Category: Travel Light

Supporting Artisans: Santa Fe Edition

This I Wear | Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico has been on my bucket list since I first became interested in artisan-made crafts years ago. Each year, the city hosts the International Folk Arts Market, drawing hundreds of artisans from around the world to this little historic city to display their wares and grow their businesses.

While I missed the festival this year, I did not pass up the opportunity to shop for local crafts during a recent 24-hour stopover in the city. But after I stopped into a few shops, I began to wonder how to tell what was really artisan-made and what was an imported version of the local designs. I wasn’t familiar enough with the local culture, especially the Native American cultures, to pick up on this difference.

So how do you tell what is authentic and what is not?

Before I dive into how to tell what’s really made by a local artisan and what it not, I think it’s important to clarify why you should even care. Shouldn’t you just buy any souvenir that looks good? Isn’t that its own way of supporting the local economy? Well, yes, you’re supporting that local shop owner, but there’s a lot more to consider.

Here’s my quick list of why you should buy artisan-made when possible:

  • You’re supporting the community more deeply when you make sure the artisan (who often created the designs being knocked off) is paid fairly.
  • You’re telling the local community that this is a traditional craft that has high value and is worth preserving, so that more generations continue to want to learn these skills.
  • You are showing respect for an artisan’s mastery and heritage. These days, so much design is ripped off and produced more cheaply. Honor the maker by making sure you are only supporting local businesses that respect the maker too.
  • You get a chance to get to know the maker.
  • It’s a smaller environmental footprint if the item wasn’t shipped from far away.
  • You are getting something truly special and handmade rather than something mass-produced.

(There are so many more reasons to add to this list – I hope you’ll share yours in the Comments below.)

So now, how do you know if something was really made by a local craftsperson or if it’s imported? My recommendation is to start asking questions from the seller. I like to start off with “I love this design, can you tell me more about it?” And then I get more specific with questions such as:

  • Who made this?
  • Where do you make it?
  • What is it made of and where do the materials come from?
  • How do you (or the artisan) make it?
  • Who taught you this craft?

Hopefully, these questions will help you engage in a memorable conversation with an artisan as much as they will help you clarify if an item is truly handmade or an imposter.

If you’re in a store that is supposedly selling local crafts, a great indicator is if the artisan has signed his or her pieces or if there is information about the maker next to a piece. Even better, sometimes stores will share photos of where and how it is made to give you more context about the craft itself. You may also want to ask shop owners if they buy directly from artisans, and if so, who sets the price for the goods.

In Santa Fe, I was extremely fortunate. I asked my authenticity question to a staff member at Bahti Indian Arts, mostly because his store provided clear markers of its authenticity: certifications from local councils, information on how designs were made, and the names of the artisans. Bahti Indian Arts is beautiful and a must-see, and the store associate kindly gave me a few other recommendations to help me make sure I was purchasing from stores that truly want to support local makers and craft:

1. Sun County Traders
2. Keshi The Zuni Collection (My favorite and the store makes it clear that the artisan sets the price to ensure fair wages!)
3. Rainbow Man
4. Shiprock Santa Fe (see rug photos above)

In addition to these shops, you can visit the Plaza where artisans daily enter a lottery to display their wares in the approximately 70 spots under the portico. Each vendor must prove that he/she makes the goods, so you can shop here with confidence knowing that you are buying directly from the maker. Go early for the best selection and take your time to learn from the maker how each item was made.

Want to learn more about artisans? A few of my favorite resources are UNESCO, Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, and HAND/EYE Magazine. Still have questions about how to tell the difference? Share your questions in the Comments or email me.

Travel Light: Asheville, North Carolina

This I Wear | Travel Guide: Asheville, North Carolina

I don’t know if it was just in the cards, but my summer is filling up with travel plans even faster than spring did. Just last week, I spent four beautiful sunny days in Asheville, North Carolina, which in case you haven’t heard, has been on the top of every “best places to live” list for the last few years.

Like Portland, Oregon last year, I was drawn to the city for the opportunities to get out in nature as well as enjoy a local scene that really encourages and supports truly local businesses. It was too good to keep to myself, so I’m sharing a brief guide here on what to do, where to eat and shop, and where to stay for those who are looking to travel “light” as I do.

Light, in this case, means focusing most on experience and less on stuff. It means enjoying the people and local flavor while being as thoughtful about your travel footprint when you’re in someone else’s community as when you’re in your own.

