Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Fair Trade? - ABC's

What is 'Fair Trade' and how can I possibly explain the ABC's of it all easily?

Let's start with my backyard, Hollywood Blvd., a big tourist draw. The old Grauman's Chinese theater is surrounded by souvenir shops selling T-shirts for only a few dollars. Seriously, $3.50 for a shirt? We all love a bargain. But, you must wonder how is it even possible for these items to be priced so low. Don't turn a blind eye. Such low priced items on store shelves absolutely means they were produced by exploited people in developing countries. Unfortunately a huge percentage of the world's work force labors very long hours for very low pay.

According to the World Bank, the global poverty line was raised in 2015 to $1.90/day. In 2012, 900 million people lived below this. Can you imagine living on less than $700/year?  It's even more shocking when you look at what percentage of people live on less than $1 or $2/day in various countries around the world.  I was shocked to learn in a recent report published by the World Bank that 45% of people in Nicaragua live on less than $1/day.  If you take the time to digest these stats your stomach will curdle and you'll surely make an effort to change your buying habits.

Not convinced yet? Check out this map of the world. Those countries in blue suffer little poverty as a percentage of their populations. Red or orange, the situation is bleak. Even in the areas shown in yellow, up to 20% of their inhabitants live in poverty. That's less than $1.90/day. I am not an economist or am I prepared to research and write a dissertation on poverty levels around the world. However, I certainly believe in advocating for fair trade and decent treatment of people around our globe.  Simply put, 'Fair Trade' is about giving all people who produce things we consume a fair price for their labor. Workers should earn enough money to live without malnutrition and with the ability to educate their children. Everyone should live with dignity.

This next paragraph was written by Chris Woodford a British science writer. There's no way I could write about this topic better than him. (I made a few small edits.)

"Fair trade is a system that starts from the premise that workers lives have a value; this social benefit is partially what you pay for when you buy something. Fair trade doesn't just mean farmers and producers receive more money so they can support their families in the short term-though that's vitally important.  It also means they work under long-term contracts (and relationships) so their communities have enough security to invest in improvements both in their businesses and their societies. Fair trade producers are often part of small cooperatives of workers. Cooperatives use no child or forced labor, use organic and environmentally sustainable methods, and most often have high standards for animal welfare.  Typically, fair trade producers sign up for some sort of labeling system that guarantees things have been made under good conditions." (Examples of this are World Fair Trade Organization, Fair Trade Federation and Fair Trade Certified.)

 Here's my plug for Dunitz & Company! You know I had to do it! Dunitz is a proud member of Fair Trade Federation and we live according to the group's defined nine principles. Read them and you will have in greater detail a better understanding of our views on worker rights, environmental sustainability, empowerment of women and trade justice. FTF members are diligently screened to verify that they adhere to these principles. Dunitz is also a gold-certified Green America business. (Truth be told, once you pass your screening at Fair Trade Federation, Green America provides reciprocity. No need to be screened again. That doesn't hold in the other direction.)

So how do you explain "Fair Trade" to a total beginner, someone who wants to do good but doesn't want to hear a long lecture? I absolutely loved a recent blog post written by Sarah Culler, our FTF colleague at Fair Trade Winds. She tackled this issue so simply and perfectly. Here are the easy to share tips she suggests.

1. Fair trade means that farmers and artisans earn a fair, living wage for their work and are guaranteed safe working conditions.

2. There are certifications, similar to the organic label, for things like coffee, chocolate, produce and some clothing.

3. For items such as jewelry, cards, mugs and handcrafted pieces, there isn't a certification. But these types of products are made by organizations that are part of the Fair Trade Federation and World Fair Trade Organization. Members have been screened and verified and that's how we know they're fair trade.

4. Fair trade is NOT charity. It provides opportunity for artisans to break the cycle of poverty.

5. YOU can be part of fair trade by thinking twice about many of your purchases. And now that you have a better understanding, spread the word.

Simple, right?

