Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

My son's assignment was to write a paragraph about how the events of 9/11 affected our family. Peter and I both recounted thoughts, events, emotions. Our neighbor was Captain of the firehouse across from the Towers. My cousin's husband worked for Port Authority. My sister had monthly meetings at Windows on the World.

Luckily, no one we knew was killed. It was Matt's day off. Carlos was late (again). And my sister's meeting went uninterrupted the day before.

We were spared.

In Botswana, having drinks with friends, someone brought up Sept. 11. A solemn silence fell over the crowd. One by one, unprompted, people shared their thoughts - what they were doing when they heard, how it had changed their view of America, of Americans, and even though no one they knew was killed, they mourned two years later.

Today, I am grateful that my family and friends were safe. With thousands of innocent people murdered and hundreds more killed trying to save lives, I am so lucky to know no one who died. But those that did parish, they did not die in vain.

Around the world people united against terrorism. In one day, on 9/11, we were all victims of terrorist acts. What the Taliban set out to do was to show the world how vulnerable Americans were. What they hadn't anticipated was that that vulnerability made us stronger.

On September 11, 2001, Americans weren't seen as greedy, self serving, selfish, egocentric Capitalist Pigs. When those towers were struck and civilians targeted, we were neighbors, cousins, sisters...we were people.

On September 11, 2009, I will shed a tear of regret for all of those lives lost, and another of gratitude for the lives saved.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Calendar's Now on Sale

This has been a long a tedious process with many rewards and issues brought to light. With the pages mapped out and the photos almost nearly in place, it is really shaping up to be a beautiful year of Fair Trade practices and accomplishments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fair Trade Calendar Results

So, the calendar competition is over with amazing photos to show for it. Not only will the 12 pics that received the most votes get featured each month, but every entry will appear throughout the 2010 calendar. I can't wait to see what this design firm, Design Action a worker-owned collective will do with the photos and Fair Trade info we're providing them.

Tex Dworkin, working for Global Exchange was the originator of this idea and has been spearheading all - from conception to finished product to sales and marketing. I'm a worker bee...and glad to be.

While I would have looked into environmentally friendly paper and soy-based ink, I don't know that I would have had sources like Consolidated Printing who coerced New Leaf paper to greatly reduce their price to make the calendars more affordable as a fundraiser. Or that I would have been astute enough to hire a design firm that is worker-owned, which translates to fair trade right here in the USA.

I also just finished a nearly 3 hour conference call with the Fair Trade Federation Board members. Phew! Talk about everything you need to know about Fair Trade! While I won't go into details about the meeting, I will say, there are varying levels of Fair Trade and many mindsets. Not a hard and fast rule, necessarily and certainly when talking about practices. Which leads me to this blog...

I am coming to the realization that we all have a place on this planet and that the die-hards can co-mingle with the novices and each can learn from the other. I find that in the shop, I tend to get defensive. Oh, you're just like 10,000 villages. No, I'm not. Sure, we have a common goal - provide a safe, secure, sustainable environment where the neediest are given some attention for their labors. With that, we also want to make sure there is some environmental stewardship for everyone's future.

But the women I work with are small groups, working from their homes, working when they can. I have come to the conclusion lately that creating a factory setting where they produce for a wide number of retail stores would do San Bushmen women in particular more harm than good. While my friend's paper bead org in Uganda has over 100 women as members, with thousands more making hundreds of pieces of jewelry from recycled materials for other orgs. Ostrich Eggshell is precious, with eggs only hatched three months out of the year. Recycled paper is in abundance. The San women live in settlements that they are happy to call home. They have many of their needs provided for them in one way of another and so don't truly NEED cash, they could use more, but they can survive with limited amounts. The women in the Acholi Quarter are relocated refugees who must live in shanti towns. They live in a cash society. They need to make money to buy food, put their children to school, live...The women have different situations and so does each wholesaler. Our jobs are to educate the public with awareness, let people know what the living conditions of people are in third world countries and through the sale, offer a way for us to help.

But I don't want the idea of charity to enter into my business. I firmly believe that a business relationship is what is needed to honor the skill and artistry of the crafter/producer and that a fair payment is what will enable artisans to sustain their skill, not a hand out. I'm not a religious person, but gotta love the "teach a man to fish" analogy. Give a woman a dollar and she'll eat for that day, provide her a means to sustain a business and earn a fair wage and you feed her and her family forever. With her elevation in financial means/status, she brings a world of hope and promise to her children and her children's children

I have a greater appreciation of what that means in terms of people like me who have small groups that we work with directly and those who work with larger groups providing products to "chain" stores. As it is, I will be opening another store this holiday season with the promise of keeping it open should there prove to be a market here in Poughkeepsie.

With Fair Trade ideals just coming to Main St America (god I hate catch phrases like that!), there's a lot of room to grow, a lot of ways to see the end results and in the end we will all be better off realizing that people live at different standards around the world and how much we can help, what we can do, and how we do it is going to change and differ depending...It all depends on us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New York Gifts

I had an amazing day at NYIGF yesterday. I helped Virginia in her Brushkins booth where there was a steady stream of buyers from Florida, California and many regionally. Several people were buying for their internet business and a few looking to start one. Sales, I am told, were small orders, but there were many. Escama's owner, Andy said that their first NY show where they introduced the line of bottle top bags was mind blowing and after six shows, this one quite nearly reached the same totals. Exciting stuff.

