Ethnic & Ethical: Shopping for world arts

Responsible shopping for world arts and crafts requires doing a little homework, but the benefits of buying handmade, environmentally friendly products and the stories of artisans whose lives have been changed are inspiring and powerful incentives.

| September/October 2001

  • A Mexican candelabra of massive proportions is available from Novica.com.
    Novica.com
  • Atop a wool rug blending the colors of the sky, the earth, and the greenery of Peru, a sueng klang, a four-stringed strumming instrument used in festivals and ceremonies in northern Thailand, rests against a teak and rattan bench made by Balinese artist Wayan Pastika (all from Novica.com). Cushioning the sueng is a naturally dyed kid-mohair throw from New Zealand (womankind.com). The walls are adorned with a Zimbabwean potato print wall hanging, a Balinese mahogany relief panel depicting the interaction of flora and fauna, and a hibiscus and batik mask (all from Novica.com). Cornhusk flowers handmade in Honduras (available from aid2artisans.org) and safari candles from Zimbabwe (Novica.com) complete this exotic room.
    Novica.com
  • A Vietnamese water puppet, carved from fig wood and gleaming with fifteen coats of paint, lacquer, and silver and gold leaf (available from womankind.com) oversees a table set with recycled sea glass plates and bowls (eZiba.com) and crackled celadon stoneware from Thailand (womankind.com). Sitting on an elegant tablecloth block-printed in Bangladesh (tenthousandvillages.com), sterling silver and bamboo place settings made by Marilou Quiroz of the Philippines, and a wooden sake set made of Hinoki wood from the Nagano region of Japan (both available from eZiba.com) complete this Asian-inspired table.
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • Atop a wool rug blending the colors of the sky, the earth, and the greenery of Peru, a sueng klang, a four-stringed strumming instrument used in festivals and ceremonies in northern Thailand, rests against a teak and rattan bench made by Balinese artist Wayan Pastika (all from Novica.com). Cushioning the sueng is a naturally dyed kid-mohair throw from New Zealand (womankind.com). The walls are adorned with a Zimbabwean potato print wall hanging, a Balinese mahogany relief panel depicting the interaction of flora and fauna, and a hibiscus and batik mask (all from Novica.com). Cornhusk flowers handmade in Honduras (available from aid2artisans.org) and safari candles from Zimbabwe (Novica.com) complete this exotic room.
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • Atop a wool rug blending the colors of the sky, the earth, and the greenery of Peru, a sueng klang, a four-stringed strumming instrument used in festivals and ceremonies in northern Thailand, rests against a teak and rattan bench made by Balinese artist Wayan Pastika (all from Novica.com). Cushioning the sueng is a naturally dyed kid-mohair throw from New Zealand (womankind.com). The walls are adorned with a Zimbabwean potato print wall hanging, a Balinese mahogany relief panel depicting the interaction of flora and fauna, and a hibiscus and batik mask (all from Novica.com). Cornhusk flowers handmade in Honduras (available from aid2artisans.org) and safari candles from Zimbabwe (Novica.com) complete this exotic room.
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • Atop a wool rug blending the colors of the sky, the earth, and the greenery of Peru, a sueng klang, a four-stringed strumming instrument used in festivals and ceremonies in northern Thailand, rests against a teak and rattan bench made by Balinese artist Wayan Pastika (all from Novica.com). Cushioning the sueng is a naturally dyed kid-mohair throw from New Zealand (womankind.com). The walls are adorned with a Zimbabwean potato print wall hanging, a Balinese mahogany relief panel depicting the interaction of flora and fauna, and a hibiscus and batik mask (all from Novica.com). Cornhusk flowers handmade in Honduras (available from aid2artisans.org) and safari candles from Zimbabwe (Novica.com) complete this exotic room.
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • A folding chess table with detachable legs, carved out of kepelan wood by Balinese artist Ketut Sandi, and a collection of pillows screen-printed from potato print designs by Zimbabwean artist Freeborn Sigauke (both from Novica.com) welcome aficionados and would-be chess players alike. A metal wall hanging of trumpeting angels made by Haitian artists from oil drums (tenthousandvillages.com) adorns the wall, while handblown glass balls from the Mexican village of Tonala (eZiba.com) catch sun in the window. A hand-felted wool rug from Turkmenistan and a handwoven ikat blanket from Thailand (both from womankind.com) complete this comfortable corner.
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • Holding walnuts is a capiz shell bowl from the Philippines, available from womankind.com.
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • A handwoven, hand-dyed silk ikat duvet cover and ­pillows from Laos (womankind.com) and silk brocade ­cushion covers made in Varanasi, India, (Novica.com) adorn this romantic bedroom. The lamp, hand-painted by Brazilian artist Ana Maia, is available from Worldwide Import/Export (wwiec.com).
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca
  • A hand-painted ceramic vase and plate by El ­Salvadoran artist Marina Mena sits comfortably atop a pinewood credenza table made by Mexican artisan Daniel Lobo. The traditional leather and wood armchair by Rafael Gomez Salcedo and a sheep wool Zapotec rug made by the Ruiz Bazan family add an authentic taste of Old Mexico. (All items are available from Novica.com.)
    Photgraphy By Joe Coca

As you set the table with dinner plates from Thailand, salad bowls from Vietnam, Filipino flatware, and Kenyan place mats, do you ever wonder about the artisans who made those exquisite objects? Do you know if they are paid fair wages and whether their art is environmentally friendly? If you yearn for a closer connection with the artisans than a small “Made in Brazil” label, try shopping at one of the growing number of retail stores and websites that help indigenous artisans sell their crafts in the world market and live more sustainable lives.

When shopping for world arts, it’s important to identify your priorities, says Keith Recker, executive director of the nonprofit development organization Aid to Artisans. “Do you want to empower world artisans or do you want to buy goods at the lowest price?” he asks.

Look for an organization or company that makes long-term commitments to artisan communities. The e-commerce and catalog retailer eZiba.com, for example, is seeing strong sales of colorful safety-pin bracelets from South Africa. But Amber Chand, eZiba cofounder and vice president of vision, says the company will not ignore its relationship with the artisans—Ndebele women in Johannesburg, who struggle with poverty, single motherhood, and AIDS—once the bracelets are out of vogue. Instead, eZiba plans to help the artists develop other products. Launched in 1999, eZiba (ziba is the Persian word for beautiful) works with artists in more than sixty countries.

Juanita Fox, media coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit organization that markets world arts, says it takes many conversations with artisans to determine a fair price for each product. What the artist needs to make ends meet, time spent making the product, material costs, local market prices, and what others are being paid are all part of the equation. On average, artisans who work with Ten Thousand Villages make approximately 28 percent of the retail price of their products, Fox says. Founded in 1946, Ten Thousand Villages works with 150 artisan groups in thirty countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Peru. The organization also has fifty-six retail stores in the United States that sell world crafts.



Question Artistry

When shopping for world arts, find out if your retailer poses the kinds of questions that womankind.com’s Michelle Wipplinger asks of artisans before doing business with them. These include:

  • Where do the products come from, and are they old or new?
  • Are the wood products sustainably harvested?
  • Are toxins used in manufacturing?
  • What ventilation is available for workers?
  • Is pottery made with lead-free glazes?
  • Are animals killed to make the products?
  • Are the products made using child labor?





Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: February 16-17 2019
Belton, TX

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!

LEARN MORE