(Alissa Head, Global Gifts' Columbus store manager, recently traveled with Julie Edwards, Global Gifts' purchasing and design manager, to attend our first gift show representing Imani Workshops. She writes about her experience here.)
I was so excited to be asked to help represent Imani Workshops' designs at the Windy City Gift Show in Chicago. What a wonderful opportunity and experience!
Our booth was located in Makers’ Market, a section devoted to handmade products. We were fortunate to be surrounded by other fair trade vendors and Fair Trade Federation members. We enjoyed getting to know our show neighbors, and had a lot of fun sharing new products. Our colorful and unique collection caught the eye of many passersby. There was nothing else like it at the show!
From a store manager’s perspective, I’ve watched the Imani products evolve over the last year and a half. They were always well-made with high quality craftsmanship. However, it was clear the items needed a fresh look and a new vision. Julie, our purchasing and design manager, has done a wonderful job working with the artisans to bring new vitality to the line.
I learned from Julie that, the Imani artisans dig up the clay for their beaded jewelry themselves, near the workshop. They hand form the beads, fire them, and glaze them as well as make the jewelry. I found this fascinating, and it gave me more insight into the production at Imani and how their work carries on local cultural traditions.
The elephant backpack was the highlight of our booth, as it is in our stores and at special events. This was designed by the artisans, and it is not only eye-catching and adorable, but practical too. Kids love these, but adults love them even more. We had a lot of fun walking the aisles, runway-style, at the Windy City Gift Show modeling the elephant backpack, and got our friends in on the action too.
The designs and fabrics of the bags, clutches, and coinpurses have been updated, and almost all come punctuated with ceramic poah beads. Our headband line is growing, with hand-sewn traditional kikoi and kittenge cottons, as well as batiks and tie dyed fabrics. The Dashiki fabric bags are a fun interpretation of traditional cloth. Dashiki is Swahili for “shirt,” and the fabric is printed to be made into a Dashiki shirt. The new bags have been cleverly made to show off the shirt patterning but enhance the design of the bag.
A new Imani signature is emerging; the “Ua” ( “flower” in Swahili) was recently introduced into the Imani line. This whimsical beaded flower is appearing on bags, headbands, boxes, and jewelry in the form of a fabric flower wrap bracelet. Hand sewn from kittenge fabric, it is a remarkable accessory. One attendee at the Windy City show asked if she could just get the flowers, she found them so appealing.
Seeing our Imani Collection at the Windy City Gift Show alongside other great handmade and fair trade product lines was a joyful experience. We were proud to showcase our offerings, and pleased we could hold our own among such seasoned and experienced vendors.
Personally, I learned a lot – not only about promoting the work of Imani, but also about the Imani artisans and the products themselves. Spending several days with Julie and hearing her first-hand stories gave me new insight into the importance of fair trade, how we are making a difference, and the preservation of cultural traditions. I hope to travel to Kenya myself some day and meet the artisans at Imani Workshops!