Global goods good for people, planet
By Mary Stamp
Shopping at Kizuri is both a way for customers to support a local business and a way to learn about people around the globe, such as producers who create products by reusing materials and restoring habitats.
Jillian Joseph, who has owned the shop since May 2019, said the jacket she was wearing was made from saris previously worn by three women in South Asia, then hand stitched together by a women's cooperative near New Delhi.
Kantha is the sewing technique the women do to stitch together layers of saris. It is a traditional method, used for thousands of years in East India and Bangladesh, to turn scrap fabric into pillows, blankets, scarves, necklaces, bags, jackets and large, colorful baskets.
She thinks about the lives of all these women as she wears her jacket.
Jillian also points out silk tapestry art hangings made from an agra-forestry project in Madagascar. Farmers plant native trees and plants in deforested areas, creating food and habitat for a particular type of silkworm. Once the worms have become moths, the cocoons are harvested and hand delivered to artisans who cut and flatten them, preparing them to be hand sewn and dyed with eco-friendly dyes to make silk tapestries and textiles.
"In both those crafts, the creativity of these makers and their communities results in products they can sell to make a living and improve their lives. Shops like Kizuri provide a market for these goods in the U.S.," Jillian said.
Fifteen years ago, Kim Harmson gathered seed money from 10 investors to start the for-profit, fair-trade store in the Community Building in the former site of the volunteer-run Global Folk Art Bazaar that had opened in November 1991 in the office of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, at 310 E. 5th Ave.
That volunteer-run shop had to be dismantled each week to accommodate the worship services of Shalom Mennonite United Church of Christ in the same location. In April 1992, it moved to 342 W. Riverside.
Becky Heberer, part-time paid and mostly volunteer manager then, said the shop was a way for crafts people around the globe to sell their products and for people in Spokane to learn about their crafts, cultures and lives. At that time, about $1,000 in sales supported a producer for a year.
When Global Folk Art closed, Kim felt the void and sought to take over the location, which by then was in the Community Building at 35 W. Main. She made it a for-profit venture and chose the name "Kizuri," meaning "good" in Swahili, because shopping at Kizuri would be "good for the planet and good for the people."
For her, fair trade is about social justice, a way to help people be responsible consumers who make an impact on the world, "because part of fair-trade shopping is to learn stories of those who produce the products—educating and connecting consumers, retailers, wholesalers and producers."
When Kim was ready to retire, Jillian was living in New York City, but looking for the next step in her life. She knew Kim as a family friend because she went to high school with her son.
"I was looking for a new opportunity, but I never thought my next step would be taking over a retail store in my hometown," Jillian said.
To that point in her career, she had studied international relations at Tufts University, worked in tourism in France and worked in international development in East Africa and New York.
"A return to Spokane was unexpected but serendipitous," she said.
"I had a global perspective and knew many of the products from my travels," said Jillian, who was eager to learn about products and cultures from places where she had not traveled.
She was also ready to accept both the day-to-day and overall operations of running the store, which includes customer service and storytelling, as well as being in community with her local customers and vendors from around the world.
Jillian, who operates the store with a core crew of young staff, including college students, introduces them to the many wonderful fair-trade products from all around the world—cards, art, hangings, ceramics, ornaments, clothing, baskets and more," she said. "It's a joy to curate the items in the shop."
"Customers are amazed by all the products made by many talented people," she said. "In choosing items to stock, I have had to learn some self-restraint, because there are just so many beautiful and practical items made by people around the world struggling to make a living."
Jillian continually brings in new merchandise, especially more clothing and books. The book selection includes a mix of BIPOC and local authors.
Just 10 months after she took over ownership, COVID hit and initiated another nonstop learning curve.
Running the shop since COVID affected dynamics in many ways.
• The store was fully closed for nearly three months.
• Many faithful customers rallied around the store to give their support with purchases.
• Producer groups in rural areas faced issues with transportation and lockdowns.
• Producers in densely populated urban areas saw COVID go quickly through their communities.
"The pandemic affected artisans around the world and in turn affected us, but I was overwhelmed by the support of our community," Jillian said.
"I'm also awed by the ingenuity and inventiveness of the people I work with as they upcycle and reuse materials, and are ecologically responsible," she said.
In Madagascar, the silkworms are good for the trees, and the trees are good for the worms. The program is good for the community, empowering several hundred people as they plant seeds, harvest cocoons and make them into textiles and tapestries.
Jillian's focus for the shop's anniversary is to give back to the community that has supported it for 15 years.
On Saturday, Nov. 18, she plans to kick off the celebration, which will run until the World Fair Trade Festival Friday to Sunday, Nov. 24 to 26, with several events offering food, photos, music, drinks and discounts.
One day will focus on Community Building tenants. Another day will invite folks from First Presbyterian Church, which from 1988 until COVID held an annual Jubilee fair-trade sale and now is looking for new leaders to continue it.
Jillian also invites nonprofits to host shopping night parties for constituents in the Community Building foyer beside the shop. The groups will receive 10 percent of the sales.
The Festival of Fair Trade's Thanksgiving Weekend will include other vendors—Maya Color, Consur Imports, Resilient Threads, Trades of Hope—and a Guatemalan artist.
Jillian hopes the anniversary celebrations and Festival of Fair Trade bring new customers to learn about the mission.
"The primary value of fair trade is economic empowerment," she said. "The secondary value is the way the products connect people across the world, from the women who once wore the saris to women who now wear jackets made from them.
"Fair trade purchases take us out of the day-to-day and put us in someone else's shoes—or saris—hopefully making us more curious and empathetic," she said, aware that some just buy items because they like them.
"I always hope that shopping here makes customers curious to know about other people, cultures and ways of life," Jillian said.
Being a fair-trade retailer is about more than selling products. It's about reinvesting in communities of the producers in more than 40 countries in Central and South America, Asia, Africa and even Europe.