At Beverly Blasingame’s tiny shop, Eclipse Trading Post, in NewBo City Market, you can find brightly colored stuffed animals from Malawi, palm fiber purses from Brazil or organic lip gloss from Cedar Rapids.
What do all these items have in common?
Blasingame chose them because she wants her business to give back. She carefully selected products whose sale is meant to improve the lives of women around the world.
“It made sense to me to support women who are trying to get out of poverty,” Blasingame said. “I want people to know their purchases do matter.”
Blasingame’s not alone in her aspirations to run a business that does good. In the last few weeks, at the same time Blasingame was preparing to open her Cedar Rapids store, two Internet-based businesses were launched to sell work from artisans abroad.
Andrea Flemming of Coralville started Wild Blue Fig at wildbluefig.com, selling arts and crafts from Botswana, Ghana and Uganda. At the same time, Anith Mathai of Iowa City started The Silk at thesilk.in to market goods from Indian designers and artists.
All three entrepreneurs said they aim to be part of the ever-growing fair trade movement — paying creators of a product a fair and living wage.
“Right now its really hard to make a living with handicrafts,” Mathai said. “But there are so many people who are willing to buy those products.”
For now, The Silk offers clothing and jewelry by more established designers as Mathai tests the website. But he said he hopes to travel to India in 2014 to set up relationships with rural artists.
Flemming made such a trip to Botswana in October to meet some of the artists whose work is for sale on Wild Blue Fig. She admired the model of a site like Etsy, which connects artists directly with sellers, but saw a drawback — artists in many developing nation may not have the necessary Internet access and computer skills.
Flemming’s hoping to act as that missing link and eventually add computer skills training for the artists she works with.
Flemming wants those women she met in Botswana to be able to connect directly with shoppers in Iowa.
“I think people are more and more interested in buying things with a story,” she said.
At A glance