It's Fair Trade Month. Let's all make an effort (and when I type, I'm speaking to myself as well) to tell people why everyone should purchase fair trade items and make a greater effort to purchase fair trade.  As consumers, we can help break the cycle of poverty for so many that suffer around the world. It's easy to do. Are you in? -ND

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Celebrating Latin America in Los Angeles

This is an incredible time to be living in Los Angeles. (Yes, and to visit too!) Led by The Getty, more than 70 arts and cultural institutions across Southern California are celebrating Latin America and Latino art now through January 2018. The 65 page booklet shown here from Pacific Standard Time outlines all the amazing exhibits and activities going on. It means I already know what will be filling up some of my free time on weekends over the next few months. Don't have the hard-copy in hand? You can visit their website to learn more. Many events are free. Others require tickets.

Earlier this month, I attended the opening of Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in L.A. at the Central Library. Los Angeles Central Library is an amazing place even without this current exhibit of huge canvas paintings largely created by those belonging to the artist collective Tlacolulokos. These amazing images are powerful and speak to the marriage of cultures. The images show the spirit of Oaxaca, Mexico with the life and living of immigrants in Los Angeles. Men and women, many in traditional dress are shown using the tools of our current world...stylish tennis shoes, cell phones and digital cameras.

While I was at the library celebrating the start of this great month of activities, I know there were others in other locations doing the same. My experience included hearing songs in the Zapotec language and dancers performing in traditional Oaxacan dress. There was a large crowd and the excitement was infectious. The show started outside. The dancers performed with baskets on their heads. At the time, I had no idea what was in the baskets. Honestly, there were flowers visible and I assumed they were decorative. And then when they completed their dance, they started throwing fistfuls of hard candies and bread rolls (in plastic baggies, of course) at the audience. An elder woman who had a basket of larger bread loaves offered them to people in the audience as well. A visitor near me accepted one
and share a bit with me. It tasted like typical (North) American cinnamon rolls I'm more familiar with. Just not as sweet. These loaves would make great breakfast food with a cup of good fair trade coffee. (I had to get the words fair trade in somewhere on this blog, yes?) After the performers were done sharing the treats they brought, they paraded into the library atrium where the paintings hang. The crowd followed them in. It was loud and fun even though the acoustics inside the library were far from perfect.

Reminding me of my visit, each and every day, I now have a small poster up in my office which shows a large detail of one of the pieces currently on display.  It's also signed by one of the artists in the bottom left corner.

I can't wait to get over to the Getty Museum to see their current exhibit, Golden Kingdoms. I'm told this exhibit will be a huge crowd pleaser. It's a major international loan exhibition featuring more than 300 masterpieces and traces the development of luxury arts in the Americas from about 1000 BC to the arrival of Europeans in the early sixteenth century. This exhibit covers Inca, Maya and Aztec cultures. Are you in the Los Angeles area? Did I say you must check this exhibit out? (And many others going on?) Yes!

OK - here's the pitch for Dunitz & Company! When you're at the Getty, you MUST check out their gift shop.  For the duration of this exhibit, they are selling Dunitz & Company fair trade earrings and bracelets. The buyers thought some of our designs were reminiscent of Pre-Columbian works, so it made complete sense. And of course, they were thrilled that we are members of Fair Trade Federation and our prices very reasonable. This photo shows a couple of styles that you'll find in their shop. You'll find these earrings in other colors too.

Another exhibit I know will be well worth seeing is at the Skirball Cultural Center. Their exhibit this season focuses on Mexican-born, American Jewish writer Anita Brenner. Through her life and work, we will experience the culture of Mexico and its relationship with the United States. The Skirball always puts on amazing shows. In the area? You must attend. And while you're there, check out the gift shop. The Skirball is currently selling Dunitz & Company kippot.

There are too many shows going on in and around Los Angeles celebrating our relationship with Latin America to list them all. To learn of them all, spend some time online at Pacific Standard Time.

Here are a few more I absolutely do NOT want to miss:

Photography of Cuba - Annenberg Space for Photography

Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-85 - Hammer Museum

Found in Translation: Design in CA & Mexico 1915-85 - LACMA 

La Raza - Autry Museum of the American West

Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of Caribbean Archipelago - MOLAA

Hollywood in Havana: Five Decades of Cuban Posters - Pasadena Museum of CA Art

OMG - & there are so many more! I'm going to be VERY busy. If you're in Southern California, please join in and enjoy all this city and our surroundings have to offer. -ND

Friday, September 8, 2017

Museum Store Association Membership - Inspires Memories

I recently applied for membership to the Museum Store Association. And thankfully my application was approved. In all honestly, various members have been encouraging me to join this group for a very long time. Most recently and obviously persuasive was Ione from New York Historical Society. Dunitz & Company has always worked with and placed our fair trade jewelry in many museum gift shops. I'm now in an even better situation to mingle with and exchange information with a host of buyers I may not have met at the trade shows we attend.

