The Power Behind Your Purchase

One of the trending methods of fostering sustainable economic development has been focusing in at the grassroots level. By working from the bottom up, it is much more possible to learn of and seek solutions to impeding issues. I truly believe that by working at the ground level we can truly begin to make changes.

In 2009, my family opened a store in our hometown of Duxbury, MA that specializes in all handmade products. Named ¨ONE: Gifts and Coffee Shop¨ we believe that ONE Gift, ONE Person, and ONE Place can make a difference. We purchase the majority of the products from the artisan themselves, thereby eliminating the middleman and generating more profit for the artisans. Most of the products are sourced from the Boston and New England area, however we also provide products from across the United States and around the world.

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Storefront of ONE in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

A small seaside town, Duxbury tends to become its own bubble, its residents often keeping to ourselves. I believe that the presence of our shop enables residents to step outside of the comfort zone of this bubble by connecting with the creators of their products.  From handmade necklaces, to ornaments, to wooden bowls, each product in ONE has a story behind it, which we are excited to share with our customers.  Many of our artisans in the Boston area even hand deliver the products to the store, allowing for a direct relationship with the customers. I still think it’s incredible to look at the products and be able to say things such as, “This was made in Hingham with stones and seashells from our beach!” or even “Our braided sailors bracelets are hand woven by a couple in New Hampshire.”

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Charlotte Leavitt, Co-Owner of Chart Metalworks, whose designs are featured in this photo

We have also built up international business relationships, working mainly in the rural areas of Nicaragua. Four to five times annually, my mother Jacqueline – owner of ONE – travels there to meet with various artisans and bring products back to the shop. She has built and maintained business relationships with these artisans, tailoring their products a bit more specific to our market. Of these products, a portion of the profits are donated back to communities in Nicaragua by supporting projects of the non-profit Friends New England. I believe that this connection also serves to burst the “Duxbury bubble,” offering not only a connection to an artisan in Central America, but also through a method of aid. We are able to tell customers that by purchasing a purse made of recycled potato chip bags they are supporting Maria and Juana in Chacraseca, Nicaragua. Also, ONE donates some profits of this specific purchase towards the construction of the community’s first library.

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In in the top left hand corner, Jacqueline O’Toole, owner of ONE, with various artisans and handicrafts from the store.

Many customers frequent ONE, looking for what new products we have in stock, hoping to learn more stories. Very often I hear how customers prefer this store because they know who they are supporting. Instead of purchasing a factory-made ornament at a big-box store, they can buy one hand painted or made of seashells found in Massachusetts. I hope that this ideology can spread across and beyond Duxbury, allowing for smaller scale producers to be recognized and supported.  This closer connection to artisans has helped to foster even greater support for their work, often bringing customers back for more.  By purchasing from artisans directly, we are able to offer them a higher price for their goods than if we needed a middleman.  Customers are able to put a name, a story, and sometimes even a face to the products they purchase.  Nearly impossible when shopping at a large chain, this deeper connection of producers and customers help to foster a sense of community and often generates even more support.

By working at the grassroots like this, I have been able to grow in appreciation for producers, and continue to seek out handmade products. When I decide to purchase handmade, I am actively choosing to avoid products that were produced in sweatshops in China. Slowly but surely, a greater emphasis of handmade products are growing, examples of which are the Fair Trade movement, and even farmers markets!  If we continue along this movement, society as a whole becomes to better appreciate producers around us.  Through this sense of community, we start to feel more accountable for those around us, and thereby heighten economic development by financially supporting these individuals.

 

Are you a student interested in being a guest blogger for the Oikocredit CHiRP Force?  Contact us at breilly@oikocredit.org to find out how!

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Elisabeth O’Toole is a current junior at the University of Notre Dame, studying International Economics, Spanish, and International Development. She has spent time volunteering in Nicaragua as an English teacher, and will be in Guatemala this summer studying fair trade and direct trade coffee. Elisabeth has been a part of ONE: Gift and Coffee Shop since its launching in 2009.

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