I was further surprised and pleased when I was contacted by my friend and former instructor, Paul Terry from the Renaissance Entrepreneur Center in San Francisco, to ask if I could meet with a group of students visiting from Tibet. The group was part of the Tibetan Social Enterprise Lab Fellowship offer by Stanford University, and had asked Paul and then me, for any business advice in selling handmade products from artisans around the world. I invited the students to come to my house for morning tea and pastries while I shared my experience with 12 Small Things, and they showed me their ideas for products they would like to export for sale to companies like mine in America. They were all very enthusiastic and smart, speaking very good English, and the time passed all too quickly. I told them about the Market Readiness Program offered by Aid to Artisans every August at the International Gift Fair in New York, that they would love to try to attend. They also showed me great photos of wool hats and slippers that I think would be well received here for future collections and they promised to keep in touch. Oh, and of course, they knew Tanyia from Fibre Tibet! 


My other favorite find this month are the great one of a kind hand felted fedoras from Yolo Wool Mill in Davis California. The mill is run by Jane Deamer and her son Nick with help from Marcail, who were kind enough to show me around on the rainy cold day when I visited. I had found their hats at the Davis Farmer's Market when I was up north seeing my daughter Johanna at UC Davis. The great retro style of the fedoras Jane was selling were made all the more charming by the fact she had raised and harvested all the wool at her sheep farm, and then had the hats hand-felted by a colleague in Canada. The have a nice trade of raw wool for finished hats between their two businesses, kind of like Rumpelstiltskin but using skilled craftsmanship instead of troll magic. After touring the mill and learning a lot about how the wool is carefully washed and processed, I drove past the barn to visit the source. The girls were pretty quiet for me, even after trying some of my barnyard animal calls.

I am also happy to be able to again offer the beautiful lapis lazuli necklaces and bracelets from Afghanistan I sold when I first launched my website five years ago. I was introduced to a new vendor, Khanaqa Niazi of Khabar-e-Khosh Company in Kabul, Afghanistan by my friend Carol MacNulty at the Aid to Artisans Market Readiness Program which Carol was facilitating and he was attending. Khanaqa had come to this country to look for more opportunities for his business and family who were still living in Afghanistan. I immediately recognized the quality of his artisan's work, having first seen such necklaces selling at the Asian Art Museum gift store in San Francisco. I wrote up a nice order for holiday, but due to the high costs and restrictions for shipping from Afghanistan, I wasn't able to receive the jewelry in time for Christmas. Now, just in time for Valentine's Day, I'm happy to have Khanaqa's beautiful jewelry along with the felt fedoras and cashmere shawls, joining the rest of my 12 Small Things collection, helping to support artisans around the world. And in closing, as I saw on a car bumper sticker in my neighborhood while riding my bike the other day, "Fleece on earth, good wool to ewe!" 



January 27, 2014 by Laurie Kanes