Becoming a member of this group brought back a host of museum memories for me. For this blog, I thought it would be fun to share some of them. Now you'll know even a little bit more about me. I attended West Bloomfield (Michigan) High School. My senior year, I was one of 4 students chosen to participate in an educational program at Cranbrook Institute of Science.  Evidently Matt, Harold, Mark & I were the smart and nice kids chosen to "teach" sixth graders that were bused to the museum for introductory classes on a host of topics. My expertise became microscopes and introductory astronomy. Honestly the funniest memory for me is that I was paired up with Mark to teach the astronomy class. (Shall we talk about Alpha Centauri? No.) Nearly a year before this, Mark who lived in my residential neighborhood had asked me out on a date, to a school dance. I had already been on dates, so I remember thinking at the time how odd it was when his older sister chaperoned us. It was an awkward evening. What turned out to be even more awkward was that even though we only lived a few houses apart, we didn't speak again until we were paired for teaching this class.  Now THAT was awkward for two gawky kids. Thankfully we resolved the situation quickly and successfully taught together that semester. Guess what? Mark is now a 'facebook friend'!

I graduated from the University of Michigan and majored in History of Art. Truthfully, I always dreamed of attending Art School. My parents however didn't think that was a practical move and for me that was not an option. Instead, I spent my college years studying other people's art. One wonderful memory I have from my college days was being part of the first docent class at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. (The photo posted here is of the museum I remember. This building remains today. However, it is attached to a spectacular contemporary addition.) Our docent training took place over two semesters my junior year. Most of the class was comprised of women living in Ann Arbor who after training intended to volunteer at the museum for many more years. As an experiment,  three students were selected to be part of this program, Jonathan Kuhn (who is now the Director of Art & Antiquities for the city of New York), Barb Parker-Bell (now a professor at Marywood University) and me. Our instructor was a PhD candidate, Vicky Clark who later, and for years was affiliated with Carnegie Mellon. Our obligation after training was to provide docent tours throughout our senior year of college.

I don't remember my schedule exactly. Sometimes on the weekend, I would tour a group from the general public.  And more often, we took school kids who were bused from surrounding areas for a tour of the museum. If you asked them how a Helen Frankenthaler painting made them feel, they were without inhibitions. Or if you asked children how Esther (Esther before Ahasuerus by Guercino) felt in this prized painting, they were happy to share their thoughts. The kids were always the most fun.

For the most part, our tours were planned. We knew which pieces in the museum required a mandatory stop. A little leeway sometimes allowed us to squash in a piece not on our regular list.  A grey-scale print of the Swimmer by Alex Katz was one I typically added to my tours. I learned of Katz when I was a docent. And his images had never been included in my coursework. To this day, Alex Katz is probably my favorite living artist (other than my niece, Helen Gotlib!)

The summer after docent training, I had applied for internships at several museums. It was crazy but I was offered positions everywhere I applied. How was I going to decide between the Detroit Institute of Arts, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art or the Guggenheim? The choice was not easy, but it had to be made.  First, it was a given that I should leave home and experience the Big Apple.  I would have been volunteering my time to help out a curator at the Brooklyn Museum or the Whitney. The Whitney had always been one of my all-time favorite places. The clincher was the Guggenheim had a very specific internship program where they hired many students. At the time, I didn't know anyone in New York. It seemed a good idea to choose a job where I would have a built-in social life as well. I was selected to work in the business office of the museum. This was probably best suited for me since I had decided I wanted to somehow combine arts with business for my career. Truthfully, I didn't want to make a career out of studying other people's art.

And my other responsibility that summer....was being a docent at the Guggenheim. They knew I had experience. So, again, I was one of three interns chosen to study and then tour the general public on their then Rufino Tamayo retrospective. And those were some big crowds. Sometimes those tours seemed to attract 50, 60 or more people. Seriously it felt like 100! I must say, I've always been fearful speaking in front of crowds. And I'm not sure this experience helped me get over it.