I left there feeling promise that the market was on an upswing. Promise that my store would again be doing well. Promise that the ostrich eggshell jewelry and our line of safari would be embraced at the show. . . my mind was racing.
I would love my own booth - the excitement of planning, the control of creating yet a new venture, the promise of sustainability for the programs I put in place in Botswana. I wanted to share the warmth of the shop, bring awareness of the women I work with, and harness and prove the viability of the products.

I couldn't wait to return today to take in more information about how other people were working the show, gain some more insight into what was missing, what people were buying, how to sell.

I wanted to find new products to make the store fresh and profitable. I wanted to make good connections for new vendors and possibly, connections for my own businesses.
I loved being in the thick of the sales, the mindset of retail, enveloped in fair trade practices and theory. I wanted another day in the buzz.

But then I took a deep breath and I stopped myself - defended myself from myself.

I keep talking about promoting the women's products, bringing awareness of their way of life, preserving the craft and their culture and making all of us a little more financially secure. Will my shop do that? Yes, to some degree. Will my wholesaling do that? Yes, a little bit. But what would do that the biggest and best way? My book.

For the past two weeks I've been obsessed with change - buy a new house, open a shop, get a job...All of those things are great distractions, great excuses, and tangible endeavors, but none of those things would accomplish the biggest and best change for all of us. The answer to my restlessness is the book.

I had entitled the book "Women's Work: My Life's Work" but that's not true. Women's Work (the store, the concept, and quite literally the meaning of the phrase) has always been a vehicle for my true life's work. I believe my greatest passion and my one and only talent is my writing.
To put my life's existence out there - to write this book, I will be fulfilling my life's work. But what if it's no good? What if no one wants to read it? What if it never gets published? Then, will my life be a failure? Reasonable Cecilia says no of course not! But Irrational Cecilia often prevails...
But not today, IC, not today. Today, I write the book.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saving Fish from Drowning

My children and I were sightseeing with some friends when we found this pool of water in a rock along the Hudson River. We were surprised to find many fish stuck in the rock. The water must have receded and the fish got trapped. Macallan, quick on her feet, began to catch and release the live fish in the hopes she wasn't too late.

I uploaded the pic on my Facebook page and entitled it, "Saving Fish from Drowning". I was moved by the phrase.

Much like those fish, I see people in developing countries trapped by their situations. It wasn't their fault that they were trapped, nor mine, but if you find them and can help them, shouldn't you?

One of the fish, a catfish was struggling to stay alive. But Macallan knew from her dad that catfish have barbs that can hurt you. She tried to get a hold of it without hurting it or herself. I brought over a stick but there was no way to use it. Macallan just had to persevere attempting to capture it without it sticking her. She got it in her hand, it wriggled madly, threw itself from her grasp and landed on the hard rock before slipping into the river. "Oh!" Macallan exclaimed, afraid she had hurt it. But I reassured her it swam away as fast as it hit the water. "See?" I pointed out. "It's gone." Doubtful that she had not caused it more harm than good, it took her a good half hour to snap out of her funk.

I feel like that sometimes. Wondering if my interaction does more harm than good, if I have a hand in them hurting themselves...

In the same pool was a tiny frog clinging to the sides. Now, he didn't need saving. He could hop away, free from danger. The kids were careful to take a few pictures and then left him alone. He eventually ducked into the murky puddle and swam out of sight.

I hope I can do that with the producers. I hope I can see those that are able to hop to safety, appreciate their existence, let them alone, and acknowledge that they can care for themselves.

Frogs are indicator species. Not so long ago, frogs had been disappearing. On this trip along the Hudson, we saw many. Let's hope that is an indication of the plenty that is coming our way. May the frogs be a symbol of the self assuredness, ability, and good fortune that is hopping, better yet, that we are hoping is coming our way.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thursdays in the Shop with Macallan

A wonderful day in the shop yesterday.

I met a woman with a store outside of Philadelphia who appreciated the fair trade aspect of the products and also the beauty and craftsmanship of the jewelry!

I met three lovely young women, two of whom had lived and worked in Uganda for four months through their universities and one who had just returned from two weeks in South Africa. One of the women lives in Fishkill and says she often brings her friends into the shop. She is leaving in a matter of weeks for a year in Egypt and upon her return she will attend Pace University for her international law degree. Wow!

Julia Frazier came by. It's been far too long since we've seen each other. She was astounded by how "big" Macallan had gotten. She leaves for England to defend her dissertation and hopes to leave within weeks of her return to take a job with a nonprofit in the Congo!

Another encounter that makes me feel the shop is vital and worthwhile is when three women (and a man) came into the store midday. "This is my all-time favorite store" a beautiful woman who was impeccably dressed said as she escorted her guests in, "we just have to go in here!" Her one friend saw a bag (basket with straps to carry on your back) and fondled it briefly. "It's a shop full of African stuff," her other friend said. "and you're looking at a bag from the Philippines." This comment was made significant because the women were African American. They explored the store a decent amount of time and left without much interaction with me or Macallan. The one woman had apparently been in many times before and basically knew the layout better than I did. She guided her friends around like an expert - which made me appreciate my store manager, Portia, that much more. When "strangers" know your store better than you do, that means the store is in good (great!) hands while you are away. They left without buying anything, but I got much from their visit. By the end of the day, we'd had something like 70 people come through the door, not a bad Thursday with an OK sales total. And out of the blue, the three (plus the gentleman who must be a saint) came in with a flurry. I heard a voice proclaim, "If it's still here when I walk by, I'm going to buy it." As soon as she walked in the door, she could see it was still hanging on the hook. "I was going to get on that train (back to NYC) and be very sorry I didn't buy this bag." She told me with the basket in hand. "I know how that is." I responded. She bought it and was very pleased with herself and her purchase. "Thanks for coming by." I said to anyone who would listen. "Next time you come up" the leader of the visit began to say, but I didn't hear the rest since they were already down the block rushing to catch their train.