So here are just a few ideas for how to travel light and enjoy Asheville:

How to Get There
Flights into Asheville’s small regional airport can be limited and expensive, so we flew into Charlotte, NC. If you’re going to be hiking and exploring, having a car is unfortunately still your best mode of transit, so the two-hour drive to Asheville just made sense. Make the drive more exciting by stopping at Chimney Rock on the way to climb the 26-stories of sturdy stairs up to a beautiful lookout. (There’s also an elevator for those not up for the climb.)

Where to Stay
Asheville is obviously a city deep in transition and growing fast. Hotels are still limited to big box hotels, though a few hipper ones are starting to open up. We skipped the hotel route in favor of the low-key, friendly option of AirBnB. We stayed in a beautiful quiet room in East Asheville that had a spectacular flower-filled backyard this time. Next time, I’d look for a place in West Asheville to spend more time in what seemed like the Brooklyn of Asheville.

Where to Eat
Hole Doughnuts (West Asheville) – Delicious tea, coffee and doughnuts are the focus at Hole Doughnuts, a shabby chic little café. The staff is beyond friendly and you can watch as they make your doughnuts to order, flipping them in the oil with a pair of drumsticks. This was the first spot I noticed had a sign that they pay their employees a living wage, part of a certification program led locally by Just Economics of Western NC. Great doughnuts, great people.

Sunny Point Café (West Asheville) – Breakfast is served all day here, but we came early and were rewarded with a fantastic meal. If you’re there when there’s a wait, fill up a cup of coffee and wander through the garden in the back where they grow much of their vegetables. What they can’t grow themselves, they source from other local businesses. They earned extra points from me for the great options for loose leaf tea.

Creperie Bouchon (Downtown) – Through a lovely alleyway, you’ll find the courtyard that the restaurant spills out onto. Grab a table under an umbrella and enjoy a crepe or a Croque Monsieur along with an affordable local beer on tap. The creperie and its sister restaurant, Bouchon, like the majority in the area, source many of the ingredients from local farms.

Chai Pani (Downtown) – Despite the temptation to only eat Southern food while in Asheville, we caved to eat at this Indian street food restaurant that serves some of the best and most unique Indian dishes I’ve had. Their website also has a full list of their sustainable practices if you aren’t convinced yet.

Salsa’s (Downtown) – Thanks to the car rental representative in Asheville, we heard that the nachos here were not to be missed (even if some other things on the menu were a little strange). It was good advice. The nachos (and the margaritas) were some of the best I had ever had, and the fish tacos were only passable. Go for the nachos.

Where to Drink
Wicked Weed Brewing (Downtown) – There are too many breweries to even begin to list, but this one was a great choice. With over 20 small batch beers on tap, it was fun to sample a few. I highly recommend trying the Black Angel Cherry Sour for something totally unique.

Top of the Monk (Downtown) – Above the popular pub, The Thirsty Monk, is a speakeasy with a rooftop that is limited to only 30 people at a time. The line is short, and you’ll be treated to delicious pre-Prohibition cocktails that each come with a complimentary snack. It’s luxuriously spacious and laid back, which makes it even cooler.

Where to Shop
Horse + Hero (Downtown) – A paper goods shop stocking prints, cards and original artwork from over 30 local artists.

Nest Organics (Downtown) – A mom and daughter-owned shop featuring local and international products that all focus on healthy, sustainable living from homewares, like Coyuchi, to sweet gifts for kids.

Old North (Downtown) – A nicely curated boutique of made-to-last clothing for men and women with a staff that can tell you all about a brand and where and how the products are made. While you’re here, pick up a pair of local favorite, Raleigh Denim jeans.

Antique Tobacco Barn – A huge warehouse of antiques in what was literally a tobacco barn, where the tobacco leaves would be hung and dried. You could get lost in here, but it’s worth it. Sometimes the best souvenirs are something old.

What to Do
The surrounding Blue Ridge Parkway provides a great jumping off point for hiking. Head north on the Parkway for trails like Craggy Gardens with its epic flowering pathways, or south for waterfalls and (very cold) swimming holes like Sliding Rock.

If it’s a rainy day, pick up a book at Malaprop’s (for something new) or the Battery Park Book Exchange (for the used edition). While both have their own cafes/bars, you can also take your reading to the Dobra Tea Shop to relax on a floor cushion with a pot of tea.

