I made my annual summer pilgrimage to the New York gift show, now called NY NOW, for my work with Keena and 12 Small Things. Unfortunately I brought along a summer cold my husband gave me for our anniversary that I always miss because I'm at the gift show! I tried to make the best of it and kept politely to myself, but I'm sure I got my friend Darcy sick who hung out with me anyway, because friends do that. 

I started at the Piers when my friends Karen Gibbs and Colvin English from By Hand Consulting produce the Artisan Resource exhibit, bringing artisan groups from around the world to showcase their products and introduce them to customers looking for sourcing capabilities and direct imports. Karen and Colvin have done a great job of identifying and promoting talented artisan groups and introducing them to potential buyers attending the gift show. They hosted a series of seminars alongside their exhibit, one of which I attended and met a former colleague of mine, Dena Harris, who was one of the panelists and used to work with me at Esprit.


I was pleased to see a vendor I recognized, Makaua from Mexico, back at the show. They had brought their beautiful collection of woven baskets a few years ago and were swamped with customers wanting to place orders, including me. Once home I tried to follow up on my order but never heard back nor received any of the baskets I requested. In speaking to their representative about my previous experience they apologized, saying they were just too small and inexperienced to handle the initial demand for their products, but have since regrouped to form what they hope will be a larger and more capable business. The word Makaua in the ancient Nahuatl language has two meanings: “hand to hand” or the act of “giving a hand”. The palm they use to make their baskets is a sustainable natural fiber that grows abundantly in the South of Mexico.


The colorful hand towels at the Kara booth also caught my attention, as I am continually looking for great kitchen towels for 12 Small Things. Kara Weaves was co-founded in 2007 by Indu Menon, a social anthropologist and Chitra Gopalakrishnan, a graphic designer, and is now a member of the Fair Trade Forum of India. Kara partners with local weaving co-operatives in Kerala (India) to design contemporary home textiles. Each product is made from a very ancient local fabric called the "thorthu" that is hand-made at traditional wooden looms. 

My next stop was very unexpected but welcome, as I discovered an artisan group from Gaza. The Sulafa Embroidery Center is a project of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. Sulafa was initiated in 1950 with the aim of providing income to refugee women and their families. Sulafa trains and employs women in seven refugee camps to produce a range of embroidered products that are sold through the Sulafa retail outlet in Gaza City. In its heyday, Sulafa employed up to 500 women but now with a slowed economy and difficulties caused by the blockade, fewer women are employed.


The Poverty Alleviation Fund, an NGO based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working with Sulafa to develop products and widen it's market so that more women can ultimately be employed. The current conflict in the Middle East prevented the Sulafa representatives and much of their new collection from being there. Instead I met Claire Burkert of Dropenling, who was filling in and was happy to tell me about the organization and collection. I thoughts their embroidered fish and oranges ornaments might be a great product for Whole Foods Markets to feature next holiday.


I met so many other inspiring groups as I admired their carefully crafted products. One group from Nepal, Harati Mata Handicraft, had the added attraction of a very young salesman, who kept me engaged with puppet demonstrations and a full walk through of his mother's booth. The products were so thoughtfully made, from decorated felt eggs and ornaments, to children's animal slippers and hats, that I couldn't help taking multiple pictures while being led around by the future owner of the company.

By this time I was feeling the effects of my head cold set in, but I managed to stop by the Aid to Artisans luncheon hosted by Maud Mabika of Creative Learning, back at the Javits Center.  I met representatives from Art Matenwa in Haiti and Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans from the West Bank, who were taking ATA's Market Readiness Program and showed me their products before I had lunch. I was totally enamored by these little, one-of-a-kind hand sewn dolls from Haiti, and handsome animal figures from Kyrgyzstan.


I saw my good friend Carol MacNulty there, along with Patti Carpenter, but tried to keep my distance while eating my sandwich. Carol introduced me to the owner of Charity USA and the Greater Good Network, who has made a business out of helping smaller fair trade and cause-related organizations sell their products online. I also met Bonnie Dahan, from Viva Terra fame, who is currently consulting for Amanda North's Artisan Connect website. We agreed to have lunch back in San Francisco where we both live, when I got back and was feeling better. Small world, but it keeps getting bigger, or is it the other way around? 

September 15, 2014 by Laurie Kanes