A great day because of the many wonderful supportive people we met and because I get to share it with my daughter. She probably will never inherit this business since she wants to be a veterinarian, not a shop owner, but she will inherit the goodwill fair trade practices bestows on the world for the women who produce, the women who shop and the women (Macallan, Portia and myself) who bring these values to the world we encounter daily - all of us doing our part to make a difference.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Elephant Dung Prints Just In

We met Emmanuel Mukwiro in Botswana last year. He had a stand by the side of the road where he was selling baskets, wood carvings and his wonderful prints.

I spoke to him at length about his business and his artwork. He was from Zimbabwe, able to cross the border to sell his crafts. He supported his extended family, basket weavers and woodcarvers. He had a wife who stayed behind in Zimbabwe to care for his two children.
Since we were in Africa for two months, I placed an order with him and set a date when we would return to pick up the prints. We found him several weeks later, just where we met him. He was a bit flustered and upon shaking his hand hello, I realized why. He said he had been in a terrible bus accident on his way back to Zim. The bus turned on its side and he hurt his hand badly. Wanting to complete my order, he got the help of his brother and they managed to have the prints ready. His hand was bandaged and bent. I hoped he'd be fine soon. I hoped the accident, or more common, the treatment would not hurt him for good.

I've been buying from Emmanuel thorughout the year. This is the latest order, a large one with sizes as small as 3" x 4" and as large as "13"x 15". I was happy to send him the money - I know how tough it is right now in Zimbabwe.

His prints sell particularly well at the Cultural Survival Bazaars where people take the time to find genuine arts and crafts. You can't see from these pictures how the elephant dung (OK, it's not all made of elephant poop. That's just what it's called since it contains natural fibers, but there is some elephant dung in there, I guarantee.) is used within the print. Emmanuel's images are enhanced and made that much more charming with his titles. This one is called "Collecting Water for a Wedding."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cultural Survival at Tiverton, RI

The sun was shining, the temperature was mid-70's and the crowds were out and shopping.

Before we were set up, a couple came to the booth. A big burly man and his wife were excitedly asking questions about the ostrich eggshell jewelry. "We didn't get a form yet, they told me. Will you put this necklace aside? We'll be right back." The bazaar hadn't officially opened and so a volunteer wasn't yet set up to hand out purchase forms. They had to hunt one down.

Now, we all know, the first rule of sales is not to let your customer out of your sight. I should have gotten them a form, but I had more to put out and it's the type of event that draws people who are supportive, so I put the necklace aside and let them go.

A flood of women came by. Chatting, pointing, touching everything they could reach. A flurry of buying and I knew it was going to be a good day. One woman, there's always at least one, befriended us right off the bat. Peter says I draw it out of people. I don't know about that. But she was very friendly and spent a great deal of time in our booth. At some point, someone else needed our attention and after waiting on those customers, she was still there. "I'm waiting to see if that woman is really buying that necklace." she confided in me. "I will buy these things but if she puts that necklace back, I want it." I had to smile. "Another woman took a necklace right out of my hand and bought it!" she told me indignantly. I apologized. "Oh no. It's not your fault. I just didn't move fast enough." Gotta love that!

The "other" woman did decide on another necklace and my new-found friend snatched it up. "Write me up before she changes her mind!" she and I conspired. One day, she'll email us about going to Botswana. I just know it.

The rest of the day brought interesting conversation, some die-hard and new fans of marula oil. I brought black soap products and a couple bought several bars of soap saying they didn't know you could get it in the USA!

Toward the afternoon, a young woman came by the booth. At first, I noticed her lingering just beyond and when her companion (her father?) caught up with her, she whispered to him, "I think it's her." She approached me with such eagerness I met her halfway. "We met at your house in Ghanzi." she began. I tried to place her - was she a Peace Corps volunteer, a wayward tourist, a friend of a friend... As she continued to describe our meeting, she finally saw recognition in my eyes and told me her name. "Of course." I said and it was like we were long-lost friends. In reality, we had only met once for less than an hour. She had come with our friend because their car was broken down and we never heard from or had seen her again - until yesterday...

Several people had come by surprised we were from Cold Spring - we were nearly 5 hours from "home". One woman goes to church with my mom and aunt. Another is working in Garrison at an acquaintance's home. Such a small world, made smaller by a common interest - fair trade.

We don't make a tremendous amount of money at these Cultural Survival Bazaars, but we have made some good good friends, some supportive customers, and some great connections. And the beauty of the work, the surroundings, and the many people who make the event a "success" is a great enough reason to keep going. . . going to the events but also keep going with the sales and awareness of fair trade products.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In the Spirit

The Spirit of Women's Annual Meeting played host to us last week in Washington DC. Our participation came out of the Snowmass Institute in Texas after meeting Spirit of Women's founder, Tanya Abreu.

Coincidences, Good Fortune, Wishes it what you will, the universe guides us with gifts of plenty.

