Aid to Artisans making connections
This January, instead of exhibiting at trade shows representing international artisans for 12 Small Things, I volunteered to help Aid to Artisans with their first entry at the Las Vegas Market home and gift show. I knew the drill and tricks of setting up and breaking down in the temporary Pavilions exhibition hall, having done it for the past three seasons and winning the best booth award from the juried show twice. But having just turned 60 last December, I gave myself the birthday present of a break from trade show set-ups, at least for now!
However, when I learned from my friend Carol MacNulty, that Aid to Artisans was going to be bringing in artisans from around the world to exhibit in Las Vegas, I quickly volunteered to help. After all, Aid to Artisans, or ATA for short, helped me as I was first considering launching my website, showcasing fashionable, fair trade, handmade products from around the world. I attended their Market Readiness Program at the NY Now show in NYC in the summer of 2006. It was through ATA that I met Karen Gibbs, Patti Carpenter, Mimi Robinson, Keith Recker and Carol MacNulty, along with other artisan entrepreneurs from around the world. How appropriate, 12 years later, that I had the opportunity to thank them, by packing my suitcase full of handy tools, including a clothing steamer, and flying off to Las Vegas to help ATA and their artisans get show ready!
My first job once my plane landed in Las Vegas, was to meet the IKEA delivery truck filled with ready-to-assemble shelving and tables that the artisans had ordered for their booths. The first time I ordered from IKEA for delivery, the driver arrived before I had, and after waiting ten minutes outside, drove back and retuned my order to their warehouse. I had to pay $95.00 for the returned merchandise, and rent a car to drive to IKEA in the pouring rain to re-purchase my items and bring them back to the Pavilion. I was not going to let that happen to ATA.
This time, I arrived in plenty of time to meet the delivery truck, who then had to take a number and wait for their turn to drop everything off, after all the other trucks in line had unloaded their deliveries. Not the most efficient process I have witnessed, but with both union and non-union groups working at the event, I've learned to be patient and abide by their rules. I met up with Maude Obe, the program Director at ATA and her husband Chris, who also came to help, and we began assembling all the shelving and tables and steaming the cloth dividers as the artisans arrived throughout the day.
I was delighted to see Siddiqu Malik again, with her partner Samina Mahmud, from The Heritage Trust in Pakistan. Indus Heritage Trust is a non profit organization engaged in preserving and promoting the Pakistan's arts and crafts while empowering communities.
I first met Soddiqu at an ATA reception at NY Now, with my friends Sue Edmonds from Melange, and Patti Carpenter, who also introduced me to Frederic Alcantara, another well regarded international designer. She invited me to see the designs from Patti and Frederic, that her artisans in Pakistan were working on.
Another group I recognized was Miguel Hernandez with ATA Mexico, where he is the marketing manager for their Chiapas project. He had brought a wide array of embroidered cushion covers, hand loomed stoles, hand sewn and embroidered capes, napkins and pom-poms in both vibrant colors and muted tones, all created with locally sourced raw materials. I had bought some of their pillow covers and napkins at NY Now last year, and later learned they were designed by my friend Mimi Robinson, small world indeed.
Miguel was sharing his booth with my friend Dalia Lerner from Artemateria, who also represents artisans from Mexico. I was introduced to Dalia by my friend Carol MacNulty through ATA, and have represented her basket collection in a couple west coast shows and in my store. My friend Pam Sturges and I had fun meeting Dalia in Chicago when we were visiting Greenheart last year, and fell for her and her leather bag, which I also now carry at 12 Small Things.
A new friend I'd been corresponding with, but had yet to meet, Nilufar Sener, arrived from Turkey with her bags full of cotton Turkish clothing and towels, along with a bit of a cold. Her company, Ark of Crafts is a socially responsible Turkish supplier committed to artisanal traditions and ethical, time-honored processes. Their clothing division, Loom, features garments made from cotton, linen or silk, showcasing the unique softness and color of natural textiles. Their beachwear collection is made of Sile, which is a natural cotton boiled in floured water and washed in salt from the Black Sea. It’s beauty and earthy qualities make great bathrobes, beach towels, kimonos, tunic tops and throws. As I helped Nilufar steam all her garments, I picked out a few to order for my store.
Zebu arrived later that day exhausted from her long trip from Africa, to exhibit her beautiful bronze jewelry and bags. The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) is an initiative helping African women entrepreneurs promote business growth by increasing trade both regionally and to markets in the United States.
I was happy to meet and also help Rikki Quintana of HoonArts Fair Trade LLC, set-up her booth, which featured beautiful felted shawls from Kyrgyzstan. One of only three Fair Trade Federation members working with artisans in Central Asia, Rikki also displayed hand-embroidered pillows and table runners, hand-woven silk ikat scarves, and hand-carved wooden accessories.
Rikki's booth neighbor was Dror Noi, co- founder of Yumajai, a Colombia- based ethical fashion brand that creates opportunities for Latin American artisans who use ancient crafts techniques to create modern, unique designs. Yumajai proudly received the People’s Choice Global Goodness Award from Las Vegas Market, that recognizes social responsibility, sustainability and corporate good citizenship.
Seeing one of ATA's TEAM participants win this award was a fitting way to wrap up my time volunteering in the Pavilions, and head over to the Keena showroom in the LVM Towers, to help with sales there for a couple of days. As I reflect back on all the connections I've made through Aid to Artisans over the past 12 years, I am very grateful for the friends I have made, and wonderful artisans I continue to work with all these years later. Will be following everyone's journeys through emails and Instagram and look forward to seeing everyone again soon!