Sheltering in place
Everything looks different, on our walks, the clouds are more dramatic, the sky bluer, the bay calmer. Is everything clearer, as my daughter suggested, because there are less cars on the roads and more factories closed that contribute to air pollution? Apparently there are clear skies in China these days due to the Corona virus shut-down of factories the past few months. Or am I just noticing things more carefully, and appreciating the outdoors more intensely, because I realize my time outside is limited?
My store, 12 Small Things is closed as mandated by the Governor of California, as it is categorized as a non-essential business. I shopped for groceries at Costco and hardware supplies at Home Depot with masks and gloves on, to buy essential supplies for my family. We bought a take out dinner last night and lunch today to help our local restaurants, but are cooking a large meal tonight with leftovers for my in-laws who are also sheltering-in-place. Our family is fortunate, as we have homes and money to buy food that is available, and we are still healthy. I worry even more about those without shelter, or who are out of work with no income, or who are becoming sick with the Corona virus, how much more vulnerable they have become. I gave some spare change to a woman begging on the street today and did not keep my 6’ distance.
I am still busy working for Keena Co. where my two key account customers, Cost Plus World Market, and Whole Foods Northern California remain open as they sell food, beverages and other essential items to the public. I’m not sure how much longer they will be allowed to stay open or if we’ll have to order online for pickup or delivery only as other retailers are doing. I’ve been encouraged by the interest these larger retailers have had in some of the handmade, fair trade products I’ve introduced to their buyers. Whole Foods has been selling hand-knit ornaments from Melange Collection for the past few holiday seasons, and will be offering hand-loomed pouches from Mercado Global for Mother’s Day if indeed they are still open for business.
Cost Plus World Market recently bought Little Travelers beaded passport pins from Until There’s A Cure, made by artisans with Woza Moya working in South Africa. I was so excited to see them in their stores, knowing how much difference that one transaction made in these artisans livelihood. They have also expressed interest in more products offered from Until There’s A Cure, along with felt pet toys from The Snow Leopard Trust, made by artisans in Kyrgystan, and animal keychains from Beadworks Kenya. We still need to go through product testing, but if approved, would mean so much to these groups working in underserved communities around the world.
This past January I attended Las Vegas Market and then NY Now and Shoppe Object in February, to visit our Keena vendors and also to buy product for 12 Small Things. In Las Vegas I was happy to see nice looking booths from The Global Trunk, who are very creative and resourceful in fashioning pillow cases and napkins from vintage, hand-loomed indigo fabric, traditionally used for women's skirts in Guatemala. They also sell beautifully embroidered children's dresses from Mexico that I also ordered for my store. I loved the bright bold fabrics of the African skirts in the booth nearby, and realized it was my friend Ronnie Shaw's company The Sankofa Center, which helps educate and serve the AIDs/HIV community in Ghana. I bought a selection of 12 different patterned skirts, one size fits all, and quickly sold most of them once they arrived in store.
I flew out to New York a few days later during the Super Bowl, as I've done in prior years, and my excitement in the game once I landed quickly faded, as San Francisco lost their lead in the 4th quarter. The next morning I headed out to Shoppe Object and was very impressed at how large they've grown and how improved the layout was for easier viewing. I had a wonderful time reordering sustainable, well-designed cleaning products from Heaven in Earth, including feather dusters from South Africa and wooden kitchen scrub brushes and metal dustpans and from Germany, to replace any plastic items in the home. I also reordered my favorite white stoneware pitchers from Sir/Madam, and am a little sad each time I loose a piece of the beautiful still-life they create, when one is sold in my store.
Heading down more aisles I ran into Virginia from Considered by Real, who I had helped with a booth in Las Vegas last summer, featuring handmade products from artisans in New Guinea. Her booth there was much larger and very well designed, and also included antique furnishings from her sister's business. My friend Eszter was there with Sidai Designs jewelry which she co-founded, helping to create employment for Maasai women in Tanzania. I ordered more jewelry for Mother's Day which should be arriving soon. Also exhibiting at Shoppe Object was Sobremesa by Greenheart, who had previously been showing at NYNow. I think Jennifer and Mia were pleased with their new arrangement and were writing nice orders, including mine for their new ceramic collection from Tunisia.
Having walked the whole show I took the shuttle bus over to NYNow, where I saw sisters Lorena and Paula from Makaua, and placed a nice order for their beautifully made woven baskets from Mexico in multiple colors, as my customers keep asking when I will have those back in stock. I was happy to see my friend Nilufer with Loom and bought more of her lovely hand-loomed cotton blankets and throws from Turkey. Nilufar has done such a great job expanding this contemporary textile line using traditional weaving and dying techniques. Her booth neighbor was Smita Paul from Indigo Handloom, now being represented by Keena Co, where I bought more of her fine handloomed cotton scarves and tunics for Mother’s Day. I helped her pack her booth up the last day of the show and we went to a local Indian restaurant in Hell's kitchen, where she knew all the right dishes to order!
That night in my hotel room I reviewed all the purchases I'd made for my store and laid out the samples I'd collected to show Cost Plus World Market and Whole Foods when I returned home. These included wool finger puppets from Mac MacCoy from DZI Handmade, made by artists in Nepal, recycled rice bag card holders from Cambodia by Malia Designs, elephant notebooks and magnets from artisans in Sri Lanka by Mr. Ellie Pooh, and wooden coasters, frames and animal pencils from Sasha Association for Craft Producers in India who showed with Karen Gibbs at Artisan Resource. I also loved the little animal sculptures made from recycled flip-flops by artisans in Nairobi working with Leslie Mittelberg at Swahili Modern, and hoped my buyers would too!
Before heading home the next day I took a walk to visit the New York Public Library Schwarzian building, which I'd never seen before in person, and was amazed to see their hand painted murals, carved wooden shelving and marble staircases, that have been wonderfully preserved for the public to use for free. I had a special lunch date to meet my friend Kathy Young at Pete's Tavern in Gramercy Park, where we worked together in the late 70's. After 40's years we recognized each other right away, and had a lovely time reminiscing and catching up.
Since returning home, we've all had our lives interrupted by this unpredictable virus and are experiencing life through social distancing. My friend Kathy just lost her best friend to this virus, along with so many other lives in NY. I'm trying to pay for and receive the orders I placed in New York that are ready to ship, even though my store will be closed for at least another month, as I know how much these artisans need to be paid. I am receiving notifications from World Market that they will need to delay or cancel orders now that their stores are closed too, and I worry for the artisans who have already produced orders for them. We all need to make tough decisions that affect everyone's livelihood.
Smita from Indigo Handloom and I are now selling the handmade face masks she has been sewing, for us all to wear as part of our everyday outfits, to help reduce the spread of the virus further. We will be donating a portion of the proceeds to National Nurses United to help support those in the frontline of this crisis. A small act, reflecting the times, but at least something we can do while sheltering in place. Until we return to the new normal, take good care, and hope you and your families stay safe and well, Laurie