Feel free to add your Asheville recommendations below or share where you’re headed this summer!

Portland & Celebrating Change

Five sunny beautiful days of vacation in Portland, Oregon might relax some, but I came back last week overflowing with energy and ideas and also excited to share a big announcement with you (keep reading!).

This was my first time in Portland, but I had been immensely curious for the longest time, wondering if “my tribe” was there and I was totally missing out. Well, as horrible as last week’s surprise mid-April snow was, I’m not leaving NYC at the moment, but my trip made a big impression on me.

One of my top priorities of “things to do” was to shop. I know that might sound shocking, but by now, all of you know my closet is quite minimal and I am very careful to add anything new. I had dreams of Portland as this ethical shopping dreamland where everything would be so intentionally designed and made that I could buy anything I wanted and feel great and angels would sing. So, we went in a bunch of local boutiques, and though there were no over-the-top shopping sprees, we had the BEST conversations with shop owners.

In stores like imogene + willie, Tanner Goodsand Alder + Co, staff had the most incredible product and materials knowledge and the products were beautiful, made-to-last, and often domestically-made. Take a trip over the Willamette, and Beam & Anchor will introduce you to every cool “maker” on the scene right now. And of course, the local Patagonia outpost uniquely features a section of their “Worn Wear” collection of pre-worn pieces.

But it was actually chatting with Jordan of Winn Perry & Co. that made me really think about the state of fashion right now. His shop is exactly what every guy’s closest should look like: simple, perfect fit chinos and denim, a great navy blazer, t-shirts that handle the toughest wearing, and shoes that will last so long, you might never need another pair. And they are all traceable, made to last, and designed to fit perfectly. So you could imagine that as my boyfriend shopped happily, I felt pretty damn jealous. Where was the women’s equivalent of this? Why are women still being pushed trends and cheap fashion and novelty when all we/I want is simplicity, quality, and season-less style? (Well, and responsible manufacturing too.)

Despite the jealousy, this experience was inspiring. It made me realize that the trend towards slower and more responsible fashion is real and happening, even if it is starting in cities that might naturally be more inclined to more conscious lifestyles. This thought reminds me of a recent essay by Bruno Pieters of Honest by, who in speaking about how hard it is to be the pioneer when it comes to changing the fashion industry shares a moving realization:

“No one today is producing, designing, or acting in a destructive way intentionally, these actions are always the result of a deeper disconnection and unawareness…When we are unconscious we are, in a sense, clueless of what we are doing. Knowing that helps me to show compassion and patience for those designers and industry leaders who still seem to be far from waking up. My own moments of unconsciousness have taught me that there is nothing anyone can say or do that can create a shift in consciousness. Change is a personal and unique process. When it’s time for someone to wake up they will. Everyone has their own path.”

We are all at different stages of understanding our impact on the world around us, even if it’s just through the clothes we buy. But I’m so glad to see that people are starting to wake up. And I’m waking up too and taking the next step in my path, which leads me to my second priority in Portland: breaking in my brand-new hiking boots on the most beautiful 9-mile hike through waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge area. This hike was my first real hike ever and the first hike of many for me this year as I begin training for Climate Hike, a five-day wilderness trip at the end of August which I will spend hiking, camping and rafting with 30 other environmentalists in Glacier National Park, Montana as we raise money and awareness for environmental organizations, which for me will include Nature Conservancy, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy.

I’ve been saving up this announcement for a few months now so I could finally make the big announcement on Earth Day, and it has been such a hard secret to keep! I grew up with a fear rather than an appreciation of nature, and my academic studies in environmental science actually didn’t change that fear much. But a huge shift has happened for me over the last two years as I see the opportunity for me to deepen my work in protecting people and planet by connecting more with nature, in addition to finding my own soul being lit up and challenged by my time spent outdoors in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I know that working towards this trip and having this experience is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now. It’s the next step in my own path, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

If you’d like to learn more about what Climate Hike is and why I’m participating in it, click on over here. If you’d like to help me reach my fundraising goal so I can go on this trip, you’ll have the opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation that will support the three environmental nonprofits I mentioned above. Everyone who donates will get a personalized “thank you” from me after the trip. This is the one and only time I will mention this fundraising campaign on this blog, so I hope you don’t mind. I also hope you’ll tweet me your favorite camping & hiking tips @THISIWEAR.

Happy Earth Day!

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