First, Tanya invited us to set up a cash and carry booth, wanting to expose the participants of SoW's Annual Meeting to fair trade and us to over 200 hospitals with gift shops spread out throughout the country. I couldn't go at first, since I had signed up to teach a summer camp that fell during this week. I tried to work out many different scenarios so that Women's Work would be there even if I was not...but in the end, my course was cancelled and I was able to attend.

Second, with sales in the shop so low the past few months, I had to wait until the last minute to buy more product. I ordered various things and prayed they would arrive on time. The paper beads didn't show up until after we'd left for DC and they were sent to my store instead of my home. This turned out to be a stroke of good luck since I had cleaned the store out of every last paper bead and now at least there were long strands and chunky necklaces for the Cold Spring shoppers.

Third, sales were horrible and I was losing sleep. Having to try to make money to pay bills, I had very little time to work on the book. Wanting to get out from under the pressure, I cried, wrote in my journal, and finally talked to Peter about what we were doing and where we were going. We decided I should try to spend as much time as I could writing my book and he would work in the shop. He was determined to sell the $10,000 wagon wheel table handcrafted from Zimbabwe which would pay off a lot of my credit card debt. He didn't sell the table that day, but we were given a very nice gift from his father - out of the blue and without provocation he wrote us a check for the "magic" number...

Four, Peter didn't sell the table, and I didn't write the book. When he got home, I told him why I didn't get anywhere with it. I couldn't/wouldn't write about our time on the game reserve. I didn't really see it as MY story. I knew it was the part of the book that would be "sexiest" for an agent to sell, but I just didn't see how it would progress the story of the women...and that's when Peter said it, "If I were writing this book, I'd be able to write it." Bells, whistles, angels sang from on high. Yes! He would be able to write about the 10 foot escaped croc he wrangled, the 15 foot python that sunned itself across the roadway, the elephant hiding behind a skinny thorn tree, President GW Bush slipping him a donation after he took Colin Powell and Condeleezza Rice on a game drive. So, that's when we decided to do a he said/she said book. Brilliant plan and do-able for both of us, but an idea that wouldn't come to fruition until we were both ready.

Five, on our way home from DC, Peter and Markham weren't feeling well. We decided to stay over at Leon's. I called and Leon said he was going to Peter's brother's for the girl's birthday. We've missed most of their birthdays - living in Africa, going to Africa for the summer, so it was great to just stumble onto their celebrations and share their special day.

Things most definitely happen for a reason. One last example, occurred over the past two days. My aunt had postponed surgery time and again, fearful of the procedure and of what the Dr. might find. She finally made an appointment but it was for a Thurs - Thurs are the days I work in the store and I would be the one to drive her. Not wanting to give her another excuse, I said I'd take her (anyway) and I'd just have to find someone to work for me.

As luck would have it (since I'm broke and can't really pay someone else to work), the Dr. rescheduled for Tues and I was able to take her to her appointment with no extra expense. But I must say, after several days of being away from home and taking the weekend Off from work (sort of), I'm frazzled. I have three projects coming up that I play an integral part in and so much other work to do...but I need to be with my aunt and so everything else has been squeezed in between dropping her off at the hospital, visiting her in recovery, picking up my mom to go see her, picking her up the following day and filling her prescription before heading home.

All that AND my husband has had a fever for three days now and hasn't been able to help with laundry, grocery shopping, food prep or care of the kids. My son has been throwing up, has a fever and a bloody nose. Between their two fevers and his bloody nose, I've been doing laundry, laundry and more laundry - fingers crossed, I too don't get sick! Hectic is an understatement for my life since DC, but I've been able to juggle things and I'm trying very hard not to freak out.

But back to my aunt...she was frightened to enter the hospital. So much so, she even made sure she saw her nieces and nephews "just in case". I can't help but wonder what she's afraid of? It's a minor procedure - thyroid removal and a biopsy. She is an extremely religious woman - carrying rosaries in her bag, reading from the bible all day long, praying constantly, going to church EVERY DAY, participating in bible study several times a week. Doesn't that kind of faith dictate a life without fear? Don't you then believe that "God" will take care of you?

I am not religious in an organized way. I actually shun Christianity and Catholicism in particular. But I am deeply religious in that I believe there is a higher universal power. I may falter, but for the most part (lately), I have been fearless. I see my life as blessed, that I am being taken care of, that I am given what I need which most of the time is also what I want.

The spirit (of women, but no exclusively so), is all around me, guiding me, comforting me, shielding me. If I turn to a good book, it is a Deepka Chopra book, not the Holy Bible. If I speak to a higher force, it is usually a collective being or on some occasions, my older brother or my father who have passed on. If I feel crazed, I know I can manage because I have faith, faith that my life has a purpose, a greater purpose than one that serves just me, faith that I am worthwhile and therefore, I have faith that everything will work out in the end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Times they are a changing

