Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy New Year to all

Thank you, loyal customers and fair-trade fans, for your support in 2009. Your purchases made a difference in the lives of many.

 Lebanese embroiderers
We're looking forward to a new year, with new products and a new website. We're already working with prospective new suppliers on new textiles, home wares, dolls and holiday ornaments. Look for new basketry and wall art from Uganda, and for ornaments from Laos and Nepal.

These relationships take many months to come to fruition. First we discuss what we're looking for. The artisans then make samples. We look, they tweak, until we have the final product. We have to take into account seasonal issues (paint doesn't dry during the rainy season, some areas are cut off when roads wash out each year, snows make passes impassable, grasses are ready to harvest at specific times of year, etc). We also have to plan for shipping times and test the political winds for potential border closings. We're starting on Christmas stockings right now!

Peruvian weaver
One of our Bolivian suppliers has begun putting the amount of labor in creating each piece on the item tag. We'll be suggesting that to others as well. We hope this will help you, our customers, gain a deeper understanding of what goes into each item.

We welcome your ideas for products and your recommendations of fair-trade suppliers.

Kenyan beaders

Our 30%-off sale on ornaments and nativities begins next week, after the Jan. 7 Orthodox Christmas. Look for us at 271 Harvard St., in Brookline's Coolidge Corner, on our website, and our store on World of Good.

Happy New Year to all.

Kate Harris
Crossroads Trade

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday news

Ever since October of last year, customers have come into the shop with anxious faces. “How are you doing?” they ask, worried that another unique business might be leaving Coolidge Corner.

We’re hanging in there. We have an obligation to our suppliers. Children still need school fees and mothers and fathers still need to sell their work, even in the unsteady times. And the items we’ve found this year demonstrate that creativity and courage still thrive even when the financial news is grim.

We’ve begun to carry new American Indian artisans from the Zuni, Hopi and Santo Domingo tribes. Some of the signature artists we’ve found include Mary Tafoya, a Santo Domingo Pueblo, whose work features cross-cut shells integrated into traditional mosaic work, and Ray Lalo, Hopi, maker of kachinas, who uses aguayo and paints them with pigments made from crushed rock, in a paint base of pine sap and honey. Also new is a Kenyan supplier, an organization of women who finance their daughters' education through their sales.

Colombian artisans have found new ways to cut tagua nuts, cutting production time in half and decreasing the price of the popular jewelry. Innovation continues in the use of fibers. We have bamboo scarves from Guatemala. From India we have new varieties of papers, made from roots and old clothing.

We’re brimming with textiles from the Shangaan tribe of South Africa’s Limpopo province. And we have gorgeous new scarves in rich, vibrant colors. Textures are outstanding, too, with artisans employing lots of new ways of crinkling, folding, and sewing.

Our jewelry selection continues to expand. Bracelets are the jewelry of the year. New cloth bracelets feature the hand embroidery of Santiago Atitlan, a Guatemalan village famed for its vibrant embroidered flowers and birds. We also have new beaded bracelets from India, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as shimmery beaded new necklaces. It was a wonderful year for finding new items made of recycled materials, such as our new earrings made of aluminum and brass cans.

Of course, we still carry many of the items Crossroads customers have come to expect. This is the time of year we set out our museum-quality selection of international nativities. New arrivals this year include lost-wax cast brass nativities from Ghana, sisal grass from Kenya, painted wood from Armenia, straw from Hungary, and ceramics from Peru.

Doll collectors will want to see the new arrivals from Tibet, in beautiful detailed tribal clothing, and the wonderful felt snow lions. Charming new Noah’s ark chivas, with giraffes sticking out the top, have arrived from Peru. We’ve got brightly carved wooden giraffes from Zimbabwe, and a menagerie of animals made of shredded palm fiber from the Philippines. The innovative use of recycled cans grows and grows – check out the vehicles, the earrings, the purses, the ornaments.

And we’ve got chocolate! Fairly traded, of course, from Equal Exchange. All our items are chosen with an eye to fair-trade practices and compensation. This way, parents are working with dignity and in safe conditions, earning enough so that children can eat, receive medical care, and go to school. We’re helping to provide financial stability in a world where it still can seem very rocky. And we know you’ll find delightful items here at Crossroads Trade to share with friends, relatives, and colleagues, bringing hope and joy this holiday season.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Celebrating the Day of the Dead

Throughout the world, people have special days when they gather family and friends to remember, celebrate and pray for family and friends who have died. One of the richest of these traditions is Day of the Dead, or Dia de Los Muertos, dating back to Aztec times, and celebrated in Mexico and Latino communities in the US. On November 1st and 2nd, ancestors are permitted to visit the living. Families fashion altars out of sugar skulls and all manner of figures, festooned with foods and hobbies of the deceased. They visit their loved ones’ graves with these offerings in hand.

Crossroads Trade will celebrate Day of the Dead this year with sugar skull decorating for kids. Skulls will be available for purchase ($7.50 each). We’ll have paint, glitter and fun decorations on hand for children to festoon their skulls. Paints and decorations are free.


