Looking for trash in faraway places and making art of it
By MELISSA ADLER
When you visit Global Crafts in Springfield, owner Gary Jones may send you on a scavenger hunt. Try to find the bike tires, broken glass or metal oil drums among the gifts arranged on the walls and display tables. The items are so beautiful that it’s hard to believe they’re made from trash. Raw materials are gathered from city dumps, work sites and rural areas. "When you’re starving," says Jones, "you are very creative with materials." Artisans transform discarded items and by-products into remarkable works of art.
Every piece of art has a story, like children in South Africa who collect pieces of brightly colored telephone wire left behind by utility crews. What they make are expertly woven bracelets and baskets. Stories are told of little girls who follow street vendors in Peru and pick up orange peels to make dolls. Cruise ships travel along the coast of Nigeria. Flip-flops from the vacationers wash ashore. Artisans use the mismatched shoes to create one-of-kind floor mats. These are the stories of indigent people, representing 40 countries, who have their art displayed in Global Crafts.
The artisans, many of whom are women running single parent households, are part of a retail network that creates a market and delivery system to customers in the United States and elsewhere. The fair trade organizations work with the artists, perfect the product, and warehouse it. The idea is to pay a fair wage that will allow people not only to survive but prosper. Global Crafts orders from about 20 different wholesalers, and gets new merchandise every week.
Organizations like Ten Thousand Villages, one of the oldest and largest fair trade retailers, places an order and pays up to 50 percent in advance so the artisan group can purchase materials needed for the order. The artisans are paid the remainder of the agreed amount when the order ships. According to Ten Thousand Villages, it encourages artisan partners to use environmentally friendly processes, sustainable and natural resources and recycled materials to ensure each product offered has been crafted responsibly.
Jones points out that many of the artist groups are located in countries that don’t have democracies or stable governments. In order for the system to work, people learn to work together. When communities cooperate, many jobs are created along the way, not only for the artisans, but for people who gather raw materials and pack the items for shipment.
Twenty-five years ago, Jones started a similar store to Global Crafts in Lincoln, Neb., which is still open today. He feels Global Crafts will succeed in Springfield because "it’s the same size town, and the same kind of caring people." He hopes the location at 1455 S. Glenstone will draw a variety of customers, some who are looking for unique gifts and some who want to support the cause. Most shoppers come for both reasons.
One of the criticisms Jones heard about the Lincoln store was, "Why are you helping all these people overseas when we have poor people here?" Jones says the Springfield store is trying to address that concern by carrying products made in the United States. Currently, the store has wild rice from a Native American tribe in Minnesota. Soon it will carry bean soup and butter cake mixes from a domestic violence center in Denver, Colo. Jones has also reached out to a local shelter for paper products.
Global Crafts is not-for-profit and run by volunteers that opened Aug. 3, 2012. It operates Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jones knows from past experience that out-of-store sales are critical. "Festivals and church events introduce the store to a completely different group of people," says Jones. But it’s also time consuming and Global Crafts needs more volunteers. If you would like information about volunteering, contact Gary Jones at 417-889-0384 or email@example.com.
Shopping at Global Crafts is a different experience. Jones wants customers to hear the stories behind their purchases. "We don’t sell a thing that people need. But that’s true of all gifts, basically. But if we can tell the story of these gifts, the customer may be more satisfied with what they’re giving than what they buy at Macy’s."
Even after all these years, Jones says he’s still amazed when a new item comes to the store. One of the wholesalers recently sent a half-finished basket still on the loom, so he can show customers how telephone wire is used. He’s impressed with the tight weaving and says it’s the ingenuity of the artisans that keeps him going. Jones adds, "And knowing that it’s helping people." He hopes more people will take the scavenger hunt and find something that brings joy to themselves and prosperity to others across the globe or in the Ozarks.