I spent Tuesday evening going from store to store looking for a dress for my daughter's Moving Up ceremony. For those without kids, moving up ceremonies are when kids change schools - elementary to jr. high, jr. high to high school. Where did the time go?
I reluctantly encouraged her to find her own dress (with my approval or should I say guidance) only saying no to one dress she only half heartedly asked for since she knew full well I wouldn't let her go out in THAT! But we had fun. We eventually found a dress that fit her very slim figure and my sense of appropriateness...a made-in-China shiny thing that as a fair trade vendor made me shudder, but we bought it and left the mall happy.
As she twirled and primped and blabbered away, excited by the Dinner Dance that went with this coming-of-age which includes a "boyfriend" which I write here in quotes, but shouldn't be since they hold hands and kiss on the lips hello and good bye...I realize, my daughter has grown up.
She is nearly as tall as I am. I have trouble deciding which flip flops are hers and which are mine (no problem with shoes, though since she wears cutesy ballet flats and I wear Merrill's). Peter and I pull g-strings from the laundry and I shudder at the thought that she feels the need not to have panty lines!
But for the most part, it's been a smooth transition, this baby to teen. Macallan's made it easy...or have I grown too?
In Africa, it is said that San bushmen children don't cry. There are may implications but one that was explained to me was that if they did, a predator (not the predators we think of here that sexually molest children, but a lion or hyena or a leopard) may get them. Another theory is that life is so hard, the San try to make the first few years easy so they make sure the child doesn't cry.
I don't know the answer, but I know I heard plenty of San children crying and saw many parents hitting them. Times change and so must we.
My ideas of having children quickly changed when I had them. The plans I had, the idealist views...children taught me to be flexible. Africa taught me to be prepared.
With my store, my latest baby, I've watched her grow too. I only go in twice a week now, working from home so that I can be with my biological children. Just like with my kids, I have people I trust to take care of them when they are not with me (Portia has been a godsend as store manager and now Stephanie will be on hand to help out too). I have to let a little of my influence go and trust I've laid the groundwork for good work.
I see the store in her teen years, much like Macallan. They both look me in the eye and show me their indepenance, their strengths and their inner and outer beauty - somethings I rightly take credit for and somethings I can just sit back and look at in awe.
I received a message from a woman who stopped by the store this weekend. She LOVED everything about it and had a great idea...I get these calls I'd say once a week, much like with Macallan. I get told on a regular basis just how special she is. Now, I'm the store and Macallan's "parent" and I take those compliments to heart. But I know I only deserve some of the credit. I brought the store to life and gave life to Macallan, that I will take credit for. But what they did with that 'life" was totally up to them and for that I just sit back and enjoy with wonder.
Times change and so have we. There was a time when I feared the time when my daughter would be old enough to date, when the store would be old enough to have a following. But I don't fear that any more.
Their growing up allows me to free up my energy, to grow as well. I can let them grow, let them go.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Mickey Mouse Operation

How often do you act without thinking, go with your gut, and follow through?

Fear, much to my dismay, rules me, like a storm. I try to conquer it, but once you hear the rumblings, the doubt, she's like that bolt of lightning collecting energy, ready to land her blow - KA BOOM!

Not this time. A few days after the Snowmass Institute, I got a call from Tanya of Spirit of Women. "I'm ready to board a plane, but I was thinking...we're having this heart health conference in Orlando next week, why not come Tuesday, I'll be free for a bit in the afternoon, I'll have time on Wed and you can be back on a plane home by Wed evening."

"OK." and off I went.

I got there between rainfalls - overcast and threatening, but I was in Florida - all by myself.

The last time I went on a trip without Peter, I ended in up in the middle of the Kalahari Desert about as remote as I've ever been or ever want to be...and yet, I was far from alone and far from "civilization". Actually, I had come home...

This trip, in wet, humid Orlando, deep in the heart of Disney Country, I was far from alone and about as "civilized" and over developed as I'd ever want to be...and while no great Epiphany struck me, the entire trip from start to finish was easy.

And because nothing went wrong - no stress, no doubt, no tornado hit the hotel while I was in the elevator - you know what that told me? The trip was a success and this idea Tanya and I have (which is still too fresh to talk about), is a good one.

...and a big one, one that's greater than the sum of us both...

The sales part of the trip was enjoyable and easy, although not a blockbuster, certainly. But the trip was for Tanya and I to get acquainted. And we were comfortable with each other. We shared ideas that almost too eerily were the same. It was like we'd been working in parallel, making plans for the time we'd meet and be able to work them out or when they'd work themselves out through us.

The Magic Kingdom - I never got there - but Rosen Shingle Creek worked her own magic on me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Big Time in Texas