My funniest memory was on what probably seemed like one of my largest crowds. Why? Because my mother traveled for a visit from Michigan to join in. At the end of the tour, my mom shouted out from the back of the crowd, "Young lady, that was an awesome tour!" And everyone clapped and seemed to agree. My reply - "Don't listen to her, that's my mother!" What a roar in the audience that created. I smile now just thinking about that.  (For years after this tour, my mom always remembered that Tamayo frequently painted small heads with bodies proportionally too large).

So, now I'm an official part of a museum gang again! I very much look forward to working more closely with many more museums. Do you have a favorite museum memory? -ND

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sustainability, Fair Trade, Eco-Friendly

For several years now, NY NOW has highlighted environmentally-conscious and socially-responsible products and producers from around the world. They've done this by staging a special exhibit "SustainAbility: design for a better world" which typically presents offerings from about 100 exhibitors. They take this display seriously. And it is always stunning! Exhibitors submit applications and with information and photos of new designs for inclusion. If chosen, there is no cost involved. And it is an honor to be chosen. Dunitz & Company fair trade jewelry has been part of this display several times. Ilene Shaw of Shaw + Co! Productions curates this exhibit and for admission considers newness and inventiveness as well as business ethics and environmental practices.

Several Fair Trade Federation members were included in this display this season including some of our favorite colleagues, WorldFinds, Aid Through Trade (our friendly bead competitor) and Sustainable Threads.

The information they require on our applications is not only used to evaluate the way we do business, the information is shared with attendees that actually check out the exhibit. Here's the placard they prepared on Dunitz & Company.  It shares information on our business and the fair trade necklace design we had on display, photos of some of our artisans and an organization we support, Puerta Abierta (free library) in the town where our beading artisans live.

This season, two of our Denim Frida Necklaces were featured. Yes. Yes. Two is always better than one.  We offer these wonderful embroidered (on recycled denim) adornments in several colors. We wanted to be certain that those perusing the Sustainability display would know these necklaces were available in more than one color.

Interested in fair trade jewelry and socially conscious businesses? If you have a brick and mortar shop, please check out Dunitz & Company online. Looking for a selfish purchase? We offer lots of fair trade handmade goodies for you too! Our retail site is a great place to start. -ND

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fair Trade the show!

Two seasons in a row, NY Now has provided space for a fair trade gifts display at their trade show. This display includes products from Fair Trade Federation and World Fair Trade Organization members exhibiting at the show. And of course, Dunitz & Company was part of this group. With nearly 24,000 attendees, this is such an amazing opportunity for educating buyers and consumers about our fair trade principles. Both seasons, this display has been prominently featured on Concourse Level 1 of Javits. And it is consistently staffed with managers from FTF and WFTO. I am not acquainted with those employed by WFTO. I can say that Chris, Rachel and Ann, the faces of our FTF office are absolutely the best. They definitely have the know-how to advise buyers interested in learning more about fair trade and why we, members of these groups are different. Our membership validates that we've been screened for our business practices. These days, people are more and more interested in supporting businesses that give-back and/or do good for communities near and far. The result is that many business-people use buzz words to convince buyers they're on the up and up. I've learned that many are not. I salute NY Now for creating space for this display, a display that highlights products from screened providers.

A few weeks before the show, I received an email from Allison, the manager in charge of the Handmade sections of the show.  She explained there would be a 'Fair Trade Display' and that space was limited. She asked (as she did from all FTF and WFTO members) if we wanted to be considered for this display, that we should send photos and information on the item(s) we'd want to display right away. My guess is just about everyone submitted information. I don't know how many WFTO members exhibit at NY Now. I believe we had about 60 FTF members exhibiting. That's a lot of verified fair trade gifts to choose from!

Dunitz & Company was represented in two other displays this season. Our embroidered denim necklaces were featured at the 'Sustainability Display'. (More on this for my next blog entry) And our fair trade kippot were featured in 'destination: new' - (my last blog entry.) For this reason, we submitted a fair trade fused glass and earrings set from our Joanie M Collection. And yeah! They were selected to be part of the display. I don't know another vendor at NY Now selling anything quite like our fused glass jewelry. I'm certain this is why they were the perfect choice.

