Saturday, July 22, 2017

Thanks, Martha!

Our longtime customers know that we have carried straw hats from Ghana and Burkina Faso for many years. They sell steadily online, not so much in our stores in the sun-deprived Pacific Northwest. Then one day we get an email from Martha Stewart living, and the result is that we are selling a WHOLE LOT OF HATS. Businesses like ours don't get press like this very often, and we are grateful and excited. It's good for us, good for the weavers, and good for fair trade, which we want to see become mainstream in the same way organic food has. And this is a great looking photo shoot, don't you think? You can see our West African straw hats here. We're a bit low on stock, but more will be online within a week.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Product Spotlight: African Straw Hats

We have carried West African straw hats, from Ghana and Burkina Faso, since 2010. These unlined herder's hats excel at sun protection, are made from lightweight elephant grass, and have braided leather chin straps. They can be shaped by soaking them in cool water, allowing the water to soak in for about a minute, and then flexing the brim or shaping the crown as needed. Try to avoid wetting the leather. If you find your hat to be a bit small, we suggest you wet the crown, fit it over your head to stretch it, and then set it aside to dry. Conversely, soaking the crown in warm water will cause it to shrink up a bit if your hat is too large. Each of our hats is unique and is listed individually, so only one can be ordered of each. Our African straw hats are imported by African Market Baskets, a member of the Fair Trade Federation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Product Spotlight: Zulu Ukhamba Baskets

We carry a wide range of traditional ilala palm Zulu Ukhamba baskets, also called Zulu beer baskets, which are among the best known handmade baskets in the world. Made by the Zulu people of South Africa, these stunning pot-shaped baskets are hand-woven from a wetland grass and ilala palm leaves, and are dyed with extracts from leaves, roots, wood ash, and other natural materials found locally. They are used in lieu of pottery for storing homemade beer and other liquids. They are typically bulb-shaped with rigid walls and a tight weave and snug-fitting lid. Traditionally they are lined with a cornflour paste to render them watertight, however ours are not sealed and should not be considered watertight. At our home, we use Ukhanbas for storing dry goods like lentils, and vegetable seeds.

Ukhamba baskets are available on our website and at our Bainbridge Island, WA store and Port Gamble, WA store.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Soap Lady

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Donna Schambron, AKA The Soap Lady

In 2010 I was in the process of opening a tiny store selling handmade goods in minuscule Port Gamble, Washington. I wanted to carry local handmade soap, but no one was doing wholesale - or if they were I couldn't find them. I reached out to one of the few with an online presence, The Soap Crate, and the owner and I agreed to meet at a Starbucks to talk pricing. That's how I met Donna Schambron. We sat down with a basket of soaps between us and  commenced negotiating. I remember us both being kind of shy. She was my first wholesale vendor, and I was her first wholesale customer.
Seven years later, Donna still produces a line of soaps for us, as well as shampoo bars, shave  bars lotions, and body butters. Year after year her felted soaps are one of our top three bestselling products. She also has become a good friend and has provided much sound business advice over the years. 
About a year and a half ago I conducted an email interview with her, and because I am terrible at blogging, I am just now posting it. Enjoy!

How and when did you get started in soapmaking?
I started making soap in 2003. Crafts, hobbies and DIYs have always been a huge part of my lifestyle. Just ask my kids! I have always been disgruntled with commercial “beauty bars”, “bath bars” and “shower gels”. I didn’t realize that our family’s skin issues were actually the result of products we were using. Most of the bars in the store are NOT classified as actual soap. I started buying handmade soaps from Farmer’s Markets, which was great but not always in the fragrances or oil combinations that I wanted! It seemed logical in my mind to make it myself! That is exactly what I did. It really took several years and many trials to become good at it. The Soap Crate was born in 2006 because my soap stash was so large that family and friends suggested I should sell some of it before making any more.
What are a couple of your favorite soaps you ever made?
My favorite soaps are probably some of the most simplistic. I get really excited for each batch of soap; they are all “my babies”. Coffee soap is my “go to” comfort soap. That is funny because I am a huge coffee hound in general. Dark Rich Chocolate soap was one of my favorites to make! Oh and I was really nuts about Coco Loco (Pineapple, Mango, Coconut), loved, loved that one. Rosemary Infused Shampoo Bar is my all-time favorite shampoo.
Have you had any spectacular fails when making soap?
YES! I don’t know a soaper who hasn’t had failures although most are recoverable in some way. I have only had to dispose of a very few number of batches. Early on, while I was still learning, I followed some bad internet advice and ended up with a huge Lye spill in my kitchen! I don’t recommend putting Lye in a Pyrex or glass container of any kind! It ruined the drawers and cupboards as it poured to the floor. Fortunately the floor was stone tile and was not damaged. That was really scary.
I have had soaps volcano, seize, curdle & separate. Soaps have failed for “no reason”, turned out “weird”, even 2 exact same recipes, side by side; one worked, one didn’t! Colors can morph, fragrances can disappear. The true spectacle of the thing is me, freaking out and running around like crazy trying to rescue Batches Gone Wild!
When you’re not making soap, what are some of your favorite things to do?
When I’m not making soap? Um, what? Haha! We haven’t really gotten out much in the past year but we love to travel, go on “day trips”, camp, hike & fish. Spending time with my family, especially my 3 year old Grandson is my favorite pastime. I am fortunate to get to “babysit” three days per week. It’s just an excuse for art projects, ABCs, and “play/pretend”! We have an extensive vegetable garden this year so I have been working on that and teaching the baby where food comes from. He doesn’t really care but he loves to dig in the dirt.

       by Tracy Zhu

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Mata Traders Dress Sale

We still have some 2016 Mata Traders dresses, and even a few from 2015, and they need to find homes before our spring line arrives. To that end, we are offering a 20% discount for online purchases of all Mata dresses, including those already discounted. Offer good through 2/28/17, while supplies last. Use MATA SALE coupon code at checkout.

About the Mata: Mata Traders, based in Chicago, works with women in cooperatives in India and Nepal to produce high quality, often vintage-inspired, fair trade clothing. Many of the clothes incorporate traditional crafts such as hand loom weaving and hand block printing, and only natural fabrics (almost exclusively cotton) are used. It is a member of the Fair Trade Federation.

Friday, December 2, 2016

New Knit Wool Christmas Stockings from Nepal

We have new knit wool Christmas stockings from Nepal in house, including some in nontraditional colorways like the black, white, and brown stocking seen here. You can find a selection at all three of our brick and mortar stores (Seattle, Bainbridge Island, and Port Gamble; all in Washington State) as well as online. These beautiful stockings are high quality, handmade, and fair trade and cost $29.99-$39.99.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wolof Baskets from Senegal

We have our best ever selection of Wolof baskets from Senegal in stock at our Seattle store and also available online. These are sturdy, water-resistant baskets with rigid walls, so they hold their shape well. They are woven from grass and plastic strips and have a more modern look than many of our African baskets. They are a good choice for laundry hampers, towel storage, recycling bins and toy storage, and we like the smaller ones for stashing bread or coffee in. Our Wolof baskets are all fair trade products imported by Swahili Wholesale, a member of the Fair Trade Federation. The price range is $29.99 to $124.99.