After going to the Fair Trade Federation Conference in Portland, I saw that there's a whole big country out there that we haven't explored. Needing/wanting to take the crafts to another level, I was eager to get out there.
Women's Conferences would garner likely sympathetic souls and so I started Googling. I found three and emailed all of them. A few hours later, I got a response. Peggy Ireland said that she and her husband were so excited by fair trade, had wanted to get more involved and here I was! She generously discounted our vendor fee and was so enthusiastic, I told Peter, this is going to be great!
As time went by and the economy took an even greater nose-dive, I started to doubt my instincts. Elation turned to dispare? Not being able to make my bills again in April, I wondered what I had gotten Women's Work into once again!
I scrambled to find other venues. If I'm going to go that far, we really need to make the most of our time, our money. I found a Green Festival at a nature museum. Seemed like a nice fit. We tried contacting other stores with limited luck in even talking to anyone - man, are we bad at sales! We crossed our fingers and hoped we weren't making a mistake.
Swine Flu - first death - Texas.
We didn't take the news as badly as some, but in the backs of our minds we had to think about it. While in Texas, the first event was not only hampered by news media urging people to stay home, but a violent storm that stayed back for several hours before dumping over a foot of rain on the Earth-Friendly event. We were indoors -we were OK. We even got to see a snake lay eggs. So cool, but the sales were only so, so.
Once at the Snowmass Institute in the opulent Renaissance Hotel in Fort Worth, we were a lot disappointed when we learned there would be less than 200 attendees. I thought there were supposed to be 3,000! I tried not to freak out. But at this point, what could you do? As we started setting up another vendor came up to us. "What's Women's Work?" she asked. "Fair trade crafts from women." was my short answer. "Oh." she said and picked a space directly across of us. Turned out she was a recruiter for nursing staff - bet she thought I was her competition. No, she told me later after coming over many times to shop and buy, she knew that participants were always looking for something to bring home and we were the only vendors that had cash and carry. BONUS!
A different set up than other selling venues we've encountered, participants come only during their breaks from the conference (duh!) and so there was a lot of down time, at least theoretically. Reality was that we had no breaks because when there were no conference guests, we had vendors buying! Many came many times, so much so that we joked that a few of them were cut off! I'd have to say that the vendors made up a bulk of our sales, not to mention, inspiration.
As a result, they would direct the hospital administrators, heads of nursing staff, and others to our booth - we were quite the buzz.
At the end of our first day, after many people told us to connect with her, Tanya Abreu founder of Spirit of Women finally blew in. A tall woman with a presence that filled the room, she evaluated our booth and us in one fell swoop. "You two shouldn't be schlepping this around. You should have other people selling for you. I want you at our event in Washington DC." and it took off from there.
I love when people "find" us and it's their idea to carry our products or buy things with their own slant. A manager of a prosthetic breast forms company bought paper beads in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Another woman wants the crafts to go into their women's center gift shops. And another will be in touch to buy crafts as a fundraiser for a women's shelter she is involved with.
Our very first conference and it was a huge success, but then, everything in Texas is BIG!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Celf Awareness

What an awesome program we participated in yesterday! Students and their teachers/chaperones came streaming into Pace University Gymnasium equipped with environmentally focused questions to ask each exhibitor.

We were asked to write our own questions, which Celf organizers tweeted. Goody Goodies were: How do you know you're buying fair trade, slavery free chocolate? What makes these soccer balls sweat-shop free and eco-friendly? Ask us how you can become famous just by doing something you love. Do you know the answers?

While many students typically came to get their answers and left without much thought, far more stayed and had more meaningful questions and I hope walked away inspired to seek out fair trade products, to make the world more just and fair, to do something they love.

And while we spoke to 1500+ students, Macallan sat in the High School auditorium to participate in Rachel's Challenge. Rachel was the first person killed by the gunmen of Columbine. Her parents, I'm sure, tried to piece together some semblance of meaning from her untimely death and now dedicate their lives to her memory and her unfailing human spirit. Seems in her journal entries (the very journal found in her backpack the day of the shooting with a bullet hole ripped clear through) and an essay written a month before, she shared her idea of creating a chain reaction of kindness and respect.

Her father developed a school program that uses Rachel's spirit as inspiration for students. According to Macallan, the presentation showed how in retrospect, they see that her life had culminated in her death. Only after she died, did they find a note she had written and taped to the back of her dresser. The note was an outline of her hand and inside she scrawled that this hand would one day touch millions. A man 1,000 miles away, kept having dreams. He finally contacted Rachel's father and described this image he had that he claimed had something to do with Rachel. That's when everything took shape - Rachel had drawn a picture of weeping flower. When the tears (13, the same number of people that died that day) hit the ground, more flowers grew. Her father knew then, that he had to do something.

If I am to follow my idea that clues are given to us and we must follow, I see my work heading toward impacting youth. Recently, old Scholastic buddies have re-surfaced on Facebook. There was a time when I lived and breathed educational materials. That was the job I loved and had to give up after having Macallan and moving to Garrison (coming full circle?). With me concentrating on writing my memories in the past few weeks, the regret lingers and holds strong. I loved writing for students. I miss it.

At the Trunk Sale in Brooklyn, two young women came to the sale. They have since come to me asking what they can do to help. And before them, a Princeton student contacted me wanting me to make arrangements for her to go to Botswana to apprentice under Kushonya (Master Basket Weaver) and also spend some time with ostrich eggshell beaders to learn that craft...Impacting students. I think I need to get back to that love and bring all of our experiences to a generation that can and will do something about it. Can and will make the world a better place.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Life's Work: Women's Work

I've spent over one year and these two beautiful Spring days working on my book. I'm so close to having a finished book proposal that I'm celebrating with a little outdoor time and a little gloating.

Here is the premise of the book tentatively entitled: "My Life's Work: Women's Work":

Five years since that fateful day in the Kalahari, I sit here in NY with the same tears in my eyes. I know now what I couldn't’ have known then. I was given a gift.

Today, as the US economy fails, our friends and families worry about housing costs, savings, price of fuel, I feel thankful for the many lessons given to us by the San Bushmen. As perpetual Hunter/Gatherers, everyone today faces the same struggles as the San. The Gatherers pick up and make a home wherever the Hunters can find food, a livelihood. Like the San, a home is a temporary shelter that can be taken away by a storm, a fire, another person. The San believe the Earth gives us what we need and so whatever they have, they are grateful for.