If you are curious and want to learn more about fair trade, I encourage you to check out the Fair Trade Federation and WFTO websites. If you're a wholesale buyer you'll find membership lists. If you're looking to purchase fair trade gifts for yourself, you'll find FTF member stores and retail websites listed.  We appreciate the support we receive from our customers in such a big way. Without them (and you) we would not be able to sustain and support the community of artisans we've been working with since the early 90s. -ND

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fair Trade Judaica - New Kippot Designs

Our fair trade Judaica collection has always been a labor of love. And our artisan-made kippot have always been dear to our heart.  Most of our yarmulkes are designed to accommodate the women that wear them. Some of our designs are suitable for men. One of our favorite customers and advisors (regarding this part of our line) is Ilana Schatz from Fair Trade Judaica. She attends countless seminars where she often sells an assortment of Judaica products, our fair trade kippot among them. She always tells us ours are a customer favorite. She also always provides us with valuable feedback.  Recently she told me that some of her customers were looking for more neutral colored kippot suitable for more somber occasions. And of course, that got me thinking.  I knew it was time to introduce new designs in new colors.
Our embroidered kippot featuring embroidered flowers and leaves, with beaded accents have always been some of our best sellers.  It seemed fitting to add on to this part of our fair trade Judaica collection. Debuting at NY Now, we introduced our yarmulkes in several neutral color combinations including black, grey, charcoal, almond and an ecru-type beige. If you log into Dunitz & Company's wholesale website, you'll discover information and photos on all of our fair trade kippot designs.

Our new kippot were juried in for a special 'destination: new' display at the New York trade show and one of our designs was a candidate for 'best new product introduction'. We didn't win. We did however, sell lots of these new designs to appropriate gift shops. I'd say that makes us a winner :)!

While at the show, two Fair Trade Judaica board members stopped in at our booth. I enjoyed meeting Betsy and Regie and showing them our latest designs. We even posed for the perfect photo. (How is it I'm the tallest girl in this pic? I wasn't wearing heels and I'm only 5'6" - just saying.) Of course, they enjoyed checking out our entire fair trade jewelry collection including our designs that can be made with world coins or old Israeli coins.

Are you a buyer for a synagogue or temple gift shop? Do you choose to wear a kippa? Do you know a young woman needing a kippa for her bat mitsvah? If you said yes to any of these, you must know about Dunitz & Company's fair trade Judaica collection. Please check us out on our wholesale and retail sites. You'll be glad you did. -ND

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Community at Javits - The Solar Eclipse

We were all at NY Now - exhibitors and buyers. Many of us were captive in our booths at the Javits Center. (Yup, we were there exhibiting our fair trade jewelry.) Our booth is located in the River Pavilion, near the back where the ceiling is all glass. Glass with lots of metal supports.  We could see up to the sky. And what we saw was mostly clouds. From time to time the clouds would part and reveal the sun. Or the partial sun blocked by the moon. One thing is certain. For a short time, ours was a community of buyers and sellers most interested in what was going on in the sky above.  One customer of ours, Susan from Amistad had a pair of the much sought after safety glasses. And she was kind enough to share them with me, Elissa (our sales help) and our neighbors at Asian Eye. We were a bunch of cackling girls trying to catch snippets of the changing sun. And we did. Via cell phone, this was our view.

One place I've never been (but I've always wanted to experience) is the Javits roof.  Access is down a long hallway past the large bathrooms (near the Dunitz & Company booth) and through a double door to what I believe are building storage areas. A large group was escorted to this special place, mostly Javits employees with appropriate employee badges.  Evidently a few others were invited. I know this because our friend Ben from Fair Trade Winds is seen in this photo...on the roof. Lucky Dog. What a view, right?

And most crowded into the streets. You can only imagine how many people rushed outside of Javits to see what they might see. From our booth we have an open view to the sky. But most in the larger halls downstairs do not. I found these photos online - & there were tons of folks outside. Laughing. Smiling. Sharing Glasses. We are a community!

I'll always remember this day and the excitement we all shared. Where were you for the solar eclipse? - ND