At Kizuri, shoppers intersect with world
Felted animal garlands from Nepal hang beside rain sticks from Chile.
Customers stepping into the Kizuri fair trade shop in the Community Building at 35 W. Main step out of downtown Spokane and into the world of fair trade products from Nigeria to Nepal, Pakistan to Peru, Guatemala to Ghana.
Colorful recycled sari throws hanging over a bar were once worn by women in India. A terracotta good luck pig from Pomaire, Chile, is on one shelf. A tablecloth from West Pakistan is on another. There are Phoenician glass candlesticks, a recycled metal Mama statue from Kenya with long arms for hanging jewelry and a handcarved Adinkra king’s stool from Ghana. African drums and other musical instruments surround a post.
There are candles, trivets, soap, cards, books, CDs, jewelry, baskets, knickknacks, wall hangings, bowls, cups, clothing and nearly 2,000 items from more than 40 countries.
Tags on the items that tell stories about the lives of artisans and their traditional crafts often start conversations, eliciting customers’ experiences in other countries.
Kizuri, which has been there for 11 years, now has a new owner. It changed hands on May 1.
Jillian Joseph has always been interested in the world, travel and cultures.
She attended high school with the son of Kim Harmson, the previous owner. They also knew each other because Kim’s husband, Jeff, and Jillian’s father, Sam, had traveled together to Rwanda on medical missions.
When Kim and Jillian were with them in 2013, they visited a man who made bronze bracelets and met artisans at women’s co-ops. That day Kim thought to herself that Jillian might take over Kizuri someday, but she didn’t mention it to Jillian for almost six years.
About a year ago, she mentioned the opportunity. Jillian was interested, but thought it might be in two to four years.
In 2005, after graduating from Lewis and Clark High School, Jillian deferred college and spent a gap year in Paris as a nanny for family friends and learning French.
While studying international relations and diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, she chose a six-month study abroad program in 2009, learning about culture, language, international conflicts and conflict resolution in Senegal, a French-speaking West African country. As part of the program, she was an intern with RADDHO (Rencontre Africaine des Droits de l’Homme), an international human rights organization working in Dakar, Senegal, with migrants from Central and West Africa.
After graduating, thinking she needed to build international skills, Jillian worked with an American tourism company for three years in Paris.
“It felt like a bit of a detour. I learned a lot, but I did not feel I was having the type of impact on the world I wanted. I wanted to contribute to intercultural experiences, but something broader than connecting western cultures to western cultures,” she said. “Nonetheless, Paris is a dynamic city, the home for African diaspora and people from all over the world.”
Jillian moved to New York City to work in recruitment and human resources with One Acre Fund, an agricultural microfinance NGO working in East Africa. She helped it grow from 180,000 farmers to 800,000 four years later in 2018. That job involved travel to East Africa one to three times a year. She went to Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
“We provided finances for people to become agriculturally self-sufficient. We gave microfinance loans in the form of seeds and fertilizer inputs. Our seeds were higher quality than the farmers previously had access to. We trained them on organic methods, and on the dose and time for fertilizing,” she said.
“We had flexible repayments at the right time of year, not in planting season when they are cash poor. They couldn’t go to the big city to pick up seeds and fertilizer, so One Acre Fund brought the materials within five kilometers of their homes,” Jillian said.
Farmers increased their yields 50 to 100 percent, so they earned enough to feed their families for a year, pay school fees, buy clothing and replace thatched roofs with tin, improving their homes and quality of life.
“We connect people in Spokane with basket weavers in Africa,” she said.
Kizuri focuses on stories so people here value the lives and contributions of vendors. Customers see the difference it makes for artisans to have economic opportunities, so they can educate and care for their families, and have the dignity of running their own business and of creating items that carry on their culture.
“It’s not that a customer will save a life by buying a bracelet, but that they will realize they have a connection to the person who made it,” Jillian said.
When Kim’s daughter, Kendra, was expecting her first baby in Seattle, Kim asked Jillian if she would be interested in taking over Kizuri.
Jillian initially said no, but thought for two days and called her back to say, “Let’s talk.”
“I was always interested in fair trade and loved Kizuri,” she said.
Four months later, she moved from New York City to Spokane. Since then, Kim has taken time to introduce Jillian to customers, vendors and the community.
“Kim created an amazing community of people. I’m committed to carrying it on and building on its foundation,” she said. “That foundation includes bringing in new merchandise every two months as Kim did. People come that often to see what’s new.
“People come, not just to buy but also to experience the warmth of the shop,” she said. “Here they know who makes the clothing and the conditions under which it is made. That’s not possible in most clothing stores.
“People also discover unexpected items—like a children’s book with a story they never knew before,” Jillian said. “It’s important to have a range of prices, so someone might walk in and spend less than $5 or spend $500 to buy something meaningful.”
Jillian hopes to expand the customer base, aware that people today are more conscious consumers and care where things are from. They want to pay to support a woman tailor in Nepal rather than a corporation that abuses textile workers in Bangladesh.
In the few months she has owned the shop, Jillian is optimistic about Kizuri, because the more she tells people about fair trade, where things are from and the importance of things being made ethically, the more success she builds.
Owning this shop in Spokane also gives her the opportunity to travel to visit artisans and friends in East and West Africa. Jillian recently met many vendors at a conference in New York City.
“I talked with them to build relationships and create new business opportunities,” she said.
“People comment on the energy and welcome they feel when they come in to explore,” she said.
“It’s a place to make connections, because everything is a conversation starter,” she said pointing to a brass bracelet made by Abraham, a man she met in a shop in Kigali in 2013.
“A woman from Maryland came in and saw the soapstone hearts. She had been in Kenya as part of the Virtues Project teaching in Kakamega. That’s where the One Acre Fund headquarters are, so I have been there, too,” she said.
“At the basis of fair trade are economic and social justice values. It’s important to have economic opportunities across the world for women and oppressed communities,” Jillian said. “It’s also important to build a sustainable world. In a global economy, our purchase choices have a profound impact on our planet.
Jillian’s parents’ frequent travels instilled curiosity, empathy, ideals of social justice and learning about other cultures.
While she attended Catholic churches in early years, in high school she participated with the First Presbyterian youth group in several Mexican house-building trips, exposing her to the global south and large scale poverty that she did not see in Spokane.
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, Jillian will hold an anniversary party to celebrate Kizuri’s 11 years and the change in ownership.
She will be at the Jubilee Sale at First Presbyterian Nov. 8 to 9 and will sponsor the Festival of Fair Trade Thanksgiving Weekend at the Community Building.
Each week the shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays with extended hours around the holidays.
For information, call 464-7677 or visit shopkizuri.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October, 2019