From our adventure, I think people can gain some insight into life in a third world country, inspiration to follow their dreams, guidance to live simply, and if nothing else, spend a few hours being entertained by two naïve people running away from the rat race only to be blindsided into acknowledging the human one.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Not fair

I was feeling hopeful and so I started making phone calls. Two of the women I do the most business with did not answer their phones. I guess they are out of range. My ostrich eggshell contact (who shall remain nameless until I can employ her full time) has been out of cellphone reception for weeks now. I'm getting frustrated. I have orders to keep and my stock is dwindling to just a few pieces. . .

I called a woman who had contacted me weeks before. I had encouraged her to send me pricelists but still no email. I am desperate for stock so I give her a call.

She was wonderful - articulate and knowledgeable, spouting those charming phrases that to me and apparently 7 million readers who love Alexander McCall Smith No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books find so endearing.

She worked "herself to death" with UNDP and other organizations in order to make "funds" to start her business. "How can one live knowing that others are sufferrrring?"(Setswana calls for "r" rolling that I just could never master.) She had "starved" so that her business could "live", she said, and "now with a recession, what hope do I have?" But she endures and with my kind help she hopes her sweat and tears will pay off.

How do you pay for the crafts that you buy? I asked her. "I have employed the women." She said frankly. "I researched and asked knowledgeable people how best to do business. I asked the women. And we all said, the best way to do business is to make everyone responsible. And so I employ women - at first there were 10 basket makers, now there are 6. At first I hired 3 ostrich bead makers, now there is one, with 2 that work part time. But if you have an order, we will work night and day, night and day for you to fulfill that order." I smiled, they would too. "I don't want you to do that." I told her. I would buy what they had if she can send me a pricelist and we can go from there.

So many people wanting to do what they can for others. She started her business "small in 2006." She said, "I strrrugggled for two years, only to be rewarded with a recession. Ah, that is life."

Familiar with her plight because it is much like mine. I too started the store in 2006, hopeful that I had great products and could fill a niche market. How could I fail? I was doing it out of love, out of a desire to help others? But a recession hit, hit hard. It's funny, coz I finally got a sign put up. Gorgeous sign (thanks to Todd Jones) so well worth the wait...but wouldn't you know it, the very month I had it hung, was the first month in nearly three years that my store couldn't pay for itself...

What does THAT mean?

It means that no, things aren't "fair" but it's up to us to make it less so. And that's what Fair Trade is all about...finding the best solutions to a more equitable existence.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Calling all No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Fans!

Check back to find out the details for our No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Tea Party.

We're gearing up for the latest release of Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe series, "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built" due out on April 21. With ceramics from Botswana, Rooibos Tea from South Africa and the books available, we are planning on a party to bring Mma Ramotswe fans together.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

American Idol and Women's Work

When we were living in Africa, we could have gotten satellite tv transmission, but we didn't want to spend the money. So, we asked our family to send us DVDs to watch. As a result, our children know Austin Powers movies by heart...good family viewing, right?!?
Since we've returned to the US, we religiously watch American Idol, particularly with our teenage daughter. I love that bonding and for what it is, you gotta admit, the production value is excellent. This is also our model for the TV show Peter is working on. Good family viewing so that grandma's and dad's will have something to discuss and enjoy together with their tough to please teens.
This year's show, more than previous years' is more about the singing and less about the human interest. But oddly enough, there were more single moms on the show than before-hmmm...
Last night, and I'm hoping I'm not giving anything away, Megan was booted off. Each week, this beautiful, bubbly, sweet tattooed young woman (I think she was only 23!) sang in her odd jazzy unique voice that often times did not work with the song choice (see, I could be a judge!), but she was beautiful and each week she hung on. What I noticed in her and another of the single mom contestants was that they were singing their hearts out but their hearts belong elsewhere. They missed their children. Each week you could see that heartbreak and as a mom, I thought, they are both saying, it's OK (which as Megan's exclamation last night as she heard the news) because she just couldn't wait to get home to her baby.
This is a show and a very well orchestrated show at that, but I believe the emotions of the contestants are genuine. I believe that they are singing for their careers, if not their lives, as is dramatically proclaimed by Ryan Seacrest. And so, I think they all realize what this exposure would mean for them as singers.
And with each of these single moms, I think they couldn't compete - not because they weren't able singers, but because their hearts were somewhere else.
This is the basis of Women's Work and every day I see the sacrifices women make. The importance our children have in our lives keeps us from fulfilling our dreams. Not that it's a bad thing - not that we who struggle with it resent it, at least I hope that's not what we feel - but our lives, values, priorities change with the birth of our children. For many of us, they will always come first.
I applaud the talents so many women possess and empathize with their choices to find a place for those skills within the values of caring for our children. Can Megan still sing? Sure she can. She just won't be doing it right now, away from her child for weeks at a time...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Women's Work Overtime

I may not be in the store much lately, but I'm definitely working overtime. Got to since sales are sooooo low in the shop.

It's been great because that one house party is still (after over a month!) bringing more sales outside of the store...hmmmm, wonder if it's telling me something...

We've done Greenflea again on the upper westide (across from Museum of Natural History). Was supposed to be a warm sunny day, wasn't, but still a good number of people shopping including Catherine Zeta Jones, Jack MacBryer (Kenneth from 30 Rock) and Christina Lahti with her really cool cattle dog. Sales were fine but we love the atmosphere. I miss the city.

We're off to Portland, Oregon for the Fair Trade Federation Conference and Expo. I sent out a mass mailing hoping to lure retailers to the Expo on Saturday. Would be great to wholesale the canvas bags and ostrich eggshell jewelry. I also thought it would be right up my alley to write again. Besides the memoir, I want to start writing about other fair trade vendors, particularly those that were in the Peace Corps and there are plenty of them! What is it that makes people join PC? I think they are unique and interesting people, but I know I'm prejudiced since I married one.

