Juggling Priorities May 04 2014, 0 Comments

 Just returned from a trip to Mexico with my friend and chef, Terry Paetzold who invited me on a culinary tour hosted by Steve Sando from Rancho Gordo in Napa. I've known Terry since before our kids were born, as our fathers were best friends living in Vista, California. And Steve and I used to work together at the corporate office for Esprit back in the 80s, and later I followed his career as the DJ Mr. Lucky in San Francisco. Who could refuse such an opportunity to spend a week cooking and drinking and reminiscing? But I picked a pretty busy time to leave, so much is going on. I spent a lot of last month preparing for a big Whole Foods conference I attended the day after I returned, to show products from Keena to their 2000 Northern California store employees.

 

I've simultaneously been working on a point of purchase display for 12 Small Things, in hopes of selling a collection of fair trade gifts to retail stores. My friend, Gary Barker, from Ditto Brand Solutions, is helping me with the prototype. Gary used to be a commercial illustrator under the name Bud Peen, but found his second calling designing and manufacturing recycled and recyclable hangers. The amount of plastic hangers made and thrown into landfills by clothing companies is staggering, and Gary is trying to take the industry giants head on. Companies like Gymboree and the Gap have already begun testing his product.

For 12 Small Things, we are working on a display box that can be configured into different proportions depending upon what product is being showcased. My intern Shushan Tesfuzigta, a student at the California College of Arts, has been a big help to me in conceptualizing the display, first carving up drawer organizers we bought from the Container Store, and then drawing our final recommendations for Gary in Illustrator. My plan is to provide these displays to retailers wanting to offer fair trade products, but not sure of what to sell or how to explain their importance. 12 Small Things will curate the collection and offer informational content support, including video links on the hang tags for each item. 

  
I am also in the midst of making a video for my website to help explain and support my mission, and show the work of some of the artisans whose product I'm featuring. My friend Chris Manners of Lime Voodoo, is shooting and editing the film and my intern Stephanie Mejia, a student at the Hult International Business School, is assisting me with the production. Stephanie contacted me from the Dominican Republic where she is from, asking if I needed any help. Once I explained I was a one person show which didn't phase her in the least, she came on board and like Shushan, lent her talents to help model for the website as well.

My favorite story this month is of my new Russian connection, Jewel Girls, who found me online and arranged a meeting with me through the US-Russian Social Expertise Exchange. When I received their call from Washington, DC, I thought I might be in trouble for something. Instead I received a wonderful visit from Elena Timofeeva and her videographer Svetlana Bazhenova, who are on a three month tour of America, looking for support for their organization which helps victims of human trafficking in Russia. They have a center in Moscow where they offer counseling and emotional and vocational support by creating custom jewelry through workshops.

Elena was a volunteer social worker who saw the effects of human trafficking while still a student in college. She started the organization with help from Fair Girls in Washington DC, along with other private grants and donations. The Russian government is not one to recognize such problems even exist, let alone help sponsor a recovery program. Instead, Elena and her network host their workshops and sales at private events and online. I suggested they also get an English version of their website along with an American celebrity who may have a special affinity for their cause. One would think that in the midst of Silicon Valley she could find some volunteers but even a trip to the Hub proved unsuccessful, so busy is everyone on their own startup. 

  
Meeting Elena, I remembered a fellow attendee in the Aid to Artisans Market Readiness course I first took in 2008 before launching 12 Small Things. I met a lovely young woman there, Alia Whitney-Johnson who helped found Emerge after working with victims of abuse and trafficking in Indonesia. Like with Elena's foundation in Russia, some of these victims are only seven or eight years old. We managed to get the three of us together for brunch before the Russians left for Minnesota. Elena and Alia talked shop throughout the meal, with questions like, how do you train, and where do you get the materials, and how do you screen visitors to protect their safety? It was truly eye-opening for me, both terribly sad and yet so uplifting to hear them share their common experience.
 
I was full of admiration for both these amazing young women as I left them in Cole Valley on a beautiful sunny day in San Francisco. They were going to walk through Haight Ashberry and Golden Gate Park like regular tourists, before heading back to their work at home. And I think I'm busy!