Yvette Jenkins will open her shop, Love Travels Imports in the Grand River WorkPlace, 19120 Grand River, on Saturday, Sept. 20, and she is very excited. Her pop-up store combines her loves of travel, hand-made art, and her desire to know about the artists whose work she buys. Yvette’s store will sell fair trade goods from three categories: Handbags and home accessories made by women in a township in South Africa where there is 80% unemployment, silk scarves made by a women’s collective from a small, isolated village in Madagascar, and jewelry made from bullet casings found in the fields of Ethiopia. To Yvette, it’s not enough to purchase artwork because it’s beautiful, it’s also important to know the source of the artwork, both the materials used and the artists who make it.
Yvette’s interest in fair trade goods began with a trip to the DIA gift shop where she bought a handbag of vibrant colors and an eye-catching texture. She loved the bag, of course, but she didn’t know just how much others would want a bag like hers. “So many people commented on it, and wanted to touch it!” Yvette did her research about the origins of the bag and discovered that it, along with home accessories, was made by a group of women in a township in South Africa. Yvette so wanted to familiarize herself with the women and their artwork, she went to South Africa to meet them. In Khayelitsha Township Yvette met Zanele, the first weaver in the collective and the one whose designs Yvette recognized from the DIA gift shop. Seven other weavers had joined Zanele over the years and brought their own styles and design ideas.
The scarves made by Federation SHALANDY are hand spun silk scarves made by women “silkies” who hand weave the raw silk of Madagascar into colorful scarves. These women too are part of a fair trade initiative to provide them a sustainable livelihood. Like the woven goods from South Africa, these silk scarves are individual pieces. Just as no two weavers are alike, so too are the scarves each an original work of art. The scarves vary in color, design, and in size as well, some functioning more like a shawl than a traditional scarf.
The artwork to be sold at Love Travels Imports that has perhaps the most interesting origin is the jewelry. Farmers in Ethiopia often find bullet casings in their fields while they are working. The farmers turn the casings into beads and then give the beads to the women who made unique bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Both the farmers and the jewelers see this work as a means of “turning something of war into something of beauty.”
When Yvette visited the Grand River WorkPlace last winter, she knew the space would be perfect for her store. Although the space was raw at the time, Yvette knew it had great potential. “I told Kirsten Donoghue (GRDC’s Program Manager of Economic Development Opportunities), that we need to get lots of people in here. Make it a destination.” Love Travels Imports will indeed be a destination for anyone who loves art, believes in helping women improve their lives, and wants to support local business.