We're also preparing for the upcoming Dumbo Trunk Sale
April 4-5; 11-5; 20 Jay St.; Studio 310A; Dumbo (Down under Manhattan/Brooklyn Overpasses)

It's the First Ever Studio Sale at ModernPress, my sister's full service design/print studio (

Get gorgeous stationary supplies, beautiful samples, and find out how you can design and create your own custom invitations/announcements/cards with the help of Carolina Della Valle of Modern Press: a full service design studio and printshop offering letterpress printing, embossing, diecutting, foil stamping and last but far from least, laser-engraving and laser-cutting on a variety of unique materials.

Women's Work will be on-hand selling jewelry and loose beads made from- recycled paper made by women in Uganda, recycled glass and brass beads made by women in Ghana, ostrich eggshell from San Bushmen women in Botswana, batik bone from Kenya, and delicate clay beads from Mali.

We've got fabric pouches and totes from Uganda, mudcloth from Mali, kuba cloth from the Congo and handpainted table cloths, runners and pillowcovers from Botswana,
and I'm bringing linotype prints from the San and elephant dung prints from Zimbabwe...with more, much more...(

Joining us will be Macallan and her full array of Goody Goodies Edun Live Organic T's, new elephant beading kits, and fair trade goodies sold by kids, for kids who are orphaned by HIVAIDS in Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe and beyond! (

Come check it out.

I'll be in touch after Portland. Hopefully there'll be much to tell you about!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Women's Work on the Road

Business is slow. Interestingly enough, and proving my theory that there are still people who have money, furniture and larger pieces of art are still selling, but little things are not...

So, we are going to do NYC Greenflea on the upper eastside at least once a month and Golden Nugget in Lambertville, NJ here and there because the more people I expose to the idea and the products, the more I sell.

Another aspect of selling that we had not explored before, house parties. Our friends, Pat and Todd had a wonderful party the other night. Pat carefully invited a nice group of her closest friends and had us introduce ourselves via one of Peter's wonderful powerpoint presentations which Macallan contributed to. With her there to talk about Goody Goodies, the evening was that much more meaningful. The sales were great - selling more in a few hours than I did all week in the store! The evening couldn't be more perfect particularly because we were able to truly bring awareness about fair trade and the women we work with to like-minded neighbors.

The economy is also forcing us to resort to something I haven't done before. We're going on the road - OK, so we do the Cultural Survival Bazaars, but they are driveable selling venues. These are not.

The first Fair Trade Federation conference I will attend will be this March 27-29 in Portland, Oregon. I've never been to Oregon, but I loved Seattle when I was there for Scholastic before we had kids. It was awesome. When we were planning on coming back to the States, one of the places we fantasized about moving to was Washington State...Portland is supposed to be a lot like Seattle. I can't wait. But I can't go there without wholesaling our products, otherwise I can't justify this trip to myself.(

Then, we are going to Fort Worth, Texas May 7-9 for the Snowmass Institute's Women's Health Conference where I will be the only vendor selling crafts. The organizer is extremely excited about the fair trade aspect. I'm looking forward to exposing healthcare professionals to our products.

We hope to get more venues, but we're also booking a booth at the Sweetgrass Festival in South Carolina in June 5-6 which is in conjunction with the Spoleto Festival. Should be a blast!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fair Trade at the NYIGF

In January, I helped prepare a friend's booth space and attended the NYIGF. It would be my second time to attend and my first to see what it entails to work the other end. It was an interesting lesson.
In this economy, I decided not to have my own booth. I had gone to Botswana this summer in the hopes of finding more wholesale possibilities and growing Women's Work beyond the storefront. I was able to find three producers including the pottery, the canvas and the skincare/natural papers/ceramics which all could be made at greater quantities. But after much deliberation, the show would have been an expensive risk that I couldn't justify.
While I think everyone I know that did have a booth was grateful for orders (any orders!), it was a slow show. What was evident as I walked around was that the Handmade section was busy with many first time inquiries and orders. Every time I went to visit my friend Harish and his wife Poonam of Sustainable Threads, a slew of buys would come. I was so happy for them.
At Pier 90, there were a surprising number of buyers out there - I don't know that I would venture there if I didn't know Project Have Hope was there. She was also located near Africa Now! a joint booth funded in part by USAID. Global Mama's was represented and so were various basket weaving groups, shea butter producers, drum makers etc, mostly from Ghana with many producers on hand. In cooperation with the Trade Hub, a store in DC was offering distribution of the crafts/products. So, at the show, you could either order from the producer directly or order from the shop. A perfect model in order to encourage sustainability in the African producer group and foster relations with a retailer. How do I get the producers I work with such exposure? I'll have to keep investigating.
Peter and I discussed where we were going with the crafts. With each new opportunity that confronts us, we take the time to look at all of the possibilities and try to remove our old prejudices and our over-riding egos. While my ego would love to do the gift show, the success of my business must rely on the realities...the world is going through a much needed downsizing, re-evaluation of values, and much needed check and balance. The producers can only produce so much - the last thing we want is a factory of ostrich eggshell beads. And what am I really trying to accomplish? The answer is evident, but the process is muddled. . . as clarity comes, so will my next posting.