Advance sign-up is preferred, to ensure that we have enough skulls for everyone: 617-975-2001 or dod@crossroadstrade.com

Crossroads Trade is a fair trade store, dedicated to preserving the world’s ethnic arts traditions. Crafts are purchased at fair wages from artisans, cooperatives, refugee communities, economic development initiatives and fair trade wholesalers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back from the New York Gift Show

The New York Gift Show, the biggest retail trade show of the year, took place last week. It's essentially a giant show-and-tell; thousands of producers and wholesalers, fair traders among them, set up booths to display their wares and pitch them to retail stores.

It's also a place to take the industry pulse. At this show, the calculus shifted. The pain we felt last fall at the retail level hit the suppliers this year; they received many fewer orders from stores and catalogues. They lacked funds to develop new products. These, combined with internet growth and the huge, high-risk expense of trade show space, led many vendors to sit this one out. The waiting list for show space used to be around 7 years. This time, many new vendors got in easily. The convention center wasn't filled.

Some of the changes I spotted were these:

Most South African vendors were gone. Whereas I might have had 12 sources in the past, I only found three who met my criteria. I suspect that government subsidies have decreased. Most Russian vendors were gone, too. I talked to a Russian supplier about what was going on there. He reported that the artisans had become unwilling to produce work for the lower end of the market. Getting goods out of Russia had become a huge problem. He had no new products.

My dilemma: carry the same merchandise as in the past, or find other vendors with new products?

Often, a country's trade commission or US AID will sponsor vendors to showcase their wares and jump-start their orders. This only works if it's done right. I saw wonderful wares from Kenyan and Afghan cooperatives at this show, but there was a giant missing link in the artist-to-shopper chain. The retailer (that would be me) had to arrange shipping from the country of origin and shepherd the merchandise through US customs. Most retailers aren't set up for this; it's expensive and time-consuming, and the risk of running afoul of customs regulations is high.

Changes in recycled wares were striking. Much more was available; it's becoming mainstream. But inevitably, as larger companies take it on, the small groups that spent years developing the products ad markets are getting pushed out. That is always sad to witness.

When Bulgaria joined the EU, the price for pottery testing (all our Bulgarian pottery is food-safe) went up. When the euro rose against the dollar, the price of raw materials went up for artisan groups in the Middle East, and the wholesale prices quickly followed suit. On the other hand, when Poland joined the Economic Union, finding the provenance of the jewelry became easier. Gratifyingly, the Fair Trade Federation has been working on behalf of its members to negotiate prices and increase member visibility. At this show, the fair-trade presence was evident. Retailers were introduced to the concept of fair trade, and vendors learned that fair trade matters to retailers.

There were far fewer Christmas ornaments to choose from. There was far more jewelry. I'm not sure of the takeaway; are ornaments non-essential in a slumping economy, whereas jewelry is a necessity?As always, lots of food for thought. I'm always amazed at how many issues converge in this industry.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Equal Exchange now has a café!

The only bad news about the opening of the Equal Exchange Café near Boston's North Station, is that it's too far from our Coolidge Corner shop for a coffee run. Otherwise, we're delighted to read the good reviews the newly-opened cafe has received. The spot features coffee, tea, chocolate, sandwiches and pastries from local vendors, and free wireless.

Of course, the main attraction is fairly traded, sustainably grown coffee, tea, and chocolate. My daughter spent a week on an Ugandan coffee plantation last year, and learned that the difference between a fair price and an exploitative price for a farmer's coffee crop can mean the difference in school fees and mosquito nets for a rural family.

The café has been open for a while, and its the official grand opening is Feb. 10 through 12. The festivities will feature Pedro Rojas, coffee farmer and member of Tierra Nueva Co-op in Nicaragua. The café has plans for visits from more farmers, special cuppings, and other events.

So do stop by. And if you want to bring us some coffee, take the Green Line, Cleveland Circle branch, from North Station and get off at Coolidge Corner!

-- Lisa

Friday, January 9, 2009

Crossroads Trade has its first-ever store-wide sale!

First-ever store-wide sale! And deeper discounts on ornaments, nativities, and clearance!

Saturday through Tuesday, January 10 through 13, enjoy 20 percent off store-wide at Crossroads Trade. That necklace you’ve been eyeing … the handbag that needs replacing … those boxes and baskets that could help organize your life … this is the time to stop in!

The items that aren’t 20 percent off are 30 percent off. That includes our Christmas ornaments and nativities from around the world. Our clearance section features selected ceramic tableware from Bulgaria. Our remaining stock of Gaza ceramics is now discounted at 30 percent. We don’t know when we’ll be able to receive another order of products from Gaza. There’s a small selection of jewelry at 30 percent off. We have seconds (we’re very picky when we unpack) of ceramic tableware from Tunisia and dolls from India. And this is definitely the weather to buy our snuggly wool Andean blankets.

The discount is taken at the register. Only one discount per item. (There’s no additional 20 percent discount on an item that’s already 30 percent off.) All sales are final – no returns. No layaways. The store-wide sale ends Tuesday, January 13. Nativities and ornaments remain on sale until January 31.

-- Kate Harris